Quarterback Sam Bradford was more than ready to get traded out of the Philadelphia Eagles many months ago, but the team waited eight days before the season opener to grant him his wish.
The Minnesota Vikings found their emergency replacement for Teddy Bridgewater, paying a steep price while signaling anew they’re in it to win it this year.
Bradford was sent to the Vikings on Saturday for a pair of draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2017.
“We felt this was a very rare and unique opportunity to add a quarterback of Sam’s caliber,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said, adding: “We did not mortgage the future in my mind.”
After Bridgewater went down with a gruesome injury to his left knee in practice on Tuesday, Spielman initiated a marathon evaluation session that night of other potential options around the league. He publicly expressed confidence on Thursday in Shaun Hill to take over for Bridgewater, but the 15-year veteran Hill has only been a starter as an injury fill-in and has limited arm strength with which to stretch the field for Adrian Peterson and the rest of the offense.
So Bradford, whose career has been blemished by injuries since becoming the first overall pick in the 2010 draft by St. Louis, entered the picture. He is signed through 2017, which was a major reason for Minnesota’s interest. After dislocating his knee, completely tearing the anterior cruciate ligament and sustaining other significant damage, Bridgewater will have a hard time making it back next season.
“I was a little surprised just because it wasn’t on my radar, but I think that surprise quickly turned into excitement when I realized the opportunity I had ahead,” said Bradford, who won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma but has never been to the playoffs in the NFL.
The Vikings also parted with a fourth-round draft pick in 2018 that can become a third-rounder or a second-rounder based on how they finish. Spielman touted the extra selections the Vikings have in the third and fourth rounds in 2017, an opportunity to move back into the first round if a particular player inspired them to do so.
The Eagles were 7-9 last season and would have been in a rebuilding mode in a division other than the diluted NFC East. The deal allows them to develop No. 2 overall draft pick, Carson Wentz, sooner than expected. Chase Daniel is the only other quarterback left on their roster. Wentz missed the last three preseason games because of broken ribs, but personnel chief Howie Roseman said the team is “very confident” about the recovery track he’s been on.
Before the trade, the Eagles didn’t have a first-round pick for 2017 when the draft will be held in Philadelphia. They dealt that one and others to move up for Wentz this spring.
“This was not part of the blueprint, but we have to take advantage of opportunities that are presented to us,” Roseman said.
The Vikings, who finished 11-5 to win the NFC North last year, are more poised for a Super Bowl run now.
“We had to make a very difficult decision on what’s going to give us the best chance to win,” Spielman said, adding: “I understand at times there’s a premium you have to pay.”
Bradford, who was acquired by the Eagles in a trade with the Rams about 18 months ago, set franchise records last season with 346 completions and a 65 percent completion percentage. His 3,725 yards passing in 14 games was the fourth-most in Eagles history, thriving down the stretch in coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced scheme. Bradford then passed up free agency and signed a two-year, $36 million contract with $22 million guaranteed in March.
But the Eagles grabbed Wentz, and Bradford responded by skipping some voluntary offseason workouts. After a trade with Denver couldn’t be worked out, Bradford returned as the starter and played well in the preseason in new coach Doug Pederson’s offense.
Bradford will now play for his sixth offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, in seven seasons. The Vikings tight ends coach, though, is Pat Shurmur, who was Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator in 2015 and Bradford’s offensive coordinator in his rookie season with the Rams. Shurmur filled the Vikings in on all of Bradford’s intangibles, another key to the deal, according to Spielman.
“If there’s a good thing about learning a new offense every year, it’s that I’m familiar with this process and how it goes I guess,” Bradford said.
Bradford has played a full 16-game season only twice in six years. He tore the ACL in his left knee during training camp in 2014 with the Rams and was replaced, ironically, by Hill, who was one of the first people Bradford called after the trade. The Vikings sent a private jet to Bradford’s home in Oklahoma, and he arrived at team headquarters late in the afternoon to begin cramming in as much knowledge of Turner’s system as he can.
Hill will likely start the opener on Sept. 11 at Tennessee, though.
“That’s not up to me. I’m going to come in and give it everything I have,” Bradford said.