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Zulgad: Did the Vikings make right move in paying steep price for Sam Bradford?

Dec 18, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) passes against the Indianapolis Colts in the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

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.

  • MR

    Rick Spielman made the right move. The Vikings were a playoff contender in year 2016 because of Sam Bradford’s solid play. Without him, they would have had a poor record. If the Vikings had an adequate kicking game in 2016, they would have made the playoffs.
    Sam Bradford had surgery on his knee yesterday, by Dr. Andrews, to clean up his knee. I haven’t seen any report in the media about the outcome of that surgery. Does his knee feel somewhat better, can Bradford move around easier now?

    • Jordan Musser

      I agree it was gutsy but it was the right thing to do. We had and still have a solid roster and a solid qb will give us a chance at winning a super bowl. Last year was not Bradford’s fault we were decimated by injuries and our horrible OC left mid-season because his scheme was called out and he wasn’t willing to change. With all those issues we were still a few points and plays away from a playoff spot.

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  • linus

    Given the circumstances at the time, it was the right thing to do… and if Cook fully recovers, they won’t even miss that first-round pick.

    • linus

      The mistake was in sticking with Norv (though presumably that was Zimmer’s decision) and not doing enough to shore up the o-line.

      • cka2nd

        I actually had less of a problem with Turner than many of the rest of you (Mr. Guffey is positively evangelical on the subject) but I think you hit on the biggest problem, Spielman’s failed correction of the offensive line before the 2016 season:

        1. Free Agents – Boone was overrated and overpaid. Smith was pretty much done physically.
        2. Cutting John Sullivan – I admit this is hindsight, but if we had kept him after he lost the starting center job to Berger, we could have slid Berger over to replace Fusco sooner when it was clear he couldn’t perform any longer.
        3. Matt Kalil – Three straight years of lousy play. Two straight years of failed comebacks. It was time to move on, new OL coach (and don’t get me started on how that was handled) or not. Replacing him should have been the TOP priority of the 2016 off-season.

        A mysterious Illness and a rash of injuries didn’t help, as we all know. Mid-season (Clemmings to LT – no, make that RT – damn it, back to LT), mid-game and even mid-drive (WTF!?!) head-scratchers didn’t help, either, as they disrupted a RT position that seemed to be stabilizing with Sirles in for Smith, and played havoc with the development of two young and raw OT’s.

        The turnaround this year has been remarkable, from Spielman signing the right free agents and him and Zimmer cutting a starter who didn’t fit the new offensive scheme, to Sparano adapting to that new scheme and coaching up young players like Easton, Elflein, Isidora and Hill. Kudos all around.

        • Matthew Rowe

          How Zimmer thought that three big ego ex head coaches could co exist on the offensive staff is beyond me. Big mistake organizationally, but looks to be corrected this year. Sam and the rest of the offense paid the price.

        • linus

          In a vacuum, I wouldn’t have a problem with Turner, but it’s pretty clear that his system requires a good offensive line, and he was unable (or unwilling) to adapt when the Vikings o-line started to fall apart.

        • Gordon Guffey

          cka2nd I cant believe you would ever bring up my name in the same breath as Norv Turner ~ LOL ~ Shame on you ~ You know how highly I think of Norv and his son Scott ~ Who are both setting at home after not receiving any interest from any of the pro teams nor any college teams ~ Maybe they can hook up with a high school team where their fading skills can compete on a more equal plain ~

          Sorry couldn’t help myself ~ I do agree with everything outside of of them though ~

          As for the players drafted everything I remember it was Norv who ((( its been reported here as well as in the local press he was given full control of the offense when he agreed to take the OC job ))) picked the OL to fit his scheme ~ Just as it was he and his son Scott who scouted and push for the drafting of Teddy who I still dont believe he fit their system and feel Teddy will be much better off if he can make it back in Shurmur scheme ~ And the last big move was their pushing for the drafting of Treadwell who I want blame on Norv for 2 reasons ~ No one knew that Thielen was going to blow up like he did and Diggs is always a question mark ~ Wright seem to be a big question mark if the Vikings run the ball a lot ~ He must really lack in that area ~ And most draft experts believed he was drafted where he should have been ~ Its just that sometimes players dont work out so I let Norv off the hook ~ Plus Treadwell is light years ahead of where he was last year so I still have hope he works out seeing how young he is ~

          Yeah we disagree on Norv and Scott Turner ~ But that cool ~ It would be a boring world if we all agreed all the time ~

  • Wilbur One

    Is it possible that Bradford’s “clean up” procedure heals sufficiently to return to game one form in time for the playoffs? That’s what I’d like to see, but is it possible? Also, why does everyone assume that Keenum is gone at the end of the season? They’d do well to keep him. At the beginning of next year, Sloter is at best a second year version of the third year Hundley at GB. Hopefully Spielman has learned the importance of avoiding his past backup QB miserly ways. They should be prepared to find a way to keep Keenum.

    • Scott Mitchell

      If they make the playoffs, why on earth would they activate Bradford? Keenum and/or Bridgewater would have gotten them to the playoffs, why would a team not play them over a guy who would not have taken a snap in four months?

      • Wilbur One

        Well, I did ask first if it was possible for Sam to come back from his injury in time for the playoffs, and he is the better QB on this team when healthy IMHO. So let’s assume he is healthy by the 15th game (7 weeks from now). He cannot practice with the team til after the regular season is over, but he can attend meetings and stay/get in shape. If the team finishes as Ndiv winner with the second or best record, then they don’t play on wildcard weekend giving Sam a full week of practice before the divisional round. That would be the most optimistic scenario from my perspective. No one has volunteered an answer yet as to whether its possible to quickly come back from a clean-up procedure that he had on Tuesday, and that is a big question, but if Sam can get healthy before the season is over, I think he gives us the best chance to win 10 weeks or 2 1/2 Months from now.

      • Theguds

        Maybe because he’s better than the both them even after four months of not playing.

  • YellowDog

    For once, I can’t argue with Zulgad. We might have seen the start of the Taylor “I wasn’t drunk when I kicked the window” Heinicke era, but that could have been Ponder 2.0. Minnesota and Philadelphia both came out ahead in the trade and the future was yet to be written.

  • Finchy74

    When doing a post mortem on a big decision, I’m a believer in the philosophy that the end result cannot be the only criteria applied. The thought process that was used as well as the available information and options at the time have to be weighed as well.

    Speilman took a home run swing. Some would argue that he missed completely. However:

    -We did get Bradford for almost all of last year on a team that was so flawed they would have finished far worse than 8-8 with Shaun Hill at QB.
    -This off season, the offense was re-tooled and redesigned into a modern west coast offense based primarily on the desire to play to Bradford’s strengths. Would this change have happened without Bradford? Difficult to say either way but I would tend to lean towards such sweeping changes not being made if not for Bradford. Keenum has benefited from this change as will Teddy in the future.

    Sam has likely played his last down for the Purple. It didn’t work out the way we all hoped. But significant ancillary improvements occurred because of his presence. As far as Spielman goes, I cannot fault the man. With the season at risk, he put his grapefruits on the desk and made a blockbuster deal in an attempt to save the season. I’ll take that approach any day over a G.M. who writes off last year as a lost season before it even began. And plenty of GMs would have.

  • Gordon Guffey

    Go away JuggHead ~ Just go away ~

    You were singing a different tune after he finished last year and you know he didn’t miss a game the year before with he was with the Eagles ~ You know the best the Vikings had was Mr. Hill who had been a great backup for a number of years but his best years were behind him ~ However Hill was signed to be what he had become ~ A mentor to Teddy ~

    So lets face the facts ~ Odds are that had the Vikings not traded for Bradford they most likely would have used that draft pick on Teddy’s replacement ~ Why because they couldn’t chance being without either a good proven QB or some young buck to start teaching ~


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