By Michael Donovan
Considering that he only spent 18 months in Philly as a member of the Eagles, it is a stretch to say that Vikes QB Sam Bradofrd’s return this Sunday is a homecoming.
But there it is.
And it will be fascinating to see how the Eagles fans at the Linc respond to a player they never really liked very much
He was dealt to the Vikings for multiple draft picks, including a first rounder in 2017. That swap was met with immediate ridicule for Minnesota, though it comes across considerably better now.
Even if the Vikings (5-0) now have a better record than the Eagles (3-2), it’s hard to argue with Philly head coach Doug Pederson that the trade was a win-win for both sides, given the draft haul the Eagles got and that even if he’s struggled a little in the past two weeks, rookie Carson Wentz still looks like a very promising prospect.
After Philly drafted Wentz with the second overall pick in this year’s draft, Bradford’s days were numbered, even if he had just signed a new contract with the team several weeks prior. When the Vikings were desperate just before the start of the season and Wentz looked capable enough during the preseason, it only made sense for Philly to accept the deal.
Still, there’s a reason that the Eagles held onto Bradford — he could have easily been the starter. Even during his last seven starts with the Eagles in 2015, Bradford has shown improvement, throwing for nine touchdowns and four interceptions while Philly went 4-3 over that span.
Bradford has limited his mistakes even more in 2016, as evidenced by the fact that he’s yet to throw an interception. Even though Bradford was called upon to learn a new offense in a minimal amount of time in Minnesota, he’s perfectly suited to that, given he’s had four different offensive coordinators in his six seasons in the NFL, with the only overlap being Pat Shurmur during his rookie season with the Rams and again last year in Philly.
Bradford has been helped by the presence of a tremendous defense that takes the pressure off him to put up tons of points. Finally being healthy is surely another factor, as Bradford said the middle of 2015 is when he finally felt like himself again after serious knee injuries in 2013 and 2014.
Aside from Stefon Diggs, the weapons in the receiving corps aren’t that impressive, though tight end Kyle Rudolph has been useful in the red zone. Star running back Adrian Peterson was lost in Week 2 and has yet to return from injury.
In some ways, losing Peterson has helped Bradford, because it’s emphasized an offense that plays to his strengths: using the shotgun formation to make quick throws. And it’s not that he’s just dinking and dunking. His 7.9 yards per attempt through four starts would easily be a career high over the span of a full season. After being mired in a mediocre Rams team and suffering through bad luck with injury, Bradford finally finds himself in an amenable situation, and he’s making the most of it, despite most of us believing he wouldn’t.
Shurmur has been the only somewhat fixed presence in Bradford’s career, as he’s now on the Vikings staff as the tight ends coach. He said he lobbbied for Bradford when the trade was being discussed in Minnesota, railing against some of the knocks on Sam’s mental toughness.
“Along the way, he’s taken some hits and matured as a pro,” Shurmur told ESPN. “Not mentally tough? That’s the furthest from the truth when you talk about Sam. He’s tough as nails.”