Sam Bradford’s play could make for some tough decisions for Minnesota Vikings next year

Sam Bradford is off to one of the best starts for a quarterback in Minnesota Vikings history. Can it last and, if it does, what happens in 2017 and beyond?

There has been a growing sentiment around the NFL as the Minnesota Vikings continue to roll through quality competition in dominating fashion as to just how good can this team be. Specifically, what happens if quarterback Sam Bradford continues to play at a high level?

Through three games as a starter, Bradford has yet to turn the ball over, has completed almost 70 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 105.5, third-best in the NFL.

It’s that last number that stands out the most. Too often, fans get confused by the arcane nature of a rating where a perfect score is 158.3. The simple reality is that anything under 90.0 is less than what is expected, 90.0 to 100.0 is very good and anything above 100.0 is elite.

While it remains a small sample size, what Bradford is accomplishing thus far what has almost never been done in the 56-year history of the Vikings franchise.

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The last time a Viking quarterback had a passer rating for a season over 100.0 was Brett Favre in 2009 (107.2).

Prior to that, the last time it was done was in 2004, when Daunte Culpepper had a sparkling 110.9 passer rating that likely would have won the league MVP if not for Peyton Manning breaking the all-time touchdown record the same season.

Prior to that, historians had to go back to 1998 when Randall Cunningham lit up the NFL with the first Greatest Show on Turf and posted a passer rating of 106.0.

Prior to that? Forget about it. It had never been done.

Despite having a Hall of Fame quarterback in Fran Tarkenton as the primary starter for 13 seasons, he never had a passer rating of 95 in any year. Tommy Kramer never did it. Warren Moon never did it. Jeff George came close (94.2), but he never accomplished it either.

It’s far too early to be convinced that Bradford can maintain his current passer rating over the course of a full season, but, when you consider his first three starts came against Green Bay, Carolina and the New York Giants, there is reason to believe that when the Vikings get up against weaker defenses, big passing days may be in the offing.

One of the keys to making the trade for Bradford was that he was under a two-year contract and Philadelphia was doing a lot of the heavy lifting – the Eagles are paying more of Bradford’s 2016 contract than the Vikings. General Manager Rick Spielman said that was the biggest key to making the trade. Given the clear severity of Teddy Bridgewater’s injury, the Vikings would have options if it kept Bridgewater sidelined into 2017.

The rub with that is the structure of Bradford’s contract. He will be due a $4 million roster bonus in March on the fifth day of the 2017 league year. Even if Bridgewater is making great progress in his rehab from the knee injury that shelved him, it would only be a little over six months from the time he had surgery to the time that the Vikings would have to make their decision on Bradford.

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If anything, it would appear that the Vikings are going to have Bradford on their roster in 2017. The team could invoke the fifth-year option on Bridgewater because there is no guarantee that the player will get that money. He can be released in that offseason if necessary and it doesn’t cost the organization a dime.

But, the longer Bradford keeps looking sharp and staying healthy, the Vikings will be facing a tougher decision with each passing month. If Bridgewater is healthy enough to return next year, does he get his starting job back? If Bradford leads the Vikings to a deep playoff run, doesn’t he deserve to keep the job? If both are healthy, will there be a full-on competition during training camp and the preseason?

It’s too early for any of that speculation to be on the minds of the coaches and players of the Vikings – their only concern right now is Houston – but it does make for those outside the organization to speculate.

The team was confident that Bradford could step in for Bridgewater and the team wouldn’t take a big backward step. But it would have been hard to imagine that he would pick up the offense so quickly and perform as well as he has against elite competition.

It’s a good problem to have and, until the Vikings have to sort things out when Bridgewater is good to go, it’s a nice insurance policy to possess. One way or another, they will have the position covered – something that was far from certain a little over a month ago when Bridgewater collapsed on the practice field at Winter Park.

FRIDAY NOTES

  • The local climate is getting pretty vicious toward kicker Blair Walsh these days. One of the prime talker subjects on Twin Cities sports radio was whether Walsh should be cut because of his struggles that have happened since he missed the game-winning field goal against Seattle in the playoffs last January. He’s being booed by the home fans and the only certainty would seem that he had better have a perfect day Sunday or the speculation will just continue.
  • For tailgaters who show up extremely early for games, they may find themselves with an issue of getting near the stadium. All streets in between 5th Avenue and 11th Avenue and between 6th Street and 3rd Street will be shut down at 5 a.m. to the Twin Cities Marathon. For most fans attending the game, it won’t be an issue, because the road will re-open at 9 a.m.
  • The Vikings are one of only two teams Houston has never beaten. The Vikings have won all three meetings – in 2004, 2008 and 2012.
  • The Viking Update podcast will be taping at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis starting at 3 p.m. Friday. Live questions from fans are welcome.
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