Sam Bradford’s time with the Vikings is almost certainly finished.
A day after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, the quarterback was placed on injured reserve to make room on the 53-man roster for Teddy Bridgewater, whom Bradford replaced after Bridgewater suffered a devastating knee injury just before last season.
The Vikings sent a 2017 first-round pick and a conditional 2018 fourth-round selection to Philadelphia for Bradford and got 17 starts from him, including 15 last year. The Eagles used the 14th-overall pick in last April’s draft on defensive end Derek Barnett, who has 2.5 sacks in nine games as a backup.
So what’s the verdict on the Bradford trade? That depends on how you want to look at it.
General manager Rick Spielman was forced to make the deal eight days before the Vikings opened the season because he did not have a viable option at quarterback after Bridgewater went down.
Shaun Hill, who was 36 at the time, was considered more of a mentor but wasn’t a realistic possibility to be the starter for a team that had high hopes coming off an 11-win season that earned it the NFC North title. Hill started and won the 2016 opener at Tennessee and then went back to the bench.
Spielman’s failure to have a better backup plan was questioned – it didn’t help when prospect Taylor Heinicke showed up to training camp with a severed tendon in his left foot – but no one could have foreseen Bridgewater dislocating his left knee and suffering torn ligaments in a non-contact drill in practice.
The day after Bridgewater was injured a couple of top-notch radio hosts were pouring through the list of potential replacements. That list included the likes of Mark Sanchez, Brandon Weeden, Geno Smith, Brian Hoyer, Mike Glennon, T.J. Yates and, yes, even Christian Ponder.
Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer realized trying to sell the locker room on any of the above would have been extremely difficult given the Vikings’ expectations.
A few days later, Spielman surprised nearly everyone by acquiring Bradford.
The No. 1-overall pick in the 2010 draft by the St. Louis Rams, Bradford had signed a two-year, $36 million contract with the Eagles in March 2016. Philadelphia then turned around and made a deal with Cleveland for the No. 2 pick in the draft and took North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz.
That made Bradford expendable and allowed a panicked Spielman to be opportunistic after Bridgewater went down. Bradford certainly wasn’t perfect – the check downs became a bit much – but he did finish with a career-high 99.3 passer rating, threw 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions and set an NFL-record with a 71.6 completion percentage.
The Vikings started 5-0 but won only three of their last 11 games as injuries and other issues, including the departure of offensive coordinator Norv Turner, helped to derail the season. Was Bradford perfect? Absolutely not. Was he to blame for the Vikings’ season going down the drain? Nope.
Bradford and new coordinator Pat Shurmur, who also had coached Bradford in St. Louis and Philadelphia, worked this offseason on a plan that would make this Bradford’s offense. It worked to near perfection in the regular-season opener as Bradford completed 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns and a 143.0 passer rating in a 29-19 victory over the Saints.
A day later, Bradford showed up at Winter Park with his twice-surgically repaired knee aching. He would miss the next three games and looked as if he could barely move in completing 5-of-11 passes for 36 yards before leaving what turned into a 20-17 victory in Chicago. He was sacked four times in large part because he could not move.
The fact Bradford’s knee became a problem should be a surprise to no one. He tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in Week 7 of the 2013 season with the Rams and tore it again the following preseason, missing all of 2014.
ESPN reported that Tuesday’s surgery on Bradford’s knee was a “clean up” that removed loose particles, cleaned up some ragged cartilage and smoothed out a bone spur. No major damage was found.
That means Bradford will have time to rest and rehab the injury and attempt to sign elsewhere in March when he becomes a free agent. He likely will be joined on the market by Case Keenum, who signed a one-year, $2 million contract to be Bradford’s backup this season and has taken over as the starter.
Keenum is around in part because this time Spielman realized he needed a competent backup who could step in if injury hit the quarterback position again.
Keenum came at a relatively cheap price; Bradford did not.
But in both cases, Spielman made the right move to bring them aboard when he did.