Sorry, draftniks. NFL teams should always use their drafts to get better for the season, not use their seasons to get worse for the draft.
So if you’re among those growling that the Vikings ruined their 2017 draft, cheer up. They might have just saved their 2016 season by trading a first-round draft pick in 2017 and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2018 to Philadelphia for former No. 1 overall pick Sam Bradford.
Before we view the benefits of filling an unexpected crater on a Super Bowl contender by convincing another team to part with its starting quarterback eight days before the season, let’s first tap the brakes on the notion that the future was mortgaged beyond repair to do so.
Before Teddy Bridgewater went down because of a season-ending knee injury, the Vikings felt they would draft no higher than the late 20s next spring. They also believe they have the ammunition — five picks in rounds 2-4 — and the track record of General Manager Rick Spielman to not only win now with Bradford but also trade back into the first round if they target a must-have player.
Spielman has picked nine first-rounders the past five years. All nine are still on the team. He took two first-rounders in 2012, three in 2013 and two in 2014. So when it comes down to trading up, he knows who to call and when.
Bradford’s blockbuster arrival is a classic example of how quickly things change in the NFL. A week ago, Bridgewater’s knee wasn’t shredded and Bradford was less than six months into a two-year contract extension that cost the Eagles an $11 million signing bonus.
Today, Bridgewater is awaiting surgery and an uncertain return date that could stretch beyond next year’s opener, while Bradford is on his way to play with Adrian Peterson for the first time since their Boomer Sooner days in 2006.
The trade wasn’t even on the Vikings’ radar Thursday night when Spielman discussed Bridgewater’s injury and the team’s options before the preseason finale at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings assumed no team would part with its starting quarterback this close to the season.
Not even the Eagles, who were using Bradford as a temporary bridge to Carson Wentz, the rookie No. 2 overall draft pick.
Then word out of Philadelphia suggested the Eagles were getting more comfortable with Chase Daniel as their bridge. They were willing to talk about trading Bradford, who is due to make $7 million this season.
The negotiations began Friday night and intensified — but only because of new tight ends coach Pat Shurmur, who coached Bradford in St. Louis and in Philadelphia. It was Shurmur who convinced the organization that Bradford had the intelligence and the work ethic to learn Norv Turner’s offense quickly.
The tentative plan heading into Monday’s practice is to start Shaun Hill in next Sunday’s season opener at Tennessee. Bradford will be armed with a simplified portion of the offense in case Hill is injured. After that, the coaches will huddle to discuss starting Bradford in the Week 2 home opener against the Packers on “Sunday Night Football.”
Hill, who backed up Bradford in St. Louis, remains a trusted backup. But only short term. The team couldn’t ignore his age (36), injury history and the fact he’s never started more than 10 games in 15 NFL seasons.
A look at Sunday’s final cuts from around the league validates the Vikings’ decision to think bigger. Their strong need matched Philadelphia’s unique situation. And with a two-year contract, Bradford can be a savior this year and, at worst, a comforting insurance policy next year if Bridgewater’s anticipated full recovery is dragging.
Bradford steps into a team with a top-five defense, an improved offensive line and a league rushing champion, Peterson, who, at 31, couldn’t afford a wait-till-next-year mentality. The latter is a new feeling for a quarterback who never has played alongside a top-10 rushing attack.
The 2018 draft pick the Vikings gave up could move up to the third or second round based on Bradford’s playing time and the team’s success. If the Vikings win the Super Bowl this season, the pick becomes a second-rounder.
Even a draftnik probably wouldn’t mind that swap.
Mark Craig covers the Vikings and the NFL for the Star Tribune. • firstname.lastname@example.org