EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – The news Sam Bradford received Wednesday -- his 30th birthday, no less -- delivered a major blow to the veteran quarterback’s chances of landing a long-term deal.
Bradford was placed on injured reserve by the Minnesota Vikings in order to create a spot on the 53-man roster for Teddy Bridgewater, who was activated off the physically unable to perform list. Since leading the Vikings to a season-opening win over the Saints where he also suffered a noncontact injury, Bradford has faced ongoing problems with his left knee.
Over the past three months, the quarterback has dug into his own pockets to conduct an exhaustive search for an answer to his knee problems, making repeat visits to orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews, undergoing Regenokine treatments and trying out an arthroscopic procedure on Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
The “good news” he received each time had to be frustrating. While there’s apparently no joint or structural damage, the inflammation has caused Bradford chronic pain.
Bradford was told by those who treated him that this was not expected to be a long-term issue. That’s the belief the Vikings said they had, too, until Wednesday.
"We all did, but it didn't happen," coach Mike Zimmer said. "Nothing really changed, it just didn't get better."
The veteran quarterback, who came to the Vikings via a trade in September 2016 after Bridgewater went down with a catastrophic knee injury, will hit the market in 2018 as an unrestricted free agent. This season was supposed to help him secure a megadeal with Minnesota or elsewhere.
Instead, the move to IR could cost him millions.
The 2017 season was Bradford’s chance to put up big numbers after spending a full offseason versed in Pat Shurmur’s system and lead the team on a playoff run. Doing that could have earned him his next big deal – aka Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford money – as evidenced by how many NFL teams are desperate for a solid starting quarterback.
Bradford, who is making $18 million from the Vikings this season between his $14 million base salary and $4 million roster bonus, could have been looking at a multiple-year deal worth over $100 million.
Now? Well, needless to say, Bradford probably doesn’t want to do much in the way of celebrating this crushing reality. But let’s keep things in perspective for a second.
Bradford has made $114 million over his eight years in the NFL. He could decide to retire now or take next season off and live comfortably.
The former top pick in the 2010 NFL draft (the year before the present CBA locked rookies in on a pay scale) made $65 million with the Rams over five seasons where he dealt with injuries to that same left knee that caused him to miss considerable time, including the entire 2014 season.
After being traded to the Eagles in 2015 and producing so-so results that year, Philadelphia re-upped his deal for $18 million guaranteed in 2016. He was then traded to the Vikings for first- and fourth-round picks when Minnesota desperately needed a quarterback.
We don’t need to go through the entirety of Bradford’s contract history, so in sum, the veteran quarterback made $24 million from the Eagles and will end 2017 making $25 million from the Vikings.
There’s a miracle scenario out there that could keep things in line for Bradford. He’s eligible to come off IR after eight weeks, which would be the first week of the playoffs. If Minnesota makes the postseason, he’s healthy and the Vikings aren’t getting what they need out of Bridgewater, maybe Bradford shocks the world, leads the team to the Super Bowl and secures his dream-come-true deal.
Maybe there’s a .001 percent chance that happens, but even still, future teams are going to have pause over handing out a big contract because there’s so much uncertainty over whether his knee is going to continue to be a problem.
In all likelihood, Bradford’s future will consist of shorter, possible one-year deals for a reduced price. A look around the league’s quarterback situations could put him in a place like Washington or Miami next season. Maybe Cleveland or another team that drafts a quarterback could sign him to compete with their younger player for a spot.
Is the Bradford era in Minnesota over before it ever really got started? Possibly. Bridgewater just so happens to be a free agent in 2018 as well. If the Vikings aren’t confident that he’s their guy for the long-term, Bradford could be back next year, albeit for a reduced price and shorter duration. He won't get the franchise tag that was being thrown around in discussions several months ago.
Minnesota wasn’t ready to pull the trigger on a big extension with Bradford before the season started, and the other 31 teams in the NFL won’t likely be eager to do the same going forward.
This was supposed to be a year of leverage for Bradford; a chance to get another favorable extension that would increase his net worth among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league.
What this season instead revealed was an injury issue that he could no longer outrun and may cost him his next big payday.