With Bradford out, Vikings’ opener pivots

The Vikings’ Week 1 preparation has taken a quick turn, as St. Louis Rams starter Sam Bradford reportedly has a torn ACL, pushing former Viking Shaun Hill to the top of the depth chart … for now.

There are certain teams that have a razor-thin edge when it comes to quarterbacking. Perhaps no team screams that more than the St. Louis Rams – the Vikings’ Week 1 opponent in the regular season.

Saturday night, while the Vikings were taking care of the Kansas City Chiefs, the Rams were dealing with another quarterback catastrophe, as starter Sam Bradford, who missed most of last season with a torn left ACL, has reportedly torn the same ACL and has been lost for the season.

Bradford, the first pick in 2010 draft, has been an expensive disappointment for St. Louis. Drafted the year before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached in the summer of 2011, Bradford’s rookie contract was worth more than those signed by 2011 top picks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III combined.

The injury could have a two-fold impact on the Vikings. The most obvious is that, with Bradford gone, the Rams have to resort to the “next man up” mantra before the regular season even begins.

In the immediate short-term, the plan is to go with 13-year veteran Shaun Hill. Hill saw his first NFL action with the Vikings. In four years with Minnesota from 2002-05, he appeared in just one game – his only statistics came when he took two kneel-downs at the end of the regular-season finale in 2005.

In four seasons with San Francisco, he started 16 games, throwing 23 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. That earned him another four-year stint in Detroit, where he had his most exposure in 2011. When starter Matthew Stafford was lost for the season, Hill started 10 games, finishing the year with 2,686 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

The problem for Hill has been another long stretch of inactivity. Over the last three seasons, he has thrown just 16 passes and didn’t have a single pass attempt last year.

Hill is 1-3 against the Vikings, connecting on 94 of 134 passes for 871 yards, 5 touchdowns and four interceptions.

With Hill pushed up to the forefront, the backup job is currently scheduled to be battled between a pair of players who have never thrown an NFL pass – third-year pro Austin Davis, who hasn’t appeared in a game in his first two seasons, and sixth-round rookie Garrett Gilbert from Southern Methodist.

At a time when the Rams were being touted as a team to watch in the NFL’s toughest division, much of their cache was centered on defense. It can be argued that the Rams are going to have as dominant a front four – sooner or later – as anyone in the NFL. The defense was going to the calling card, but a major decision in this year’s draft was to use the No. 2 pick of the draft on offensive lineman Greg Robinson.

The plan was to win games with defense and get enough offense to keep them in every game. With Bradford gone, that process has taken a major shift and you can bet the Rams are looking at all their options.

One name that has already surfaced is that of former Jets starter Mark Sanchez, who is currently the No. 2 guy in Philadelphia. But with Nick Foles entering his first season as a starter, the Eagles may be hesitant to part with the only backup QB on the roster with starting experience.

While his name hasn’t been thrown out yet, it would seem to make sense that someone like Christian Ponder would be viewed as a viable option. Buried as the No. 3 QB on the Vikings roster, Ponder hasn’t even seen the field in the last two preseason games. The plan would appear to be for the Vikings to keep Ponder on as the No. 3 quarterback on the roster. It would take a series of unfortunate events for Ponder to see the field for the Vikings. For the Rams? He would likely be pushing to start from the day he set foot in the facility.

The Vikings might be extremely hesitant to swing a trade with St. Louis to ship Ponder off because, with his knowledge of the new offense and defense that the Vikings have installed over the last several months, he could provide the Rams with a lot of intelligence that could be used against the Vikings in Week 1.

But, at the same time, Ponder’s value may never be higher if the Vikings are looking to move him than it is right now. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to expect that the Vikings could ship him off for a conditional third-day draft pick that could become higher if he reaches certain milestones in terms of games started.

For a player who has been all but nonexistent all spring and summer, the Rams misfortune could be an opportunity for the Vikings to get something back in exchange for Ponder – as opposed to simply letting him walk at the end of the year.

The Rams may not be interested. The Vikings may not be interested. But, from the fan perspective, both fans of the Vikings and Rams could cut this deal. The Vikings save $1.7 million and get draft compensation and the Rams have the chance to save their season before it dies in August.

We’ll see if the front offices catch up with the fan perspective of a win-win trade.


The Associated Press contributed to this report. John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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