When the name Sam Bradford comes up, at least for me, terms like "injury-prone", "first-round bust", "way overpaid," and "underwhelming" all leap to mind. Giving up a future first-round and fourth-round pick for a first-round bust, now nearly 29, doesn't seem the least bit smart. The Vikings will pay Bradford $7 million this season, which isn't bad, but will have to decide about paying him $17 million next year.
All that begs the question: "Why make such a huge deal for a mediocre QB?"
The Rationale Behind Acquiring Sam Bradford
Mike Florio over at PFT says there were plenty of reasons to make the deal. Let's examine them one-by-one.
1. The Vikings were a legitimate Super Bowl contender this year with Bridgewater running the offense and Mike Zimmer's top-ranked defense looking to stay there this year, maybe even improve. Anytime you're a Super Bowl contender, you have to be in win-now mode. Why wouldn't you be? That argues for going big, even if it's not a deal you would otherwise make, to give your otherwise championship-caliber team a shot to win it all. Looking at how Denver won it all last year - strong defense, mediocrity at QB- is both relevant and encouraging.
2. Shaun Hill would be a big set-back for offensive production for the Vikings, and may very well prove ineffective or go down to injury- as was the case his last time up- and the need to acquire another QB was apparent. I highly doubt Mike Zimmer has anywhere near the confidence in Hill to start him this season. I have no doubt Zimmer's choice to start Hill in the 2nd preseason game was to decide if he was worth keeping as a backup- let alone a starter. Add to that the only other QBs on the active roster have never played in the NFL, and the need becomes even more apparent.
3. Let's not overlook the fact that the Vikings are making their debut this year in a brand-new, billion-dollar, publicly-financed, state-of-the-art stadium. Going out there with a known has-been or UFA at QB and stinking it up would be a public-relations disaster to say the least. Season ticket holders would be angry to say the least- having just shelled out a lot more for tickets to see an offense that can't score. And the community at-large would be let-down to say the least at having shelled out half a billion for team that can't fulfill its end of the deal.
4. Sam Bradford, despite his lackluster career to date, was probably the best option available. He did manage to throw for 500 more yards than Bridgewater did last year, and a similar performance this year may be enough for the Vikings to advance to the playoffs this year. We'll see. I suspect that Pat Shurmur, currently the Vikings TE coach, who was OC for the Eagles last year and has worked with Bradford in Philadelphia last year and also in St. Louis, probably had some insight in Bradford, his strengths and weaknesses, which may have been compelling for the Vikings to go in this direction. Schumur's presence on the Vikings coaching staff may also help aid Bradford's transition to the Vikings.
5. There may also be concern about Teddy Bridgewater's injury, and the speed and fullness of his recovery. His injury was not just a torn ACL, but a dislocated knee, which is more severe. A 12 month recovery time is the estimate, which would mean that Bridgewater would not likely be the starter the first part of next season too. There is also a greater risk of a less than full recovery as well. Hopefully that will not be the case, but even if Bridgewater does fully recover in a year's time, the Vikings will want to move slowly in bringing him back to full time so as not to endanger him to a re-occurrence. Remember Teddy is still only 23 years old, and hopefully has a long career ahead of him.
Overall, this was never a deal the Vikings wanted to make. But given the reality of losing your starting QB at the end of August, the Vikings are otherwise a Super Bowl contender, Bradford was the best QB available and could still give the Vikings a shot at a deep post-season run, and Teddy may not be able to start next year, and this is a deal you have to swallow hard and hope for the best. And if we end up giving the Eagles the 32nd pick next year, it will be a huge success.
Keep in mind the Eagles, in letting Bradford go, may be throwing away this season to be able to rebuild more next year. Starting Carson Wentz when he's healthy, which apparently is the Eagles' plan, probably isn't the best way to develop the rookie, but not the Viking's problem. From the Eagles standpoint, this was easily the most they'd ever get for Bradford- beyond hope really- so they took it to give them more to build with for next year.
Bottomline, it's not a great deal by any means- but it's also the best deal Spielman could do under the circumstances. It was a bold move to be sure, and as has been said before, audentis fortuna iuvat.
Sam Bradford - What the Vikings are Getting
At this point we only know for certain the cost of acquiring Bradford- next year's 1st round pick, a 4th round pick in 2018 (that could potentially go higher or lower apparently), $7 million this year, and $17 million next year if the Vikings keep him and don't restructure. What is less certain is what the Vikings are getting in return. Let's explore.
Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma after the 2008 season, was injured for most of the 2009 season at Oklahoma, was selected #1 overall in the 2010 NFL draft by the Rams, and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He completed 60% of his passes for just over 3,500 yards, 18 TDs, 15 INTs, 6.0 yards per attempt, and a 76.5 QB rating. In other words, mediocre.
Bradford regressed in 2011 before suffering a high ankle sprain, completing only 53.5% of his passes and earning only a 70 QB rating after 10 games.
Bradford eclipsed his rookie year performance in 2012, and continued at that level in 2013 before suffering his first ACL injury after 7 games. He re-injured the same ACL in a 2014 preseason game, ending his season. After the season was over, Bradford was traded to Philadelphia for a 5th round pick and Nick Foles.
Last year, Bradford had easily his best season as a QB under OC Pat Shurmur, whom he also worked under during his OROY season in 2010, although he missed two games due to a shoulder and a concussion. Still he had over 3,700 yards passing in 14 games, 7.0 yards per attempt, 65% completion percentage, 19 TDs, 14 INTs, and an 86.4 QB rating. Generally these numbers put him in the middle of the pack, which is where Bridgewater was last year too. It's worth noting that after missing a year and a half, Bradford started out last year slow, but improved significantly in the second-half of the year.
Bradford's relative success last year is mildly encouraging, and PFF writes that doing the deal puts the Vikings back as a Super Bowl contender.
Part of the reason the mediocre Bradford puts the Vikings back in the mix for a championship is the fact that he was able to generate his 2015 stats with the worst group of receivers in the league last year- having dropped 7.6% of the passes thrown at them.
But the risks with Bradford are also considerable. First, he has proven injury prone, and there is no guarantee he'll make it through a full season- including post-season. He's only done it twice in 6 years in the league. Secondly, Bradford will need to get up to speed on Norv's offense and gel with Vikings' receivers.. He's played for 3 years in an Air Coryell system under Marty Schottenheimer, so that should help Bradford pick up Norv's system. Bradford is a smart guy (36 Wonderlic for what it's worth) and is used to learning new systems.
Bradford played in Chip Kelly's spread last year, and was very accurate in his short passing game, less so in intermediate/long routes, but relatively accurate in very deep (40 yard+) balls. Bradford also led the league in adjusted completion percentage under pressure, which is important as the Vikings pass protection is still something of a question-mark, even after upgrades this off-season.
Bradford also has the arm strength, and has received a number of positive remarks about his arm from players on the other end of his throws, including his TE last year Zach Ertz. Bradford gets the rap as being kind of a dink-and-dunk type passer, but that may be a misconception more to do with the offenses and receivers he's played in and with, and other limitations not necessarily his own.
In addition to arm strength, Bradford also has shown good decision-making, accuracy and a quick release, which are considered the four biggest factors (accuracy and decision-making being the top two) for a quarterback's success.
Here are highlights of Bradford's season last year with the Eagles:
At the end of the day, this is a QB that can stretch the field vertically with his passing game. That's what Norv's offense needs to be effective, as opposing defenses have to honor that threat. Shaun Hill doesn't have that.
Whether Bradford can come in, learn the system and gel with Vikings receivers well enough to be effective, and stay healthy for the whole year remains to be seen. But he is a QB that can give the Vikings offense a chance to improve over last year, and the team a chance to win it all.