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What does handling of Tyrod Taylor, Kirk Cousins say about Sam Bradford’s future?

Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) throws a touchdown pass to wide receiver Adam Thielen (not pictured) during the first quarter against the Houston Texans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s say we broke up the NFL’s quarterbacks into tiers.

First tier QBs are #elite. That list would include Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan. These are the guys who enter every season thinking that a Super Bowl trophy is possible, even if their team has weaknesses.

Second tier QBs are established starters who can raise their play to All-Pro level if they have a good team around them. Phillip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Derek Carr, Dak Prescott.

Third tier signal callers need a lot of help to make noise – a good offensive line, good receivers, good running game and a defense, but they still are very unlikely to take their team deep in the playoffs. Alex Smith, Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick.

Fourth tier quarterbacks are terrible and need to be replaced. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum etc.

Somewhere between the second and third tier are Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor and Sam Bradford. They don’t fit perfectly into one of those categories because they have good enough numbers to argue second tier but haven’t accomplished enough to prove they aren’t third tier.

And all three of them have their teams in limbo about their future because it’s difficult to determine whether they are actually capable of winning anything.

You don’t have to go very far to find proof that top quarterbacks run the league. The AFC has sent either Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger to the Super Bowl every year since 2001 except when Joe Flacco and the Ravens won the big game over the 49ers.

However, a handful of those second-tier QBs have made appearances or won the Super Bowl. Some might put Cam Newton and Eli Manning there. Brad Johnson. Jake Delhomme belonged in that area the year the Panthers made it.

But in the last 30 years, you can only come up with Rex Grossman and Trent Dilfer as third tier quarterbacks who have appeared in the Super Bowl, unless you argue that Peyton Manning was bad in his final year – but he’s still Peyton Manning.

All of this is a long way of saying that quarterbacks like Taylor, Cousins and Bradford put their teams in extremely difficult positions. Washington and Buffalo have taken similar approaches to handling their good-but-questionable quarterbacks.

Kirk Cousins Last 2 years 
Record TD INT YPA Rating
17-14-1 54 23 7.9 99.3
Tyrod Taylor
Record TD INT YPA Rating
14-14 37 12 7.4 94.2
Sam Bradford
Record TD INT YPA Rating
14-15 39 19 7 93.0

The Bills signed Taylor to a contract extension after the 2015 season in which he went 7-6 with 20 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 99.4 quarterback rating. His agent was probably super pumped to announce a six-year, $92 million contract. The reality, however, was that his deal really just a one-year raise. Buffalo had an option built in to let him walk after 2016.

After a nearly identical second year as the Bills’ starter, the team and Taylor negotiated a new deal worth just $15.5 million guaranteed, less than what Mike Glennon will get from the Chicago Bears. Again, essentially a one-year deal.

Three years should be enough of a sample size to decide whether they can make the playoffs and have success consistently with Taylor. The Bills may draft a quarterback early this year as a potential replacement if things go poorly next season.

As for Cousins, Washington has signed him to franchise tags each of the last two years. While Cousins wanted a long-term deal, being tagged isn’t the worst thing in the world considering he’ll make over $40 million guaranteed. For Washington, tagging Cousins has its ups and downs. They aren’t locked into him as their future quarterback, but his deal also takes up a huge amount of cap space – the third most in the NFL.

Cousins led one of the league’s most prolific passing offenses last season, tossing for 4,917 yards at 8.1 Yards Per Attempt. But circumstances played a huge role in his success. Washington had a top five offensive line, three top-notch playmaking receivers and two terrific tight ends. And Cousins threw more passes when his team was losing than any other QB in the NFL. He also turned the ball over more than they would have liked.

So Washington decided not to lock themselves into a long-term contract with the 28-year-old Cousins.

Now, it should be noted that Washington and Buffalo are two of the teams most notorious for ineptitude. In this case, however, their approach makes sense if their sole goal is to win the Super Bowl. If both teams want to remain fairly relevant, compete for Wild Card spots etc., then they will need better from the QB position than they got in 2016. Why not make their quarterbacks prove they can get the job done before marrying them?

There are cautionary tales all over the league of teams with third tier QBs locked in place. The Chiefs with Alex Smith, Chicago with Jay Cutler, Miami with Ryan Tannehill.

Sam Bradford’s 2017 performance will likely be the determining factor in whether the Vikings agree to a long-term deal or attempt to mimic Washington and Buffalo’s approach (if Teddy Bridgewater can’t come back from his knee injury). If Bradford replicated his 2016 year exactly, then the Vikings would likely want to keep their options open. If a new offensive line and better running game help him solidify himself among the second tier QBs, a long-term deal would be likely.

Assuming the Vikings don’t sign Bradford to a long-term contract, it will be the No. 1 storyline of the 2017 season.

  • linus

    Not sure why you’re convinced that Prescott is better than Cousins, and I certainly wouldn’t put Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson in the first tier (not yet, anyway).

    • nikoli

      I didn’t think there was anyone who wasn’t convinced Wilson is an elite QB.

      • linus

        Elite QBs don’t throw 4 TDs in the conference championship game. Wilson is in tier 2. Given Marshawn Lynch and a tremendous defense, he led the Seahawks to two Super Bowls (the second of which they lost when Wilson threw an INT directly to a Patriots’ defender). However, during the last two seasons, when the Seahawks still had a tremendous defense, but lacked Marshawn Lynch, they’ve been a borderline playoff team.

        • nikoli

          Brady has thrown 3 INTs in three different playoff games. Guess he’s not elite either eh?

          • linus

            Three is less than four… and Brady has never never lost a Super Bowl by throwing an INT directly to his opponent on 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line with ~20 seconds left in the game. You might also note that I said “at least not yet”; if Wilson goes on to win, say, two more Super Bowls, I’ll be willing to call him elite.

          • nikoli

            So four is the magic number then?

    • Martha Lewis

      Couisns is not an elite QB but a system one. He is NOT a play maker as Prescott is.

      • linus

        Actually, considering how much more important the running game was in Dallas (ranked #2 in the league) than it was in Washington (ranked #21), the reverse is much more likely to be true. Besides, people were ready to commission an HOF bust for RGIII after one season in the league, and look how well that worked out.

        • linus

          And I’m not saying I think Cousins is better than Prescott either. I’m just pointing out that neither of them has a large enough body of work to be sure how good they really are.

  • David Prestin

    Dak could also become another kap. 1 season doesn’t get you placed in any of the tiers. Eli has 2 SB wins yet you didn’t really give him much credit. A starting QB in the NFL should earn what the market avg is for that position. QB’s that have a longer history at starting as a no 1 QB should earn more and proven playoff/SB winning QBs should earn the most. As for franchise tags, teams shouldn’t be able to use it on a player more than once per contract. And especially not 2 years in a row. What exactly did Washington save by paying cousins 20 million 2 yrs in a row? It’s just idiotic.

    • sdaddy101269

      QB’s go as their teams go. Whether it’s Dak, Kaep, Brees, Rodgers.

  • MrDrapes

    To compare the Skins offensive supporting cast to the Vikings (particularly the lines) is ludicrous.

  • Gordon Guffey

    I couldn’t say it any better than David Prestin~linus~MrDrapes did ~ I would only add that Pat Shurmur
    ((( should ))) make life much easier for Bradford and company in year two because everyone is going to get their first full offseason working with him as the OC ~ The players added this offseason ((( should ))) be a big help also ~

  • BT

    This has to be the most non exciting off season in Zim Era feels like 2013 smh trying to find ways to get excited #bradfordsucks

  • Mark L

    Hey Matt why do people want tony romo (I’ve seen people talking about him) where would he rank with our new signings our new oc and our up and coming receivers and a pretty good defense.

    Could we cut bait with Sam already lost the pick either way can’t get it back unless Cleveland is complete morons and wants to trade for something they don’t need again, and grab tony and go all in again this year

  • Tom Beckerstrom

    The Vikings had better focus this upcoming draft on improving the O-Line!!! They need in order a OT, Center and Guard. The most important is picking a Tackle in the 2nd Round, Taylor Moton. In the 3rd Round it would make sense to draft a center and a guard. Minnesota should look at a late round Tackle for longerr term development. As far as Bradford, they have to sigh n him long-term. Teddy is done and will never play again.

  • Ade Adedapo

    Waa? Luck n Ryan r in the top tier y cuz they’d paid like it? Then flacco should b their too at least he won a Superbowl. This stuff is so subjective. A few years ago everyone was telling me Philip rivers was in the top tier. Is drew brees really lifting his team to anything these days? I dunno. It’s all opinion.

  • sdaddy101269

    Using your methodology Colin Kaepernick would be second tier considering what he’s done with what you described as the team around the QB. A Super Bowl and 2 NFCCGs bear it out. Also, Andrew Luck should be in tier 3 considering what he’s actually done.

  • Andre Esters

    I know it’s not how the financial game works, but I’m all for these 1-year deals and prove it contracts. Throwing tons of money at someone who’s unproven or inconsistent and then being “stuck” with them is troublesome in the NFL. Kind of surprised and thrilled seeing how this whole Brock Osweiler thing is playing out.

    After suffering through the Ponder debacle, ANY decent play from the QB position has been refreshing for this Vikings fan… unfortunate reality to justify, but no matter how you measure a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th tier QB, having a reliable (productive is a bonus) player in such an important position is no exact science. It just isn’t!

    For so many to think it’s simply a matter of running to the corner store and scooping up a franchise QB, what sport have they been watching?! 1st round busts, mega trades, injuries, lacking rosters, poor coaching, media nonsense, and sometimes the player alone is to blame for just not trying to be their best.
    Minnesota was dealt a nasty hand by the football gods having Teddy B. go down just as he was ascending. Yeah, yeah, he’s no Tom Brady, but the Vikes had someone to work with. That’s pretty much what any team hopes for… just have something to work with! Tannehill, Dalton, Winston, Goff, whoever Cleveland drafts, just get a guy and put some work in. Of course, said “work” is when things get tricky because now we’re putting the front office, coaches, and surrounding team under the microscope.
    The suits are idiots, replace them! Play calling is terrible, fire them! Players are garbage, what a waste! Sooooo much of this negative routine every season, win or lose, can be tiresome as a fan. But there always seems to be a glimmer of hope in the human race when you hear certain folks in the media detail the obvious hardships, savvy fans have witnessed the progression and declines, coaches and front office actually TRY to address problematic areas… and the game goes on. For anyone who goes all hindsight super-soldier on what should’ve been done and how it should’ve been from day one, I doubt there is any exact science to their ramblings. Welcome to the world of roster building team management — everyone is doing their best to figure it out without looking lost.

  • Jamie

    Alex Smith is better than Sam Bradford. Sam Bradford has never even had a winning record as a starter in a single season, and he’s been on enough different teams that he’s the common denominator. Alex Smith, whether on the 49ers or the Chiefs (who were dead last in the NFL before Alex Smith got there) has had a winning record every season since 2011 and has been good enough to QB his team to the playoffs every year except 2014, winning playoff games in 2011 and 2015 as well as playing extremely well in their playoff loss in 2013.

    • Sean Wilson

      There’s the same argument that every team Bradford has played on has had coaching problems and offensive line problems, and he’s been brought in to be the solution. We’ve seen coaching staff turnover and lines failing miserably in St. Louis, in Philly, and in Minnesota. We’ve seen coaching staff, including head coaches, offensive coordinators, etc., replaced in his first and second seasons with teams. It’s been a consistent pattern–bring in a 1st round pick to solve the leadership, coaching, and discipline problems on teams…and while that’s a good plan, it can’t succeed without other things being addressed.

      If you’re going to suggest common denominators, we can do that from a lot of angles. For example, the performance of 1st round picks in the 6-8th years of their careers where they always have a statistical jump in performance, when settled with a team during those years. Bradford is on par for the course. After the beatings he took in Philly and this last season with the Vikings, he’s shown he’s tough, resilient, a good leader, liked by the players, and as sharp as they come. Let’s not forget he did set an NFL record, and if his receiving corps had even a small percentage of improvement in yards after the catch, and Zimmer had fixed the field goal kicking game early in the year, it would have been a different season…even with the O-line struggles.

      In his first four games before the O-line fell apart, let’s not forget he outperformed Rodgers, Manning, and Osweiler–and while not outperforming Newton, did the important job of throwing a touchdown, moving the offense, and throwing no interceptions, among other things. His accuracy on long throws is there, his skills are there–what has consistently not been there throughout his career is a decent O-line, consistent coaching, a consistent receiving corps. He’s healthy, at the right point in his career where statistically he should see increased performance. Any arguments about how tough he is ought to be contrasted against, “Hey, look at Bridgewater.” I mean he suffered an injury, and has yet to prove he can bounce back. Bradford certainly has. Bradford has had his trials by fire, and he’s hung tough, come back, and just had a record setting season.

      I’m excited about the possibilities if the Vikings will stick with him for at least another 2-3 years to give the team time to rebuild and round out what it needs. And when Teddy is healed, who wouldn’t like having two QBs with the possibilities those two have? I personally don’t think he has the downfield capabilities of Bradford, but he could certainly learn a lot from Sam, and benefit from a couple years under someone with that level of leadership and understanding. The controversy, if there is any, is about Zimmer’s capabilities as a head coach now.

  • Brian_pdx

    Good teams with good quarterbacks win Super Bowls. If they lack one or the other they are doomed. Bradford, like most #1 picks has played only on bad teams, including the Vikings last year. If the Vikings have a good draft and actually coach up a couple of rookies to contribute, something they haven’t done well at all, they have a shot to win it all with Bradford. He is tough, a leader and throws the ball well at all levels. Given the OL he had last year if he wasn’t tough he would be dead.

  • StoneColdSooner

    “If Bradford replicated his 2016 year exactly, then the Vikings would likely want to keep their options open.”

    Are you bleeping kidding me? He set the all-time passing completion percentage record and still average 7 yards per attempt behind a a really, really bad O-Line and a marginal receiving corps. I have no idea what more Bradford could be expected to do. The Vikes wouldn’t have won with Tom Brady.

    • J Sowders

      “The Vikes wouldn’t have won with Tom Brady.”

      Sad, but true. I totally agree with your comments. Hopefully this year will be better.





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