Things happen very quickly at times in the NFL. Just as stunning as the news was on Tuesday when Teddy Bridgewater went down in practice with a significant knee injury that has ended his 2016 season and potentially could spill over into all or part of the 2017 season, the Minnesota Vikings weren’t willing to sift through the market of players that were going to be cut casualties when the 32 NFL teams trimmed their rosters to 53 players Saturday.
The team took an aggressive step, trading its first-round pick in 2017 and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 to land quarterback Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles. The conditional pick could bump up as a high as a second-round pick if the Vikings win the Super Bowl and Bradford takes 80 percent or more of the snaps.
For his part, Bradford was unaware that talks were heating up between the Vikings and Eagles Friday. He was at his home in Oklahoma when he got the news, which wasn’t long before the trade was officially announced Saturday morning.
“I actually didn’t find out until it had already happened,” Bradford said. “I got a call from (Eagles) Coach (Doug) Pederson at about 8 o’clock. My initial reaction was that I was a little surprised. It wasn’t on my radar. I think that surprise quickly turned into excitement when I realized the opportunity that I had.”
The handwriting for Bradford seemed to be on the wall this spring after he signed a two-year contract extension with the Eagles, which included an $11 million signing bonus – the second half of the two installments being paid by Philadelphia on Thursday.
He thought he had the job locked down when he signed his contract extension in March, but when the Eagles traded to move up into the No. 2 draft spot to select Carson Wentz, Bradford asked to be traded. It looked as though it wasn’t going to happen, but when the Vikings came calling and met the Eagles’ price, a deal was struck.
While the Vikings will be Bradford’s third team in seven NFL seasons after being the first overall pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2010, Norv Turner also will be the sixth different offensive coordinator he has worked under. While it’s never easy to make the transition from one scheme to another, Bradford feels his ability to do so as many times as he has in his career will likely make it a little smoother than it might be for a younger QB with less experience in such matters.
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“If there’s a good thing about learning a new offense every year, it’s that I’m familiar with this process and I kind of know how it goes,” Bradford said. “I’m sure there will be some carryover from some of the systems that I’ve been in. As far as right now, we really haven’t gotten too deep into the playbook, but I’ve gone through this process so hopefully doing it before will help me pick things up a little quicker.”
On the Vikings’ side of the deal, it was unexpectedly thrust upon them when Bridgewater fell to the ground in agony at Winter Park Tuesday. After getting over the initial shock, General Manager Rick Spielman gathered the staff Tuesday night and starting watching film of potential quarterbacks they could bring in. He thought the Eagles would be a slim possibility, especially in the small window of opportunity provided that the team was only a week away from the start of the regular season.
In the end, Spielman felt that, despite the high price tag that came with the trade, there wasn’t going to be many alternative options that could improve the Vikings as much as the potential Bradford brings.
“It’s a very unique situation,” Spielman said. “Very rarely do you have a starting quarterback go down a week before the season. As we went through this process and spoke with a lot of teams and looked at all our options out there, we felt this was a very rare and unique opportunity to add a quarterback of Sam’s caliber.”
Bradford arrived at the Vikings’ facility late Saturday afternoon and his immediate job was to meet the coaches and start immersing himself in the Vikings playbook and the Turner-run offense.
It will be a process, but Bradford has confidence that he can pick up on the terminology and play-call designs quickly and hit the ground running this week when the team returns to practice on Monday.
“I’m still trying to familiarize myself with Coach Turner’s offense,” Bradford said. “Obviously I’ve seen it from afar, but I’ve never been a part of it. I’m really just trying to learn as much as I can as quickly as possible and figure out how I can best help this team.”
A key to pulling the trigger on the trade was the endorsement of tight ends coach Pat Shurmur. This will be the third time he has worked with Bradford, so there likely isn’t a coach in the league that knows his strengths and weaknesses more than Shurmur does and his vouching for the talent and ability of Bradford sold Spielman on the idea of finalizing the trade.
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Head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman played a key role as well. He worked with the Eagles and came to the Vikings along with Brad Childress when Childress was hired as Vikings head coach. His relationships with the medical personnel in Philadelphia allowed him access to Bradford’s medical records – he’s torn his left ACL twice – and he signed off as well.
But the true selling point was the recommendation from Shurmur.
“Pat Shurmur had him as a rookie in St. Louis and he was also with him in Philadelphia,” Spielman said. “Pat Shurmur gave us great insight on Sam – on all the intangibles we’re looking for, on the intelligence we’re looking for. We watched every game last season and we watched every snap he played this preseason, but Pat Shurmur, because he has worked with Sam at a very unique position – the quarterback position – he knows what his strengths and weaknesses are. I think that was a valuable asset for us.”
One key to the trade was that Bradford is not only a veteran NFL starter, but he is also under contract through 2017. He can serve as an insurance policy if Bridgewater’s rehab takes longer than expected by the Vikings.
When Spielman was weighing the options, having the option to have Bradford for the next two seasons made giving up a first-round draft pick more palatable.
“That played a huge part of this deal,” Spielman said. “We have Sam under contract for two years. Teddy has to get his surgery and go through his rehab. I think everybody knows how we feel about Teddy. To me, it was just too unique of an opportunity to bring in a caliber of player at that position like Sam Bradford.”
Shurmur won’t be the only familiar face Bradford will see with the Vikings. He will be in a two-man quarterback room with Shaun Hill, a teammate of Bradford’s when both were in St. Louis.
Bradford is happy to be reunited with Hill because they formed a bond with the Rams when Bradford was a young NFL player and they have remained friends while not being teammates.
“I’m really excited to work with Shaun again,” Bradford said. “We had a great relationship when were in St. Louis. I really enjoyed our time together. I think a lot of Shaun. He was one of first people that I called this morning after I found about the trade.”
We likely won’t find out the timetable on when it is expected Bradford can take over the reins of the starting offense. Acquired just eight days prior to the start of the regular season, it may be unrealistic to think that Bradford will start the regular season opener next Sunday at Tennessee.
But Bradford isn’t discounting the possibility. He’s going to hit the playbook hard in the coming week but understands that it isn’t his decision to make when it is deemed he has enough of the offense down to become the starter.
“That’s not up to me,” Bradford said. “I’m going to come in and give it everything I have. I’m going to work hard. I’m going to try to familiarize myself with the playbook and with this game plan for the upcoming week. But, when I’m ready to play, that’s not up to me. That’s up to (Zimmer) and he’ll make that call.”
- The Vikings kept just two quarterbacks on the final 53-man roster. The roster breakdown includes four running backs, six wide receivers, four tight ends, nine offensive linemen, eight defensive linemen, seven linebackers, 10 defensive backs and three specialists.
- Only five of the eight draft picks made the final roster – Laquon Treadwell, Mackensie Alexanders, Kentrell Brothers, David Morgan and Jayron Kearse.
- Brothers was something of a surprise to make the final roster because it was thought the Vikings would only keep six – as is their history. But, by keeping two quarterbacks and only eight defensive linemen, it opened up a roster spot for Brothers.
- Several former Vikings were among Saturday’s cuts, including guard Vladmir Ducasse (Baltimore), wide receiver Kain Colter (Buffalo), fullback Jerome Felton (Buffalo), guard David Yankey (Carolina), defensive back Brock Vereen (Kansas City), QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson (Philadelphia) and running back DuJuan Harris (San Francisco).
- One name that wasn’t on the cut list was quarterback Christian Ponder, who, for the time being remains the No. 3 QB in San Francisco.