By Jason Keidel
No team is more aware of the savagely random nature of football than the Minnesota Vikings, who lost their blossoming quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, to a most gruesome knee injury. Not even red jerseys can cloak prized players from the realities of the sport. While quarterbacks are shielded like diamonds during training camp, Bridgewater was felled by a non-contact injury, so severe there is serious concern about when, or if, he will return.
Word is that the team trainers were so quick and skilled that they literally saved Bridgewater’s leg. The team formed a ring around their fallen leader, with 300-pound behemoths reduced to a hugging, praying and crying congregation.
It’s never a good time to lose your coach on the field, especially one as good and beloved as Bridgewater. But to have it happen two weeks before the regular season is even more horrifying.
Enter Sam Bradford, perhaps the most overpaid player in NFL history. After winning the Heisman at Oklahoma, Bradford was the No. 1 pick in the draft, picked by the (then) St. Louis Rams.
After what was, at best, a bewildering career with the Rams — four injury-addled seasons during which he seemed to snap an ACL just from falling out of bed — Bradford was given new life with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was equally baffling.
Those who really know football are still spellbound by Bradford’s skill. He looks sublime in seven-on-seven drills. But to borrow a boxing analogy, some fighters are downright scary while working the heavy bag. Then they step in the ring with Roy Jones Jr., and things change a bit when they get hit. On the field, Bradford has been way more Frank Bruno than Mike Tyson.
To pirate the words of Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are. That not only applies to win-loss records, but also your production as a player. And the stats assert that Bradford, at his best, is a mediocre NFL quarterback. No matter how tantalizing your skill set may be, you must be on the field for it to matter. And then you must prove it once you’re on the field.
Fortunately for Bradford, the Vikings are not asking him to be Dan Marino. They need him to be like Tom Brady, circa 2001.
The Vikings did what they had to do, traded for a starting quarterback to replace their own. Fans are outraged by the price the team paid — a first-round pick in 2017 and conditional fourth-round selection in 2018.
Did they overpay? Sure.
No NFL team would even consider such a bounty for Bradford. But that’s the power of leverage (of which the Vikings had none) and desperation (of which the Vikings have plenty).
Bradford’s career record is 25-37-1. He’s completed 60.1 percent of his passes, tossing 78 touchdowns and 52 interceptions. That’s hardly Tom Brady-level stuff. He may not even be a backup on your fantasy squad.
His best season was technically 2012, when he went 7-8-1, with 21 TDs and 13 INT, compiling a total QBR of 49.46. That’s pretty much a microcosm of his career, which certainly doesn’t warrant the draft picks his new employer hemorrhaged to get him.
But this notion that the Vikings mortgaged their future is a bit myopic. Whether you agree or not, Minnesota feels they have a club that can contend for a Super Bowl right now. They’d rather not wave the white flag before the opening whistle.
The old-school blueprint doesn’t change much now that Bradford is under center. Their offense will pivot off Peterson, who is on the wrong side of 30 but still runs like he’s 25. Their defense remains as ornery as ever.
A healthy Bridgewater threw for 3,231 yards and just 14 TD in 2015, which was quite enough to get them into the playoffs. Frankly, it was enough to get them deep into the playoffs. Vikings fans surely still wince at the recollection of that Seahawks game, which they had in the bag until they shanked a chip-shot field goal at the end.
The Vikings plan to be back there, and won’t let a dislocated kneecap be the difference between winter in the frigid climes of St. Paul and perfecting their golf game in the Caribbean. Enter Sam Bradford.
Head coach Mike Zimmer toiled on the sidelines for decades, waiting for his shot wearing the headset. And he’s done a fabulous job building his club into a contender. He is not going to wait for the medicine gods to heal their ailing QB, who is reportedly getting reconstructive knee surgery this week. Even the most optimistic estimates have him recovering and rehabbing for at least a calendar year.
So Sam Bradford is the man this season. And the Vikings can still hope to turn the old NFC Central — the black and blue division — a proper shade of purple.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.