Quarterback Sam Bradford practiced this week for the first time since exiting the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 5 matchup against the Chicago Bears.
In between, he met with different doctors, underwent surgery and rehabbed with trainer Eric Sugarman to prepare for a potential return.
“These past couple of weeks we’ve tried to simulate as much of a practice as we could,” Bradford said Wednesday. “I felt very confident going into these practices that it would feel good and I think it responded well after yesterday.”
Bradford had an impressive start to the season, going 25-for-32 with 346 yards and three touchdowns against the New Orleans Saints. But a non-contact injury effectively ended his regular season, leaving him to wonder what could have been under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and with a solid offensive line and skilled group of receivers and running backs.
“Mentally for me it was tough,” Bradford said. “Going through another injury, having gone through it twice before with this knee, it was just really frustrating. But I’ve been working extremely hard to get back out there…to practice again these last two days has been really encouraging to me mentally.”
More likely than not, Teddy Bridgewater will act as Case Keenum’s backup as the Vikings head into the playoffs. Bradford would only say that he’s taking it a “day at a time” when asked whether he would be prepared to appear in a game. Bridgewater has been practicing since October and has not appeared on the injury report since then.
Coming back to practice will help Bradford’s case as he enters free agency. Here are his potential options for 2018:
The door is wide open for almost any scenario with the Vikings’ projected starter for 2018. Bradford could sign a one-year deal with the Vikings and enter next year as either the backup QB or go into training camp with a chance to win a starting job. Bradford could either be the No. 2 or 1B to Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, another free agent or even a rookie quarterback.
While his past injuries would be a concern, Bradford would be the best backup quarterback in the NFL. As a Viking, he’s posted a 101.1 rating and thrown 23 touchdowns, five interceptions and completed 71.8 percent of his passes.
The Vikings couldn’t go into 2018 without another starting-level quarterback, but bringing Bradford back would give him the opportunity to win the job and maximize his potential. With an impressive supporting cast already and Dalvin Cook returning next year from an ACL injury, it’s plausible the Vikings’ offense will be even better.
Of course, the only way Bradford would agree to staying in Minnesota would be if no other team will make him their starting QB.
It isn’t a complete certainty that Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will find a head coaching job, but as more teams interview him (Detroit, Chicago, Arizona and New York Giants already on the list), it appears more likely that he will be elsewhere next season.
Shurmur and Bradford have a strong relationship. They worked together in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Minnesota. Bradford has repeatedly praised Shurmur’s ability to maximize his players’ strengths. With a high level of accuracy on short and deep passes, Bradford is built to be a strong West Coast quarterback.
If the Vikings’ OC ends up in a place that does not have a franchise QB like Arizona, he could bring Bradford along and look to compete in Year 1. Or if Shurmur landed with Chicago or a team that was drafting a QB this year, Bradford could make for a good No. 2 option to help the young quarterback understand Shurmur’s philosophies.
There are a number of teams with unclear quarterback futures. You could envision the following teams having a different quarterback next year: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts (Pending Andrew Luck’s health), Denver Broncos, Washington, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals.
With less supply than demand, it seems Bradford will receive a high number of phone calls during the offseason. Most of those teams would be unwilling to make him the lock-dead No. 1 QB, but he might compete with a top draft pick QB like Sam Darnold in Cleveland or Josh Rosen in New York.
If Bradford’s knee doesn’t respond and he’s forced to walk away, he will go down as one of the all-time what-could-have-been quarterbacks. When he was in St. Louis, the Rams had very poor supporting casts, then in Philadelphia, Chip Kelly traded his two best players LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. And then in Minnesota, the team finally builds a strong roster and he’s forced to watch Case Keenum lead the team to a 13-3 record.
The 2018 season will determine whether he becomes a full-time starter again.