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Vikings Made a Desperate but Necessary Move by Trading for Sam Bradford

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystSeptember 3, 2016

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 18: Quarterback Sam Bradford #7 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on from the sideline during a National Football League preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on August 18, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Eagles defeated the Steelers 17-0. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

There’s a number to keep in mind before we even begin processing what the Minnesota Vikings gave the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire quarterback Sam Bradford.

The number? Fourteen.

That’s how many touchdown passes Teddy Bridgewater threw for the Vikings in 2015 (tied for 26th) in a season when they won 11 regular-season games on the strength of a dominant defense and running back Adrian Peterson’s raging-bull ways.

Those wins earned the Vikings their first NFC North division title since 2009, and then they came one hooked field-goal attempt away from knocking off the almighty Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card Round to advance deeper into the playoffs.

Their defense isn’t on the same tier as the smothering No. 1 unit fielded by the Denver Broncos in 2015. But on a simple though fundamental level, the Vikings still share a team-building approach with the defending champs. Their wins come through defense and swinging a vicious rushing hammer.

The quarterback? He's the cabbie driving the car, and his main assignment is to weave around potholes.

That is why what the Vikings did Saturday morning comes with significant risk. But also necessary risk, because Teddy Bridgewater's season-ending knee injury put them in the unfortunate situation of having to grasp for a Sam Bradford just over a week before the 2016 NFL season begins.

They needed a quarterback with starting experience who has demonstrated competence in the past. Those qualities don’t ever come cheap, and especially not in early September when the desperation level of a contending team is clear for all to see.

So it’s understandable if you slept in on a Saturday morning, stumbled out of bed around 10:30 a.m. ET to see what Bradford cost in a trade and then decided to roll back over until Monday.

But the trade price, as noted by ESPN's Adam Schefter, is a reality of the NFL universe in which we live. Any starting-caliber quarterback who has done that job in the past—even an average one, or in this case, an injury-prone one—comes with a massive markup.

Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter

So final breakdown is this: For Sam Bradford, Eagles get a first-round pick in 2017 and a conditional 4th in 2018.

The Vikings have a defense that can manage the inevitable turnovers to come, and Bradford isn’t far removed from being somewhat trustworthy in that all-important quarterback category. Or at worst, he won’t make you watch games through facepalms as long as the Vikings use him in a specific way.

That's why Bradford fits right in with what they want to accomplish.

His career touchdown-to-interception ratio makes you nod in surprised silence instead of hide back under the covers. Bradford is still a youngish 28 years old, and over 63 NFL games he’s thrown 78 touchdown passes alongside 52 interceptions. A fine 2013 season prior to a torn ACL and an equally effective 2012, when Bradford established a career single-season high in passing touchdowns, pushed up that ratio.

Sam Bradford's 2013 and 2012 seasons
SeasonTouchdownsInterceptionsYards/Attempt
20131446.4
201221136.7
Source: NFL.com

Note the far right column's pedestrian numbers too.

Bradford has a career per-attempt average of 6.5 yards. We’ve seen enough of him to know he is not and never will be a field-stretcher. But that’s just fine in a Vikings offense with Peterson and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who can create plenty of extra yardage after the catch.

I zoomed in on those two seasons to show that, despite the cringe effect of his name now, Bradford had a prolonged stretch of being what the Vikings hope he’ll become behind a better offensive line. He has to make sure his turnover total is tolerable and dazzle with the odd bucket-drop pass when necessary.

Or to dust off the giant book of NFL cliches: Minnesota needs a game manager.

Dealing a first-round pick and a conditional fourth-rounder to the Eagles that can upgrade to a second- or third-round pick in 2018 based on playoff results, per Schefter, seems steep for a quarterback who, at best, gives the Vikings modest confidence in his ability to meet the low bar for acceptable performance—minimizing mistakes (Bradford can maybe do that?) and staying healthy (*crickets*).

There’s another reason I focused on the 2012 and 2013 seasons with Bradford, and it’s the latter half of that sentence.

Bridgewater tore his ACL, dislocated his knee and has other structural damage after an injury suffered in practice. There is some question about his availability to begin the 2017 season, and now the Eagles have Bradford as insurance. He's under team control for two seasons.
Bridgewater tore his ACL, dislocated his knee and has other structural damage after an injury suffered in practice. There is some question about his availability to begin the 2017 season, and now the Eagles have Bradford as insurance. He's under team control for two seasons.Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

Let’s try to see the future with rosy optimism.

There's more than a reasonable chance Bradford can pull off a 2015 Bridgewater imitation and stay out of the way while Peterson and the defense do the stomping. The concern, however, is he’s given us little reason to believe in his durability. And the drop-off behind him to Vikings backup quarterback Shaun Hill is still a cliff dive.

Bradford has missed a mountainous 27 games over the past three years because of severe injuries. He tore his ACL nearly halfway through a resurgent 2013 season when he posted a passer rating of 90.9. Then he ripped apart the same ACL during a preseason game in 2014.

This is when we arrive at the difficult riddle the Vikings were facing during a time when their demand at the most sought-after position was exceedingly high and the supply had dwindled to dangerously low levels.

Do they plug their collective noses with several clothes pegs and overpay for the best option available? Or go with one of the many bottom-tier lottery tickets?

They went with door No. 1, which is a move you can't judge without the necessary context. As NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported, what was lying behind door No. 2 was far more terrifying than any Bradford apprehension you have:

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

#Vikings called the #Chiefs about Nick Foles, had eyes on some #Ravens backups. Found a Sam Bradford deal much more to their liking

The Baltimore Ravens' backups are Ryan Mallett and Josh Johnson. Then there’s Nick Foles, the Kansas City Chiefs second-stringer who threw more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (seven) in 2015.

Ultimately, the Vikings’ goal is to make sure they advance deep into the playoffs, increasing the value of the conditional pick they surrendered to Philadelphia. But that's an accepted risk because of the looming urgency around the 2016 season and the core of their offense.

Peterson is a human, believe it or not, and he’s starting his age-31 season on Sunday. He’ll be doing that with his running back odometer reading 2,636 regular-season touches. That’s already 29th on the all-time career touches list for running backs, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com. He’s averaged 292.9 touches per season, which means Peterson could nearly be among the top 20 in touches by the end of 2016 if he stays healthy.

The Vikings have collected a promising young core of offensive talent highlighted by Diggs, fellow receiver Laquon Treadwell, tight end Kyle Rudolph and Bridgewater once he returns.

But time and history tell us the window on Peterson’s career, or at least his effectiveness as a punishing runner, may soon be closing. That is why the Vikings were desperate with a purpose in their aggressive pursuit of Bradford.

They need to win and win now.

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