The Sam Bradford trade details are pretty straight forward. The Vikings acquire the quarterback. The Eagles acquire Minnesota’s first round pick in 2017 and a conditional fourth round pick in 2018. That 2018 pick is upgraded to a third rounder if the Vikings appear in the NFC Championship Game this season, and a second rounder if they make it to the Super Bowl, according to Ben Goessling of ESPN.
In the aftermath of Teddy Bridgewater’s heartbreaking injury, the reactions to the Bradford trade have been varied, but it does seem to be a majority opinion that general manager Rick Spielman mortgaged part of the team’s future less than a week after he told everybody that he wouldn’t.
Here’s the thing: Spielman hasn’t taken out a mortgage, he has placed one gigantic bet.
The first thing you have to understand is that Spielman isn’t new to the world of gambling, particularly at the quarterback position. In fact, this gigantic all-in move with Bradford doesn’t exist in isolation, it is a reaction to Spielman letting a number of side bets ride and then being dealt one really awful hand during practice last week.
Spielman has created a roster that is so deep at so many positions. The evidence of that lies in the cuts that were made yesterday, as the Vikings have risked losing some of their own draft picks and some very talented players on the waiver wire. The defense has a handful of backup players that would start elsewhere, and in general this team is built to withstand devastating injuries.
That does not apply to, and did not apply to, the quarterback position. If reports about the team’s hopes for Taylor Heinicke are true, and the Vikings intended to roster two quarterbacks, that means the organization likely didn’t intend to keep Shaun Hill… let alone actually start him.
Despite public displays of confidence, Minnesota’s actions speak louder than words, and it is clear the Vikings don’t think Hill can take them where they want to go.
The odds of Teddy Bridgewater suffering the injury that he did are incredibly low. The odds of him missing time, however, are not that low. A wonderful series produced by Football Outsiders last season illustrates just how likely it was that the Vikings were going to have to depend on their backup situation during their race to the Super Bowl.
Here are some odds to consider from that series:
- Over 50% of NFL quarterbacks end up on the injury report in a season.
- About 35% of NFL quarterbacks miss at least one week in a season.
- About 15% of NFL quarterback miss four or more weeks in a season.
If Bridgewater was as crucial to this team’s success as the Bradford trade indicates he was, and the backup situation was as bad as the Bradford trade indicates it was, that means Spielman was betting the upcoming season on Bridgewater’s odds of staying healthy.
He had chances to find a critical spare via free agency and the NFL Draft this year, but opted not to. He liked his odds of Bridgewater remaining healthy, despite the dubious state of the offensive line, and he lost big when Heinicke missed his chance to overtake Hill and Bridgewater’s knee gave out.
Spielman, to the liking of a great many fans, refused to expend valuable cap space and valuable draft picks to get more talented and deeper at the NFL’s most important position this last offseason. Now, with the cards not coming in Spielman’s favor, he has placed a new bet that has cost him both picks and cap space in a big way.
Even for those that might think Bradford is at least comparable to Bridgewater as a quarterback, the odds above still apply. There is a 15% chance that he misses more than four games this season due to injury, odds that are perhaps increased due to Bradford’s injury history and the pass protectors in front of him, and if that happens then Spielman is right back to where he was at on Friday… only with a lot fewer available options.
Spielman has essentially doubled-down on an existing gamble that had already gone very poorly for him.
THE POTENTIAL PAYOUT
Any gamble has the potential for success. Sometimes at varying levels.
This particular gamble actually has a huge jackpot that Spielman aspires to win. If the cards start falling a little more to Minnesota’s favor, and Bradford can stay healthy and help lead this team to a Super Bowl, then that is obviously a huge win for the entire organization.
I’m not sure what the odds are, and I’m not sure even Vegas knows what the odds of a Vikings Super Bowl appearance are at this point, but if it were to happen then Spielman looks like an absolute genius. He would be heralded as the bold executive that knew that his defense was lights out, knew that his Adrian Peterson window was closing, knew that the Bridgewater injury couldn’t be solved with the in-house options.
Of course, a Super Bowl would be worth a first and fourth round pick… that’s what we hope we’re getting each time a new class is drafted.
Even if a Super Bowl isn’t reached, the Vikings could certainly get a quality season out of Bradford, which could also yield a payoff for Spielman in the end. Not only does the on-field success of Bradford make for a better season in Minnesota, but if he can stay healthy and play well, then it isn’t inconceivable that Spielman could flip Bradford at a profit to a different needy team once Bridgewater is ready to return. Meanwhile, Bradford acts as the insurance policy that Spielman should’ve had in the first place until such time that Bridgewater is ready to return.
THE POTENTIAL LOSSES
Of course, with so many unknowns at this time, the worst case scenario involves Bridgewater never playing football at the level we expected him to play at in 2016. That same worst case scenario also involves a poor season, or even an injury, out of Bradford.
Not only would the Bradford acquisition failing make it harder for the Vikings to succeed in 2016, but the picks it cost Spielman to acquire him via trade would make it that much harder to solve future quarterback quandaries.
A total system failure, where Bridgewater’s injury really does derail his career and Bradford amounts to nothing, is a scenario that Spielman and the Vikings simply cannot afford.
If the cards continue to be dealt the way they have been in recent weeks… well, any realistic and intelligent Vikings fan can see where things would go from there. And it isn’t pretty.
THE SEASON AHEAD
Vikings fans have all the reason in the world to root for Bradford this season. They have all the reason in the world to cheer for Bridgewater’s speedy recovery. They have all the reason in the world for a presumably nervous Spielman to come out of all this smelling like a rose.
We’re just one week away from cheering on our beloved purple in their first season in their new home. We wouldn’t cheer for them to be a disaster, of course, but we all need to cheer just a little bit harder for this team to find short term success.
Their long-term prospects depend on it.