It’s been a hectic week and a half for the Minnesota Vikings.
After opening its new stadium and preparing for what looked to be a potential playoff run, starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater crumpled to the ground with a non-contact injury that tore his acl and dislocated his knee.
Vikings fans went into immediate panic. Who is available to in free agency? Who could we trade for? Will Bridgewater ever return? How bad was the injury? Is Peyton Manning still available? What about Brett Favre? All these questions were thrown about with little to no solace in sight.
Then general manager Rick Spielman made a trade that has the potential to salvage the season as he gave the Philadelphia Eagles the team’s 2017 first round pick and a conditional fourth round pick in 2018 for former first round pick Sam Bradford. Slick Rick’s move for the injury-prone Bradford was questioned by many, loved by Bison fans (Carson Wentz is now the Eagles starter), laughed at by opposing NFC North fans and accepted as the inevitable outcome of being a Vikings fan.
Well….I am here to tell you why I believe that Bradford will do just fine and the Vikings hopes of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy are not completely dashed.
Defense wins championships
Looking into my crystal ball, I had joked about acquiring Bradford after I had heard about the injury, but I assumed that rumors of Michael Vick were closer to becoming true. The one thing I know is that is as much offense as a team can produce, the old adage of defense winning championships holds true.
Last season, the Denver Broncos proved that a past-his-prime Manning could manage the team to its third Super Bowl victory behind a Von Miller-led defense. The New England Patriots won the previous year with a defensive play and less help for Tom Brady then his two previous big game appearances, while the Legion of Boom gave the Seattle Seahawks a victory over the Broncos in 2014.
The Vikings have the potential to have a top 3 defense in the NFL. A strong, young core will make this team formidable for years to come. Whoever took over under center for the Vikings should expect to Trent Dilfer his way through the season.
AP all day
One thing that has held the Vikings back in recent years is….scheme. It is something I bring up every time someone says a guy is a “disciple of Tony Dungy”. Dungy’s legendary Tampa 2 defense works well when your offense is a high-octane scoring machine. The Brad Childress, Leslie Frazier regimes was run-focused with a bend but don’t break defense.
With Mike Zimmer as head coach, the Vikings defense has become a mean, hard-hitting team. Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford can tell anyone who wants to listen that. This plays well into what the Vikings have done since 2007 — hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson.
Peterson, despite age and an acl injury, has not slowed down, winning the NFL rushing title last season. Whether Shaun Hill or Bradford starts Game 1, expect 30-plus handoffs to the future Hall of Famer.
A strong rushing attack will allow the quarterback to ease into the game and work field position to victories.
No doubt fans know of Bradford’s injury history. The former St. Louis Ram missed the 2013 and 2014 season (ironically, Hill was Bradford’s backup in 2014) and played in 14 of 16 games for the Eagles last season.
Bradford has played with five different offensive coordinators in his seven years in the league, so his knowledge of different offensive systems and verbage should see him pick up the Vikings playbook quickly.
Even though he played in 14 games, Bradford threw for 3,725 yards with 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Bridgewater threw for 3,231 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions, so Bradford was slightly better than Bridgewater last season. I know that is not what the Vikings fans want to hear, but it is at least a positive.
There will always be the potential of injury with whoever gets put behind center, but Bradford has proved that he can adjust to blitzes and missed blocks as he led the league in adjusted completion percentage under pressure. I know most of us would like to see huge, yardage-eating passes, but sometimes you need to play smart, chain-moving football.
Last season, Bradford had statistically the worst receiving corps in the league (7.6 percent of passes were dropped), yet still ranked 12th overall by Pro Football Focus, one ahead of Bridgewater. This leads me to my next point…
Vikings are more talented than Bradford’s previous teams
It’s without a doubt that the Vikings skill positions will be the best that Bradford has ever had in his time in the NFL. Peterson is a workhorse, Jerrick McKinnon is the new-age pass-catching running back and Matt Asiata provides the three yards and a cloud of dust power back.
As stated early, Bradford played with some terrible receivers last season (sorry Jordan Matthews). Receivers Charles Johnson, Stefon Diggs, Jarius Wright, Laquan Treadwell, Adam Theilen and, even, Cordarrelle Patterson will give the former Sooner a few more reliable options to throw the ball to. Tight ends Kyle Rudolph, Mycole Pruitt and David Morgan have also been efficient in moving the chains for the Vikings.
The Vikings offensive line has also gotten an overhaul in the offseason. Adding Alex Boone and Andre Smith has provided the trenches with much needed nastiness and improvement.
Bradford may be walking into a Norv Turner offense, but he will have former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur by his side as the coach became the Vikings tight ends coach this past offseason. Shurmur, apparently, vouched for Bradford as the trade was getting underway. As the offensive coordinator in Bradford’s rookie year, Shurmur saw the Heisman winner set NFL records in most completions without an interception by a rookie (169) and most completions by a rookie (354). This makes me think that Shurmur’s word will also be key to whether he moves up in the coaching staff or is sent packing.
Turner has also had to make due with backup quarterbacks before. In 1993 with the Cowboys, Turner prepared Bernie Kosar to step in for Troy Aikman after Aikman suffered a hamstring injury. The Cowboys went on to win the Super Bowl that year as Kosar played turnover-free ball. Turner has many of the same components from his ‘93 Cowboys team and could navigate Bradford or Hill to make smart decisions.
Lastly, Mike Zimmer. I shouldn’t have to say anything more. Zimmer has turned the Vikings from a laughing stock to a scary team. Before Bridgewater’s injury, the Vikings were a dark horse for the Super Bowl. That isn’t because the addition of once and a lifetime player, it is because Zimmer doesn’t mess around. He will have his players ready and believing in themselves.
So Viking fans, don’t worry. Losing a first-round draft pick is not as big of deal as you may think. The Vikings have plenty of picks stocked up for next year’s draft and after seeing three of this year’s picks getting cut, you might assume that we have the luxury to not draft for need. But hey, if it doesn’t work out, we will just write it off as typical Vikings….right?