As the Minnesota Vikings return to work today coming out of their bye week, they do so as the lone remaining undefeated team in the NFL and with a storyline that is sure to be grabbing national headlines, not just in Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
Six weeks ago, the Vikings made the bombshell announcement that they had traded their first-round draft pick in 2017 and a conditional pick in 2018 to acquire quarterback Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles – their opponent next Sunday.
Initially, the trade was met with skepticism. Bradford had largely been a disappointment after being the first overall pick of the 2010 draft by the St. Louis Rams. Owner Sam Kroenke went as far as to say the impetus that sent Bradford to the Eagles was due to concerns over numerous injuries that had plagued him during his career with the Rams.
Bradford was back home in Oklahoma when he heard the news and had no idea that a trade was in the works. The plan when the Eagles signed him to a two-year contract extension earlier this year was that he would be the starter in Philadelphia and the No. 2 overall pick in last April’s first round of the draft – Carson Wentz – would be brought along slowly.
With the announcement that Philadelphia would be hosting the 2017 draft, the Eagles didn’t have a pick in the first round and would merely be spectators after trading away their own 2017 first-rounder to move up to select Wentz. The Bradford trade changed that, too.
There was plenty of criticism to go around for both teams. With a new coaching staff in Philadelphia, the organization had gotten rid of just about every key player acquired under former head coach Chip Kelly with the exception of Bradford. They rectified that with the trade of Bradford to Minnesota.
Even after the trade, the conventional wisdom was that the Vikings needed Bradford to be more of a game manager than a game-changer. After all, the Vikings’ primary calling cards have been defense and a strong running game.
The defense has more than done its part, allowing 16 points or fewer in every game this season, but the running game has been uncharacteristically weak this season – before and after Adrian Peterson was lost due to an injured meniscus.
When Peterson went down, so did the face of the Vikings offense. Without their bell-cow running back, the Vikings offense was no longer dependent upon having a quarterback line up under center and revolve the offense around Peterson, whether that meant handing it to him 20-30 times a game or using him as a decoy to crowd defenders in the box and open single coverage on the edge.
However, when Peterson went down in Bradford’s first start Week 2 against Green Bay, everything changed. The game plans that were being force-fed to the Vikings offense were now scrapped. Bradford would be able to line up more often in the shotgun, where he feels more comfortable when passing.
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The results have been impressive. While the defense remains the dominant feature of the 2016 Vikings, Bradford has more than done his part. Despite having a revolving door on the offensive line due to injuries and a running game that is the worst in the league – averaging just 2.5 yards a carry – Bradford has more than lived up to his end of the bargain. He has completed more than 70 percent of his passes, averaged about 250 passing yards a game, hasn’t turned the ball over and has a passer rating of 109.7.
Although the Eagles have been fallible since their own bye week, turning a 3-0 start into a current record of 3-2, it can’t be blamed on Wentz. He has thrown seven touchdowns with just one interception, is completing 65 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 99.9.
He has overproduced from even the lofty standards set by the coaching staff and the generally salty Philadelphia fan base.
This week will be festered with stories of Bradford and Wentz. Who came out better in the long run? History will determine that and we are still in the baby-step portion of that process.
For the long-term, opinions will be formed and memories will be made – perhaps with the rose-colored glasses of NFL fans. When Vikings fans recall Brett Favre in purple, they remember 2009, not 2010.
For a Vikings team that had Super Bowl aspirations when training camp opened in Mankato with Bridgewater, Peterson and a healthy offensive line intact, the season to date has met even the loftiest of expectations.
For an Eagles team that seemed to be throwing in the towel and handing the keys over to a small-college rookie in a tough sports town, even with a loss to division rival Washington Sunday, there is reason for optimism in Philly.
Years from now, a winner and loser of the trade made six weeks ago will likely be able to be agreed upon.
For now, we’ve got two great stories and both sides can claim victory.
Trades don’t often work that well for both sides. This one might.