Just when you thought it was safe to head to the beach or watch some tennis during the summer's last long weekend, the NFL reminded you on Saturday morning that its phones never turn off. The Eagles and Vikings consummated a fun, fascinating trade just days before the season begins, with Philly sending starting quarterback Sam Bradford to Minnesota for a 2017 first-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018. It's a remarkable turn of events for a pair of teams with two of the more intelligent and aggressive general managers in all of football. In both their cases, though, we can see just how the rules for quarterbacks and the rules for decision-making at all other positions are entirely different.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has done an incredible job building a deep, young roster in Minnesota, mostly sticking to what would count as NFL personnel best practices. He's built through his lines, tried to amass extra draft picks by trading down and mostly stayed out of free agency. When he's veered from those principles in the past, he's avoided making the mistake again. The notable example there is when he traded up in 2013, sending second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks to New England to draft Cordarrelle Patterson, with the Patriots using the selections to acquire Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan and LeGarrette Blount, Blount coming via trade.
Since then, by my count, Spielman has made 10 draft pick-for-pick trades. Eight of them were trades to move down. He traded the 240th pick to move up eight spots in the sixth round of this year's draft, about as modest of a trade-up as you can imagine, while his other trade up was at the end of the first round for Teddy Bridgewater. The price was much more amenable -- a lone fourth-round pick -- to make the trade, but the target was a quarterback. Even if Bridgewater never plays again (and he will), it was one of the few trade-ups which worked.
With extra third- and fourth-round picks in the 2017 draft coming his way from the Dolphins, Spielman has made his most curious and aggressive move since the Patterson trade. It tells us a lot about how he perceives his team and their short-term chances to compete and how desperate Minnesota was for a passer. As much as I suggested the Vikings could get by with Shaun Hill at quarterback, it's clear Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer don't agree. (Given that they're watching Hill every day in practice and realize how bad things would be if Hill himself got injured, they deserve at least some benefit of the doubt here.)
Hill has been a better quarterback than Bradford by every single statistical measure I can find over the course of their respective careers, including quarterback rating (45.6 for Hill to Bradford's 40.5), but the differences are modest and Hill is eight years older. Bradford should give the Vikings a higher floor than the one they had with Hill, especially given the possibility that Hill might have been injured and the Vikings might have been forced into playing Taylor Heinicke or Joel Stave.
Bradford can run an offense similar to the one offensive coordinator Norv Turner ran last year with Bridgewater. The Vikings had a quarterback in Bridgewater who was capable of protecting the football, making accurate short- to medium-distance passes and working with run-pass options. When Bradford is on his game, he's capable of doing all of those things. His interception rate is better than league average. He was executing RPOs or at least showing those sorts of looks on just about every series with Chip Kelly and Philadelphia last season. And Bradford's certainly comfortable checking the ball down, though his completion percentage on passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage as a pro is actually below league average (66.5 percent against an average of 69.1 percent).
That's where you start getting into the problems with Bradford.
He's not Bridgewater in terms of his accuracy, as the former Louisville star completed 73.2 percent of his passes in that same 10-yard bracket during his first two professional seasons. Bradford is not going to threaten teams with his feet in even the modest way that Bridgewater has as a pro, limiting the effectiveness of those RPOs. And the former first overall pick is a perennial injury risk himself, having missed 33 of 96 possible starts during his six-year pro career.
If there was a ceiling to Bradford's game, maybe this would make more sense, but if Bradford was going to break out, wouldn't it have happened by now? I've seen suggestions that Bradford elevated his game during the final few weeks of the 2015 season after returning from an injury, but I'm skeptical. Bradford's numbers did improve over his final five games -- he completed 67 percent of his passes, averaged 7.3 yards per attempt and threw eight touchdowns against four picks while averaging 286 yards per contest -- but his QBR over that stretch was still a 49.7, which was just below Johnny Manziel for 22nd.
Look closer at that stretch and a lot of the gloss wears off. He beat the Patriots in a game in which he threw for 120 yards and the New England special teams self-destructed. He threw for 247 yards and a touchdown against a Bills pass defense missing Stephon Gilmore, their top corner. Bradford went for 368 and two touchdowns against the Cardinals, but it was in a 23-point loss in which Bradford also threw two picks and lost a fumble. He lost another fumble for a touchdown against Washington in a 14-point loss, in a game that needed 56 attempts to get to 380 yards. Bradford finished with 320 yards and two touchdowns (with a pick) against the Giants, who had the league's fifth-worst pass defense. It's also a five-game stretch amid a six-year career that has suggested Bradford's a below-average starting quarterback. This isn't even a Josh McCown-level flash.
McCown is an interesting name to bring up because he's one of the quarterbacks Minnesota likely inquired about in trades. Spielman suggested several days ago that teams were asking for crazy things in return for a quarterback. Given that Cleveland just got a fourth-round pick as part of a swap for punter Andy Lee, it wouldn't surprise me if they asked for much more in return for McCown. Other teams likely felt equally as precious about the likes of Brian Hoyer and Mike Glennon.
If that were the case, you can probably figure out how the Vikings contorted themselves into making this trade. If they felt it was absolutely necessary to acquire a veteran quarterback and had to have one by the end of the weekend, Minnesota very well might have thought that it was better to give up first- and fourth-round picks for Bradford than, say, a second-rounder for McCown or Glennon. I don't think that logic is sound or justifiable, but it is comprehensible.
The acquisition of Bradford also speaks to the possibility that Bridgewater might not be ready for 2017. Glennon would have been a free agent after the year, while McCown will be 38 and might not be worth keeping around. The same could be true of Bradford, but after this trade, the Vikings have him on a relatively friendly contract. Bradford's cap hit for 2016 is $7 million, and the Vikings basically have a one-year unguaranteed option for Bradford for 2017 at $17 million. If Bradford plays well this year, Minnesota could have franchised him next year for something in the $20 million range, but that would have been guaranteed money. Now they can wait and see how Bridgewater's knee heals. If he's ready, given this market, it's fair to say that they'll likely find a trade partner to recoup something from the Bradford deal.
As for the Eagles, their second contract with Bradford comes to a premature end. They paid Bradford $11 million in bonuses as part of his two-year, $35 million deal, with $5.5 million of that just hitting Bradford's bank account on Thursday. They incurred the opportunity cost of starting Bradford throughout training camp and the preseason without handing those reps to Chase Daniel or first-round pick Carson Wentz (who probably wouldn't have taken them anyway with his rib injury), but essentially that $11 million paid for first- and fourth-round picks.
Most NFL teams would happily pay $11 million for a mid-first round pick if they had the opportunity. (In fact, I wonder whether a team like the Browns might think about signing a veteran quarterback each offseason in the future for the sole intent of trading them in August.) The selection is even more valuable for the Eagles, who are pick-starved after the deal to trade up and grab Wentz. Their first-round pick in 2017, now the property of Cleveland, is likely to be more valuable than the one they've acquired from Minnesota, but to keep things simple, let's cancel out those two 2017 first-round picks and the fourth-rounder they sent in 2016 for the fourth-rounder they're getting from Minnesota.
Including the Dolphins trade, you can make the argument that Philly got Wentz and what will end up as a fourth-round pick from the Browns for their 2016 first- and third-round picks, a 2018 second-rounder, two players they didn't want (Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso) and the $11 million cost of holding onto Bradford. I don't know if that's a good trade, necessarily, but it's far more palatable than the Wentz deal in a vacuum.
Reports suggest the Eagles will turn to Wentz immediately as their starter if he's physically able to play, which seems aggressive. Wentz has missed most of the past three weeks of the preseason with a hairline fracture in his ribs, limiting his work in practice while preventing him from playing. Wentz suggested he would be ready for Week 1, but why rush him back into the lineup when you paid Chase Daniel $12 million in guarantees for this exact situation? If Wentz isn't physically ready, you run the risk of being forced to bench him for subpar play amid the famously forgiving Philly fan base, which won't do wonders for his reputation. If Wentz had been so convincing as to justify the No. 1 spot before the injury, the Eagles would have been giving him the No. 1 reps then, too. I have to admit that I don't see the harm in giving Daniel a couple of weeks as the starter before turning things over to Wentz permanently when he's physically ready.
The same is true for Bradford in Minnesota. Vikings fans surely remember the lone disastrous start of Josh Freeman in purple and white, a Monday night game against the Giants in which Freeman went 20-of-53 for 190 yards while posting a 6.5 QBR. That start came two weeks after Freeman had been signed by the team, leaving him precious days to learn the playbook and Minnesota scheme, let alone develop any timing or rapport with his receivers. Freeman suffered a concussion late in the game and never played again for the Vikings.
Bradford can't start in Week 1. It would be even more foolish and a quicker time frame than the one the Vikings gave Freeman, which was itself far too short. We're eight days out from Minnesota's opener at Tennessee and 15 from their home opener against Green Bay, the exact number of his days Freeman had before his start. Do you bring Bradford in then? Could he realistically even be ready? What about the following Sunday, when the Vikings travel to Carolina? That's still probably too soon, but I don't think Minnesota can realistically wait any longer. Even as you move on to the Giants game in Week 4, he's still going to be learning all of this on the fly as Bradford (and Turner) prepare for each week's specific matchup.
The problem of Bradford being totally unfamiliar with Turner and his new scheme is why I think the most popular argument in favor of this trade doesn't make much sense. Smart people around the NFL have suggested that the Vikings needed to make this trade because they needed to compete while Adrian Peterson is still in his prime, and while I can understand the argument, I don't know how much the deal really helps.
When Bradford has played in places where he had months and years to prepare, he hasn't been very good. What is going to click for Bradford in Minnesota (on no notice) which hasn't clicked for him elsewhere? After years of disappointing, as he figures his scheme out on the fly, why would he be any better in Minnesota?
If anything, the most plausible outcome is that Bradford plays worse than he has elsewhere. Minnesota made this deal out of desperation to try to ensure a level of certainty at quarterback in an attempt to save their 2016. In acquiring Bradford, the Vikings are likely getting a certainty, but not the one they want.