Timing and desperation came together in dramatic fashion early Saturday.
The Vikings, devastated earlier in the week by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s season-ending knee injury, acquired Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford in hopes of reviving what they had considered legitimate Super Bowl aspirations before Bridgewater got hurt.
It was a bold move at a critical time for the Vikings, who are set to open a new indoor stadium in Minneapolis and had visions of a championship season before Bridgewater crumpled to the ground during practice Tuesday. The third-year quarterback suffered a dislocated knee, a torn anterior cruciate ligament and additional damage as a result of the non-contact injury.
And while the Vikings outwardly had expressed confidence that journeyman backup Shaun Hill could run the offense well enough to keep their playoff hopes alive, the reality was that they felt a need to act immediately to resuscitate their Super Bowl dreams. General manager Rick Spielman then pulled off a dramatic, albeit risky, move by trading for Bradford, giving up a first-round pick in 2017 and a fourth-rounder in 2018.
That’s a steep price for a quarterback under contract for only the next two years, but with a win-now roster that includes 31-year-old tailback Adrian Peterson, who might not have many great seasons left, Spielman believed he needed to make the move. And it’s hard to argue with his reasoning, even though surrendering a first-round pick to do it carries significant risk for the team’s future.
The Eagles, meanwhile, had no intention of keeping Bradford beyond this season, not after their own dramatic moves to climb up the draft board and get in position to draft North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick. The Eagles got back the 2017 first-round pick they surrendered to trade up for Wentz, so it made complete sense for them to make this move now — even if it creates some short-term instability.
A preseason rib injury interrupted Wentz’s development this summer, but he’s almost completely healed, so now it’s a matter of seeing when he’s comfortable enough to run the offense. He might even open the season as the starter; if not, the Eagles would go with Chase Daniel, who worked with then-Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson in Kansas City last year.
Pederson, now the Eagles’ head coach, certainly has experience dealing with this kind of situation. After all, he was the starter when the Eagles drafted another quarterback second overall. Ten games into the 1999 season, Donovan McNabb replaced Pederson and went on to a terrific career.
The trade also will impact the Giants, whose NFC East rivals to the south can’t be expected to have a playoff season as a result of the move to Daniel or Wentz as the starter. Even with Bradford, the Eagles were an incomplete team, so they’re even more of a work in progress now.
There appears to be a clear path to the NFC East title for the Giants, especially if their retooled defense improves on last year’s dismal showing. Eli Manning is far and away the most experienced and accomplished quarterback in a division whose starters are now Daniel or Wentz, rookie Dak Prescott in Dallas and Kirk Cousins in Washington. Cousins had a terrific year last year, but not enough to get more than a one-year deal as the team’s franchise designation.
It will be an unexpected reunion for Bradford and Peterson, who were college teammates in 2006 at Oklahoma before Peterson went to the Vikings in the first round in 2007 and Bradford became the No. 1 overall pick of the Rams in 2010. And for those who think Bradford will be slow to adjust to the Vikings’ system, consider that offensive coordinator Norv Turner is one of the NFL’s best at working with quarterbacks, starting with his time with Troy Aikman in Dallas. Also on the Vikings’ staff: tight ends coach Pat Shurmur, who was Bradford’s offensive coordinator last year in Philadelphia.
As for the longer-term future in Minnesota, this move makes sense. While Bridgewater is expected to make a full recovery, the Vikings can’t be certain that he will be ready for the start of the 2017 season because of the significant structural damage he suffered. Bradford is under contract through next season, so he remains a viable alternative in case he needs to be the starter beyond this year.
So yes, it’s risky giving up a first-round pick for what could be a relatively short-term gain. But with Bridgewater already in place as the team’s franchise quarterback, losing that first-rounder doesn’t become quite as big an issue. Especially for a team with such a win-now mentality.