For a 33-year-old former quarterback who made $129 million over his career, Sam Bradford is a name that faded away faster than almost any other recent No. 1-overall pick. Casual NFL fans may have forgotten that he was with the Minnesota Vikings for two years and arguably had his best season in purple.
Following Teddy Bridgewater’s life-threatening non-contact knee injury in September before the 2016 season, the Vikings traded a first-round pick and a conditional fourth to the Philadelphia Eagles for Bradford. Even though he only had 15 days to learn the offense, Bradford put up a solid season, throwing for 3,877 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. He was efficient, completing a league-high 71.6% of his passes, and the Vikings got off to a 5-0 start.
Even though they finished the year 8-8, Bradford looked like a franchise quarterback — especially when he was throwing behind a healthy offensive line. His future looked bright, and it appeared like the risky trade paid off.
Bradford carried the positive momentum with him into 2017. He demolished the New Orleans Saints, throwing for three touchdowns and 346 yards in a 29-19 Week 1 win.
But due to a bruised bone in his knee, Bradford missed the next three games. He returned against the Chicago Bears but wasn’t fully healthy. He was replaced by Case Keenum, and the rest is history.
That was the last we saw of Bradford in a Vikings uniform.
Recently, Kyle Rudolph stated that he believes that the Vikings could have won the Super Bowl in 2017 if they had Bradford at quarterback. Sure, that would be nice to think, but what realistically could the future have looked like if Bradford never got injured? Bradford likely would have had a similar, if not better, production level than Keenum did in 2017. Bradford had a higher ceiling and more natural talent than Keenum, and he would have gotten his chance to play with a star-studded offense.
Bradford was the quarterback when Adam Thielen had his breakout season in 2016, and it’s likely that connection would have improved in 2017. Thielen posted 1,276 yards and four touchdowns with Keenum under center. Imagine if he had another year of Bradford.
It’s not hard to believe that the 2017 season would have gone mostly the same, capping it off with a Bradford revenge game against the Eagles in the NFC Championship. Imagine the poetry of that matchup. But, given how much Foles and the Eagles dominated the Vikings in this game, it’s hard to see the Vikings winning, even with Bradford at the helm.
The 2018 season is where things start to get interesting. The Vikings wouldn’t think that they were a quarterback away from a Super Bowl, meaning they wouldn’t go out and sign Kirk Cousins. Why would they after two highly productive seasons from Bradford? In 2016, Bradford was on a two-year, $36 million deal. He likely would have been re-signed in the offseason heading into 2018 for a similar but likely less expensive contract than Cousins eventually signed.
Bradford would be leading the Vikings into the 2018 season. After two full years in the system, he would have a mastery of the offense. I believe we would have seen Bradford take the reins of the Vikings’ offense for years to come.
He would have had to stay healthy, of course. But he would have established himself as their guy, something that the Vikings haven’t had since the days of Fran Tarkenton.
Bradford had just gotten acclimated to the Vikings when he got hurt. He had hardly spent over a year in Minnesota before playing his final season with the Arizona Cardinals. But he looked like a franchise quarterback for a fleeting moment. He made such an impact that Rudolph felt the need to acknowledge him in his goodbye letter. That shouldn’t be overlooked, especially by someone who is as revered as Rudolph.
Would Sam Bradford still be the Vikings’ quarterback this season if he never got injured? I believe the answer is a resounding yes, if not for his injury history. Bradford was the No. 1-overall pick and Heisman winner for a reason. He found a place where he could be successful; luck just wasn’t on his side.