One day before the Minnesota Vikings’ deadline to activate Teddy Bridgewater, ESPN reported that the team may decide to place Sam Bradford on Injured Reserve to create a roster spot.
The Vikings’ veteran quarterback has not played since Week 5 against Chicago. He exited after the first half and has not practiced or been active for a game since then. Bradford is dealing with knee issues relating to multiple ACL surgeries. He has seen experts including Dr. James Andrews, but apparently has not made progress.
As you might expect, missing the rest of the season would be crushing to Bradford’s chances at a long-term contract.
Had Bradford played and produced solid numbers and made the playoffs, he could have been looking at a deal north of $100 million. As noted here, Bradford’s stats aren’t that different from where $135 million quarterback Matthew Stafford’s were at the time of his extension with the Detroit Lions.
Assuming Bradford didn’t make a miracle comeback in the playoffs (NFL rules allow two players per year to come off IR after eight weeks), his options will be cut down significantly because teams won’t be willing to take a risk on him.
Here are five possible outcomes for Bradford next season:
Return to the Vikings
You might assume that Bradford’s career in Minnesota will come to an end the moment he’s placed on IR, but there’s still a possibility that he could be under center for the Vikings next season. If Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t return to 100 percent this year and struggles in his comeback or he ends up as a free agent and leaves Minnesota, the Vikings will be desperate to fill the QB spot again next year. Names like Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees are thrown around all the time, but there’s no guarantee they will actually be available. Bradford would come at a reduced price and likely on a 1-year deal, so the Vikings might take their chances on a low-risk deal so long as they had a quality backup (or even drafted a quarterback in the first three rounds).
Even if Bridgewater comes back to 2015 form and either signs a long-term deal with the Vikings or has his contract toll, there would still be a chance the Bradford would take a deal as a backup if he couldn’t find another team to make him their starter.
One-year deal in Washington, Miami or Mystery Team X
We’ve learned just how desperate NFL teams are for good quarterback play. Last offseason, the Chicago Bears gave Mike Glennon $19 million guaranteed, only to have him benched for top pick Mitch Trubisky. As long as Bradford could pass a physical, it would be surprising if there wasn’t a team willing to sign him to a one-year deal, especially if the club has a decent-to-strong roster an wants to win. Washington could lose Kirk Cousins to free agency and it’s hard to see Jay Cutler sticking around for another year in Miami. There will always be teams like Cleveland or the New York Jets who draft QBs but want a veteran to compete with their youngster for the starting spot.
Wait until a QB is injured early in 2018
The Cutler route is tried and true. There will always be quarterbacks who get hurt and leave their teams desperate for options. This year we have seen that more than any in recent memory with Aaron Rodgers, DeShaun Watson, Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer all suffering season-ending injuries. Bradford could wait until a team was in desperation mode to grab a significant short-term deal.
Take 2018 off, look to return in 2019
Vikings fans would remember well that Randall Cunningham was out of football for a season before coming to Minnesota, so rejuvenating a career after time off isn’t unprecedented. Buffalo Bills guard Richie Incognito missed a season following a bullying incident and has come back playing at a Pro Bowl level. Maybe one year’s rest is what Bradford needs to nurse his knee back to health. He’d be less likely to get a starting job if he sat out, but would likely have suitors to let him battle for a position in camp.
Money doesn’t buy happiness. Bradford would much rather be someone’s starting quarterback and have a chance to prove he could win in the NFL than call it a career. However, he’s made $114 million since coming into the league in 2010. If his knee simply won’t respond to treatment, Bradford could go down as one of the all-time, “What could have been?” players. Two ACL tears, bad teams, loads of talent.