Bradford spent the 2015 season and the 2016 offseason and preseason with the Eagles before he was traded to the Vikings after Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season with a knee injury on Aug. 30. The trade, while in the works for a couple days, came as a surprise to Bradford and his coach in Philadelphia, Doug Pederson, who was entering his first season as a head coach in the NFL expecting Bradford to be his starter.
“I was excited really to have Sam to kick this season off for us. He came out of training camp playing extremely well,” Pederson said. “His last preseason game was that Indianapolis game. He played really, really well. It was exciting to see that. He’s such an accurate thrower and big, tall target, throws an accurate, catchable football. I was just really excited to see what he could do in this system, in this offense and was looking for some obviously big things from Sam in our system.”
Completing 70.4 percent of his passes, Bradford has been the NFL’s most accurate passer this season.
But when the Vikings upped their offer to a first-round pick in the 2017 draft and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018, the Eagles made the move. Pederson had stated before the trade that Bradford was their starter, Chase Daniel was their backup and rookie Carson Wentz would be their No. 3 quarterback learning in the shadows.
The Bradford trade dramatically changed the course of the quarterback groups in both Philadelphia and Minnesota.
Pederson said he was initially “shocked” at the possibility of trading their starting quarterback eight days before regular-season opener, but with Wentz performing well in Philadelphia and Bradford helping to lead the Vikings to a 5-0 start in Minnesota, Pederson declared the trade a “win-win once the dust settled.”
For Minnesota, Bradford was a “win.” In fact, he’s led to them to four of their five wins – with Bradford learning the offense, Shaun Hill started the season opener – and they remain the only undefeated team in the NFL and only the second team in NFL history to start a season 5-0 without throwing an interception.
“He’s going to get it out and he’s smart. He makes good, accurate throws,” Pederson said. “He’s tough to defend that way. I’ve always said this as a former quarterback: It’s hard to defend the perfect pass and he knows how to put the perfect pass out there.”
Bradford is one of only two qualifying quarterbacks in the NFL this season without an interception. His 109.8 passer rating is second in the NFL, he has a 123.0 rating in the second half of games (second in the NFL), and his 119.3 passer rating in the fourth quarter is third-best.
Pederson said Bradford’s early success with the Vikings isn’t a surprise to him. Once Bradford learned Philadelphia’s offensive system last year, he thrived in the second half of the season. This offseason, under another new system, he showed a quick understanding. Now that he’s in his third offensive system in two years, he continues to impress.
The Norv Turner system in Minnesota is the first numbers-based offense Bradford has been in, but the Vikings tried to simply the verbiage with code words for some plays. That has helped, Bradford said, but obviously there are other challenges in joining a team eight days before the regular season.
“There’s so many things. Number one, learning the people in the locker room. He’s never met me before and I don’t know if he ever met Norv,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “There’s so many things people don’t think about besides the terminology. You know, understanding the receivers, he basically didn’t know any players here, so it’s like when you go to a new job the first day you don’t know anybody, you’ve got to learn everything. The protections are different, the terminology is different, the combinations, the players are different. It’s like I said when I first came here – I didn’t know where the bathroom was, so he didn’t know anything. For him to be able to do the things he’s done, I think he’s done a great job.”
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After season-ending knee surgeries in 2013 and 2014, Bradford is healthy once again and his accuracy has been uncanny given all the changes for him.
“I think guys have it. It can be taught. It can be learned. It’s not something that can obviously be developed over a day or two,” Pederson said of Bradford’s accuracy. “You’ve got to continue to work it, but you’d love to have the guys that are naturally gifted in accuracy. You throw sometimes more with your eyes than you do just physically with your arm if you’re blessed with an arm. But aim small, miss small, and put your eyes in the right spot and things of that nature, and some guys are gifted in that. And Sam’s definitely a guy that has it. And you can see it.”null