Since Jerry Stackhouse, there has been no bigger ‘addition-by-subtraction’ trade in Philadelphia than Sam Bradford being shipped to the Minnesota Vikings a week before the 2016 NFL season began.
Yes, it’s Bradford Week in Philly. Set your radio dial accordingly.
The Eagles host the Vikings this coming Sunday. Three weeks ago, the expectations for this game were off the charts, but after two losses for the Eagles, there’s a general sense of unease at what might happen this week. This game has a feeling like when you break up with someone and say you’ll stay friends then they show up at a party you host with someone way more successful than you. ‘Thanks…for…uh…coming, Sam. Good to see you…?’
The Bradford trade made way for Carson Wentz to start the season, and as rookie debuts go, Wentz had as good a three-game stretch to start his career as anyone in league history. Since the Eagles’ bye week — a time in the season some speculated Doug Pederson might have pulled the trigger on Wentz even if Bradford was still in Philly — the team has struggled, sure. But the loss in Detroit was certainly not the quarterback’s fault, and Sunday’s loss to Washington saw him take a pounding, clearly leading to an overall ineffectiveness on offense. Through five games, he’s been very good and the chance to play right away will help the team long-term. Addition, surely, by subtraction.
Stackhouse was traded by the Sixers in 1997 with Eric Montross and a second-round pick for Aaron McKie, Theo Ratliff and a first-rounder. Stack was a good player, but he never clicked with Allen Iverson and, being the Answer and all, the franchise needed to put a team in place to help Iverson shine. Three seasons later, the Sixers made the NBA Finals. That’s what the Eagles are hoping for with Wentz.
Bradford was dealt for a first round pick in 2017 and a fourth round pick in 2018. At the time of the trade, the decision was roundly praised around league circles. To get even a fourth-round pick for Bradford that close to the start of the season — thereby making space for Wentz to start the year right from the get-go — would have been a rather shrewd move for general manager Howie Roseman. To get a first-round pick at that point in the year was sheer genius.
To get a first and a fourth in return for Bradford is what took this trade from great to the kind of deal we’ll talk about for generations in Philly.
Moreover, if the Vikings get to the NFC title game, the fourth-rounder becomes a third-round pick. Should Minnesota win the Super Bowl, the Eagles get a second-round pick out of that fourth rounder.
If. The minute Adrian Peterson went down, Minnesota’s odds at that Super Bowl run seemed insurmountably long. And yet, through five games — and four starts for Bradford — Minnesota is the only undefeated team left in the entire league. The Vikings have been led by their defense, perhaps the best unit in the NFL through five games, but Bradford has been, gulp, really good this season.
Through four games, Bradford is 88-for-125, a completion rate of 70.4 percent. That ranks second in the NFL for players who have thrown 50 or more passes this season — behind only Tom Brady — and the top mark for anyone who has tossed more than 100 attempts.
Wentz, by comparison, is 102-for-157 for a completion rate of 65 percent, tied for 17th in the NFL with Kirk Cousins.
Per NFL.com, Bradford’s QB Rating is 109.7, better than everyone in the league who has started more than two games, other than Exton, PA-native Matt Ryan who is having an MVP-caliber season with the Atlanta Falcons. And yet, the same can be said for Bradford.
Through four games, Bradford has yet to throw a pick, one of only two quarterbacks (with Bryan Hoyer, of all people, the other) to have 100 or more attempts without a turnover. He’s only thrown six touchdown passes — ten fewer than league leader Ben Roethlisberger — but that mark is only one less than Wentz has thrown in 32 fewer attempts.
Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Bradford has vision “as good as any quarterback I’ve coached,” and that guy has been with Drew Brees, Rich Gannon, Kerry Collins, Phillip Rivers, Alex Smith, Brad Johnson and a guy he had a bit of success with in Dallas, Troy Aikman.
“You get excited about a guy and you make that statement,” Turner said this week on the Vikings’ website. “I believe it’s true. Sam can anticipate. He sees what’s happening out in front of people and I think he can relate back to you what he sees, and most of the time, he’s pretty accurate.”
All this, the Vikings are quick to remind, without much time to learn and absorb the playbook. Like Wentz, Bradford didn’t expect to be starting for the team he’s on right now, so he had to learn an entire new scheme and set of plays, then deal with another offensive shift when Pederson went down and more of the game plan was going to be put on his shoulders to help win games.
So far, that’s all he’s done.
“I didn’t really know too much about this team, to be honest, before I got here,” Bradford admitted after Week 5’s Vikings victory. “I think I learn a little bit more each week. But I think we’ve definitely got a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. A lot of guys that we feel like if we can get the ball in their hands good things will happen.”
The extra week to gel with his new teammates and further understand Minnesota’s playbook, especially without Pederson in the backfield, can only help Bradford as the season rolls along.
“When you lose Adrian against Green Bay, that kind of changed things a little bit,” he said. “You’ve seen more spread from us. I think you’ve seen more of the [shot]gun runs and quick-game passing attack from the shotgun. I think that’s a little bit different from what this offense has done in the past and I think it’s just, you know, us getting to know each other, us getting familiar with where we’re going as an offense, but I think it’s just guys buying in.”
There is little reason to not buy in to how Bradford is playing, be it his teammates, his coaches or the Minnesota fans.
Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer downplayed any potential advantage Bradford might have against the Eagles defense this week, saying on Monday, “I know he knows those guys over there pretty good because he practiced against them for a while. I don’t think it’s a big deal. We’ll just have to do what we do.”
If anything, the Eagles probably have a better book on Bradford than he has on Jim Schwartz’s defense, but Zimmer didn’t mention that potential advantage. He did, however, say nice things about the guy who replaced Bradford. Zimmer isn’t quite on the Wentz Wagon, but he sees a lot of positives in Wentz’s game.
“I think he’s done a really good job,” Zimmer said on Monday. “It seems like he understands where the ball’s going quickly and he’s done a nice job of avoiding pressure in the pocket and using his athletic ability, and he’s got a great arm. He looks very accurate to me. He’s got a great deep ball. He’s been impressive.”
The bottom line is this: Bradford has a ton of physical skills and keeps getting chances in the NFL because coaches see the potential in him. Finally, perhaps, he’s found a place that can utilize those skills and turn all that potential into a playoff run. The Eagles clearly never saw Bradford as the quarterback of the future — not that Minnesota’s one or two-year rental proves they do — so they drafted Wentz and created an absolute mess of a quarterback situation for Pederson to figure out. Until, that is, Teddy Bridgewater got hurt, and the futures of two franchises changed forever.
In five years, there’s no question every NFL team in the league will see more potential in Wentz than Bradford. The Eagles were right to make the deal they did, no matter what happens with Minnesota’s season. But this year? As good as the rookie has been playing, the old vet on his third team in four seasons is actually proving people in Philly wrong.
Stackhouse never won much of anything in Detroit, which made that famed Sixers’ addition-by-subtraction trade look like absolute genius. If Bradford wins in Minnesota this season — be it this week in his return to Philly, or later this winter in the NFC playoffs — it won’t change how good of a trade this was for the Eagles. In fact, it will actually make it better. So welcome back, Sam. You look great. But we seem pretty happy too.