Now, I want to hear from you guys. I'm going to go into a little more detail and expand on the Buy and Sell of the SMR where I discussed the trade, and hopefully hit all the angles of this trade.
When Teddy Bridgewater went down less than a week before the season opener, the Vikings had limited options. The most logical one was start Shaun Hill, sign a free agent (and the list was a who's who of 'never any good', 'washed up', or 'wow that guy is still in the league and someone might sign him'), and then wait for Taylor Heinicke to get healthy and go from there. It was by no means a good plan, but it seemed to be the most realistic one open to the Vikings at the time.
Instead, GM Rick Spielman pulled off a stunning trade for Eagles QB Sam Bradford, a trade that cost the Vikings a first round pick in 2017, and a conditional fourth rounder in 2018. My initial reaction was 'we traded a first round pick for Sam Bradford?', but after I stopped and thought about it for a minute (okay, maybe like 10-15 minutes), I warmed up to the trade. Here's why, and the context and situation at the time the trade was made is important in discussing it, I think:
1. Teddy Bridgewater's injury is not a typical torn ACL knee injury. Teddy's injury was and is, by all accounts, really bad. A torn ACL and knee dislocation is about as bad as it gets, and recovery is a long time, longer than a typical ACL rehab. There is no guarantee that he'll be ready when the 2017 season rolls around, which really put the quarterback position in a state of flux again. If the Vikings thought Teddy's knee injury was a 'typical' torn ACL, and they were confident he'd be ready to go to start 2017, I think there's a decent chance they ride it out and don't make the trade. But the recovery time is longer, and the Hill/Heinicke/Really Bad Free Agent option couldn't extend into the 2017 season.
2. This team had high hopes. The Vikings looked like the real deal. With Adrian Peterson coming off a rushing title, upgrades at offensive line, and Teddy Bridgewater throwing to some young, exciting receivers, it looked like the Vikings were a legitimately good football team on offense, had the potential to win the NFC North, and go far in the playoffs. Getting a quarterback that could run the entire offense, and was a semi long term-answer, or at least a bridge back to Teddy when he got healthy, kept the team in serious contention with the best the NFC had to offer.
3. The defense was championship caliber. The Vikings defense was a monster waiting to be unleashed on the NFL. It had the ability to carry the team while Bradford got assimilated into the offense, and then would be the shutdown force that would carry the Vikings a long way. Because of the defense, it was thought, the offense didn't need to be the 1998 team, just good enough for about 21 points a week. It seemed very doable.
4. The trade sent a message. The chance to win a Super Bowl is fleeting. When you have an opportunity, you need to make the most of it, and not, essentially, waste a year. No disrespect meant to Hill or Heinicke, but the feeling was that the offense would have been terrible with either one of those guys taking the snaps all year, and it would have been a wasted season. Spielman sent a message to the fans, the rest of the NFL, and, most importantly, the locker room. He was telling everyone that they Vikings were still all in, and to get on board.
5. It wasn't cost prohibitive. I'm not downplaying the value of a first round draft pick. Building the team through the draft is a critical component in becoming a successful franchise in the NFL. And when I initially heard it was a first round pick, I was a bit irritated, but then I asked myself if good quarterback play was worth a first round pick. And the answer is yeah, it is. Look, you need to be able to run the ball and play defense, but in today's NFL you have to have good QB play, and if getting a solid season or more from Sam Bradford meant the Vikings were contending for the division title and making a playoff run, then yeah, it's worth it. The Vikes still had eight picks in the 2017 draft, to include two third round and two fourth round picks, so they can still assemble a solid draft class without sacrificing first or second round picks in out years.
But things went south after the 5-0 start, and a lot of people are questioning the trade. Hey, I get it, not having a first round draft pick to talk about...and talk about...and talk about kind of makes the off-season draft speculation anti-climatic, and the detractors of the trade use that as their primary reasoning as to why the trade was a bad one.
So, let's look at the other side of the coin.
1. No first round draft pick. What was thought to be a team with few weaknesses has been exposed, and they need a fair amount of help. Offensive line is the main need, but you can argue that safety is a close second, followed by linebacker depth. The Vikings need help at both tackle positions, a long term answer at center, a right guard, and offensive line depth. Depth at safety is really bad behind Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo, and so is linebacking depth behind Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. But let's face it, neither Kendricks or Barr have set the world on fire this year. With no playoffs, the first round pick will land somewhere in the mid teens, and there will be a quality player available at multiple positions to fill one of those glaring holes. Only, that player will be going to the Philadelphia Eagles, and not the Vikings.
My answer to not having a first round pick is this: Okay, you're right, not having one is bad. But if the Vikings don't trade for Bradford, with all the injuries they have now, how many games do you think they win? They're 7-7 now, and looking back at the schedule, and playing all season with Hill/Heinicke/Oh My God Not That Guy they maybe have five wins. And the reason the record is that bad is because of bad quarterback play, in large part. So, having a triumvirate of 'meh' for QB depth, combined with no timetable for Teddy's return, and QB suddenly shoots up to the top of draft needs and priorities. So not only do you still have all of these other needs we've already discussed, but you're also throwing the quarterback position into the mix. With Bradford, the QB spot is fine, and doesn't need to be addressed at all.
2. The Vikings should have traded for a different QB that didn't require a first round pick. I am amazed as the next person over how much money Bradford has made in his career, and how much compensation has been given up to acquire him. He's had an average career, and with the Vikings this year, his numbers aren't really all that eye popping, other than his completion percentage. With Bradford, the Vikings are the 25th ranked scoring offense, and they're 31st in yards, so it's easy to look at those numbers and say the trade did nothing to make the Vikings offense better. But a lot of those bad offensive numbers are because of what is, without question, the worst running game in the NFL, and quite possibly in franchise history. And that's thanks to a horrid offensive line. So would another quarterback made more of a difference and gotten the Vikings into the playoffs without sacrificing a first round pick?
It seems like a moot point, because the asking price for everyone else was a lot higher than it was for Bradford. Not long after the trade, SI.com did a good oral history of the trade story with Spielman and the Philly GM Howard Roseman. In it, Spielman recounts:
I made a bunch of calls. I am not gonna mention teams. But there was blood in the water and teams knew it. The price was too high. I didn't want to mortgage our future. Some teams asked for a first-round pick and a core young player.
Other stories I read at the time mentioned teams were wanting multiple first round picks, or a combination of first and second round picks. So Spielman had to do a balancing act between finding a good quarterback while not giving up too many good players or mortgaging the future, and Sam Bradford looked to be the pitch that was in the wheelhouse.
And Spielman swung the deal.
3. How do you solve the quarterback problem? For those that were and still are against the trade, I wonder what the answer is to this question. Christopher talked about it in his post I linked to above, but the list of players that are or will be available is in no way promising. If you have a first round pick do you use it on a QB again? I wouldn't, but you'll need to address the issue. No matter what your answer is, the Vikings would be in the exact same boat they found themselves in the day Teddy got hurt, and that boat is hitting the rapids, you don't have an oar, and that roar you hear isn't the US Bank Stadium crowd, it's a big waterfall. A bad veteran and two young unproven guys, or two bad veterans and a young unproven guy isn't going to cut it. Bradford, and eventually Teddy, does cut it.
Yes, injuries have decimated this team. Had we known beforehand about all of the key players that have been hurt this season, making a trade for Bradford is dumb. Part of winning in the NFL is overcoming injuries, and building a roster that not only has talent, but depth. For the most part, the Vikings have done that, and although the offensive line play is putrid, it was addressed in the off-season. The way the Vikings addressed it didn't work, but it's tough for an offensive line to function when you're literally playing third and fourth string guys, and some of those guys are playing out of position.
It's been a disappointing season, to be sure, and they way the Vikings have fallen apart after the 5-0 start is impressive, in a macabre Vikings fan kind of way. But even knowing everything we know now, I would still make the trade for Sam Bradford.