News came out yesterday that the knee injury Sam Bradford suffered against New Orleans week one did not come from contact. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told the media Bradford twisted his knee during the game, but would not indicate how severe the injury is. He did say that Bradford’s chances of playing against Tampa Bay Sunday are “good,” but he was limited in practice once again yesterday.
That update is relatively good news for Vikings fans after Zimmer was vague describing Bradford’s prognosis earlier in the week. If not this week, it appears Bradford will be ready to go sooner rather than later. Given the offense’s anemic performance with Case Keenum under center, the return of Bradford could not come soon enough.
Bradford’s injury came at the worst possible time. He had just played the best game of his career and the Vikings had a tough opponent in week two in the Pittsburgh Steelers. Minnesota needed a really good start to the season if they hope to make a run at the postseason as they have a rough road schedule looming in the second half. The momentum they built with their week one win went out the window as soon as the Vikings ruled Bradford out prior to last Sunday’s kickoff. Which brings me to the point for today.
Sam Bradford is one of the league’s elite con men.
He conned the Eagles into thinking he was worth two picks and a Pro Bowl quarterback in 2015 despite coming off not one, but two ACL surgeries on the same knee he is nursing today. His ruse continued when they gave him a two-year extension at the end of the year. And despite a .500 record and middle of the road production, he still felt slighted when Philadelphia traded up to draft Carson Wentz second overall in 2016.
He conned the Vikings into trading for him to replace the injured Teddy Bridgewater. That in itself was not a bad move by Minnesota; they needed a stop-gap until Bridgewater returned. The con was having a mediocre season veiled as a good one. Sure, he set a record for completion percentage in 2016 and finally played an injury-free season. But he also led the league in fewest yards in the air per pass attempt. Still, a perception grew that Bradford was the long-term answer at quarterback.
Sure, fans can blame the offensive line for his constant reliance on the checkdown last year. But plenty of franchise quarterbacks play behind shaky lines with great success. Look at Green Bay. Indianapolis. Seattle. Bradford’s success was skin-deep. It had the appearance of efficiency without results. Do we need reminding that the Vikings finished 8-8 and third in the NFC North last year?
What is more, he duped offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur into believing in him above all else. As long as Bradford is healthy and Shurmur is on staff, Bridgewater will stay on the bench. It is a frustrating scenario because Bridgewater was a big reason why the Vikings made the playoffs and should have won a playoff game against Seattle in 2015, his second season. His third figured to see yet another step forward in his development. Then his injury happened and the Bradford project moved back to the Midwest.
And that brings us to 2017, where he has begun his biggest and most clever con of all: playing like a superstar.
Bradford was great in week one against the Saints. He looked just like the franchise cornerstone the Rams drafted him to be in 2010, slinging the ball over the field, sensing the pocket, delivering balls into windows no average man could even see. He was rewarded with NFC Offensive Player of the Year. Pundits heaped praise upon him. The question of where Bridgewater would be next year was bandied back and forth. Heck, even I questioned Bridgewater’s future. Bradford’s stock was never higher.
Then he got hurt.
That is why he does not deserve Vikings fans’ trust: Sam Bradford will never be a reliable Sunday play. He may play this week and he may play great. He may win MVP for all I know. But he also may miss his second week in a row, and then another after that. The matter of confidence in Bradford is independent of his play for the remainder or 2017.
Bradford has too many years of average play to justify the crushed hopes his many-more years of injury have brought. As he is the Vikings’ biggest chance of being a successful offense and a playoff team, you need to hope for Bradford to be healthy and brilliant. You have every right and obligation to root for him to succeed. He has earned your optimism merely by putting on the purple jersey and taking snaps under center.
But he has not earned your trust.