Yes, Sam Bradford Has Been the MVP

You’ve surely heard by now. On Wednesday, Peter King named Sam Bradford his MVP through the first quarter of the season. This elicited a wide range of responses, many of which amounted to boundless outrage —just look at the replies to this tweet for a sample. The idea was strongly opposed. And those in in opposition generally did one of the following: they offered a different candidate they found more worthy—Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson were named the most, and both are understandable choices—or, more frequently, they said something to the effect of “the Vikings defense is so good! How could Bradford be the MVP?!?!?!”

For his part, I thought King’s explanation made a lot of sense:

[quote_box_center]Normally I wouldn’t want to name a player who missed a quarter of his team’s games the MVP. But I will make an exception for Sam Bradford. Acquired for first-round and fourth-round picks eight days before opening day, Bradford sat out the opener (the Vikings got two defensive touchdowns and won by nine at Tennessee) and started the next three Minnesota games. In those three games, learning a new offense on the fly, Bradford has beaten quarterbacks who have played in four of the past nine Super Bowls, and in each game outplayed Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Eli Manning. Bradford has no turnovers. He has the best completion and passer rating, both by a mile, in his career.[/quote_box_center]

The most important thing in Peter King’s evaluation is the meaning of “valuable.” The MVP award—even a fictional one given out after four games—is about selecting which player matters most to his team. It’s not about who is the most talented or has the gaudiest stats; it’s not simply about picking the “best” player. The “most valuable” player, to me, is the single most meaningful player on one of the league’s best team’s, and someone that, if the taken off that team, would make the team significantly worse.

Okay, he explains it better:

[quote_box_center]The MVP, I think, should never be determined on numbers alone—though they help. The MVP should be about the player who means the most to a very good team, and without whom that team would be Just Another Team. And the Vikings would be 2-2 or maybe 3-1 with Shaun Hill playing quarterback right now.[/quote_box_center]

That’s why I agree with Peter King that Sam Bradford is the MVP so far in 2016. If you want to argue Ryan or Wilson, I can understand that, as they have flashier stats and household names. But considering the circumstances, what Bradford has done is more impressive: arriving in Minnesota a week before the season, debuting on national TV against Green Bay, and skillfully conducting an offense for three games with what has been a mostly atrocious offensive line and zero running game. He lost his starting left tackle and (actual) MVP running back, and didn’t miss a beat. No, he isn’t putting up Drew Brees numbers. Yes, the Vikings offense is average. But maintaining an average offense with those setbacks and a relative dearth of playmakers is impressive. Bradford has taken care of the ball—zero turnovers through three games is a very significant stat—and moved the offense at a reasonable rate, scoring enough points to win and making a few big-time throws per game. You may call it mediocre, but without Bradford, the Vikings offense would be downright bad. He has been the single most impactful player on a team that is among the three best in the NFL.

“But Sam,” you might say, “it’s the defense! The defense is the strength of this team! It’s the best defense they’ve had in decades, and what the defense has done through four games is far more impressive than anything that has happened on offense.”

And I’d be inclined to agree with you, minus the needless exclamation points. Of course the defense is the strength of this team, and is the biggest reason for 4-0. But the MVP is given to a single player, not 11 (or, more accurately 14ish) players. You can’t give an individual award to an entire unit. If you want to go create an MVU award on your own time, be my guest, and I will gladly vote the Vikings defense.

Vikings Territory czar Adam Warwas and I had this argument yesterday; he believes Bradford as an MVP is ridiculous, and wouldn’t even put him in the top five on his own team. Adam would name Harrison Smith the MVP of the Vikings, followed closely by Linval Joseph. Here’s his argument in a nutshell:


I guess I look at it as this: a guy like Smith or Linval are making their units perform at an elite level because they both stop the run and impact opponents in the pass. To what extent the team’s performance drops off in their absence is something none of us want to find out. They’re both playing at an elite level within an elite defense.

Bradford, while I hope he gets there, is just simply leading a below-average offense in a safe and efficient manner. That’s great, but can he put the team on his back and will his offense to a W when the chips are down? This D can (Week One), but this offense has yet to prove they have anything resembling a second gear with or without Bradford.


I agree with Adam that Smith and Joseph are better players than Bradford. As are Griffen and Barr and probably a few others. But here’s why the argument doesn’t hold water with me: the strength of the Vikings defense is that they have so many elite players acting as one unit. If you were to remove Smith or Joseph from the defense, there would be an impact, but it would still be a pretty good defense. Removing anyone from the defense would not have as big an effect as removing Bradford from the offense, and that single concept makes Bradford more “valuable” to this team.

It doesn’t surprise me that national folks might write off the Bradford-as-MVP talk; Minnesota doesn’t have enough sustained success to be considered a banner franchise, and the nationals are partial to such organizations. What I find bewildering is the way Vikings fans have written off the idea. Very few I have talked to think it’s legitimate and many seem to think King wrote the column as a vehicle for a splashy headline and pageviews. This is so not like us—usually we’re the one’s yelling our players don’t get enough respect, and bashing anyone outside state borders who doesn’t appreciate the greatness of our team. To be on the other end of the spectrum, this time, is puzzling, and I think it points clearly to one thing:

We just really love Teddy.

Really, I think that’s what it is. In the short time Teddy Bridgewater has played for the Minnesota Vikings, his poise and charisma (and yes, talent) have so captivated us that we don’t want to give too much credit to an out-of-towner for rolling in and leading this team to three straight wins. It feels like it would be cheating, in a way, to give Bradford too much credit, especially since Teddy and his hobbled knee are unable to play. So instead we create a narrative that the team is doing well in spite of the quarterback; that Bradford is doing okay, and, thankfully, he’s not screwing up. That Teddy was ready to take the leap, and if he were healthy, he’d be doing all this and more.

The morning after the Week 2 win against Green Bay, I wrote that Bradford was a better passer than Bridgewater. After a single game, it probably came off like a reactionary jumping of the gun, but in reality it was more of a confirmation of something I had suspected for a long time; when it comes down to throwing a football at a pure, basic level, Bradford has Teddy beaten. It doesn’t mean he’s a better quarterback than Bridgewater, and it doesn’t mean Teddy won’t continue to improve and eventually usurp Bradford and others in the passing department—rather, my bet is he will. But in Teddy Bridgewater, we’re talking about a player whose best season was 3,231 yards and 14 touchdowns, against 9 interceptions, and a wildly unrefined deep ball. Let’s not call him Dan Marino. He does a lot of things well, but, like all players, there are holes in his game. Bradford has a skillset that is more naturally suited to Norv Turner’s offense, and that’s partially responsible for the success we’ve seen this season. He’s doing some things Bridgewater hasn’t been able to do—mainly the deep ball—and it’s not knocking Teddy to point this out. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment that Teddy Bridgewater is still developing as a quarterback, and Sam Bradford has been pretty darn good in his absence. You don’t need to have one or the other; you can appreciate them both in different ways.

Maybe Teddy Bridgewater would be doing all this and more. Maybe he was ready to take the leap. But maybe he wouldn’t, and he wasn’t; there’s no way to know. But the fact is, when he injured his knee and went out for the season, this well-assembled team, with phenomenal defense in tow, needed someone to take Bridgewater’s stead and lead the offense while he’s out. It seemed nearly impossible at the time—just under two weeks before the start of the regular season—but Rick Spielman made a bold move, and it’s worked out better than most of us could have expected. Let’s appreciate a GM with the stones to make that move, despite the price, and a quarterback who stepped in and ensured this team does not go to waste. Sam Bradford has made the offense work, and contributed to the unbeaten start as much as any other player on the roster. Let’s stop expecting perfection and appreciate the good. For Bradford to walk in and make this offense decent is a feat worthy of an MVP.

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Sam Neumann

Sam Neumann is a freelance writer and lifelong Vikings apologist. He has seen his share of Vikings-related heartbreak, but believes we are united by the hope that one day that norse ship will come in. Sam is the author of three books, including the New York Times Bestseller Memoirs of a Gas Station. He lives in Denver, Colorado, and has had it with Broncos fans. You can follow him on twitter @NeumSamN.

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  1. “So instead we create a narrative that the team is doing well in spite of the quarterback; that Bradford is doing okay, and, thankfully, he’s not screwing up.”

    But, but, you just explained that a fictional absence of a player like Bradford is the measure of an MVP candidate. Isn’t that creating a narrative?

    1. First, I’m going to take a minute to bask in the glow of dragging the boss into the comments section.

      Okay. Nice. Now, to answer:
      Yes it is! Dealing in any hypothetical is basically creating a narrative. I have nothing against narratives in general, only wrong ones. And I feel like the “Bradford hasn’t done anything well, he just hasn’t screwed up” narrative is incorrect, and created to serve a different purpose than just objectively grading his performance.

      I’ll pack my things and leave through the back.

  2. Never said he hasn’t done anything well. Just think the MVP title is reserved for elite performance and that we haven’t seen that yet. Have we?

    And if the impact of a player’s absence is the true measure of a player’s candidacy, is Bridgewater second on your list of MVPs? His absence caused our GM to make an unprecedented blockbuster trade.

    1. I mean, if Bridgewater were healthy, he would almost definitely be first on the list. Based on my metric (and Peter King of Sports Illustrated and MMQB.com’s), the quarterback would be the most valuable player on a lot of teams. Not sure if you’re asking if he is still second on the list despite the injury, which is existential and obviously insane.

      I guess that’s where you and I differ – I don’t think the MVP is reserved for elite performers. I think it’s reserved for “valuable” performers. Most Elite Player is a different conversation, and would almost always go to Joe Flacco (kidding). It’s like the years Alex Rodriguez spent with the Rangers; he was often the most outstanding player, but never the most valuable, because they were a last place team, and they could’ve finished in last place without him, too.

      1. As an avid Bradford supporter, I still can’t agree with you on this one Sam. You say without Bradford the team would be 3-1 or 2-2. But if you took most teams (excluding the patriots) starting qbs away I suspec most would have a worse record. Take out Matt Ryan, I doubt his replacement throws for 500 yards against the panthers. Same goes for Russell Wilson.

        Starting Quarterbacks by nature of the position are valuable. There aren’t even 32 good ones in the league! Sam has been fantastic and I agree he is a better passer than teddy at this stage, however MVP is a little too much too stomach, even for a strong supporter of his. Especially considering he has only played 3 games!

        1. I’m also a supporter of Bradford (of course), and don’t mean to make it sound like I’m not.

  3. Sorry Adam, I am with Peter and Sam on this one. In particular, I agree with King’s definition of MVP.
    Would the Vikings have a 4-0 record if Rock had not made the trade? We can’t know that.

    I also think that Player of the Week, Month, Year is reserved for elite performers.

    1. You’re right, we can’t know that, Joe. Which is my point exactly. We can’t know if the Vikings defense fails to lead them to 4-0 start without Bradford, as well. All we know about his absence is that they led this team to a 1-0 start.

  4. Sorry Adam…..I too agree with Sam and Peter.

    This whole MVP deal has morphed into a popularity contest and you have taken the bait.

    Peter and Sam’s argument is concrete and solid…Bradford is the most valuable player for the Vikings at this point…Teddy would be on the list IF he performed as well as Bradford has, with the holes on offensive line and AP out.

    I think you are talking about the ‘Most Talented Player’ (as stated by joefan71 above)

    1. Even if it is as concrete and solid as you say that Bradford is the most valuable Viking — MVP of the entire league? Taffy don’t stretch the way that logic does.

  5. Most Valuable Player has been Zach Line. No question if you watch the all 22 Film.

  6. Sam’s reasoning is correct, which, by necessity, means Adam’s reasoning is incorrect.

    I find this troubling.

    What can we trust, at this point? An ethics review board of Mr Warwas’ behavior is not completely out of line. I also trust the IRS will want to do a retroactive audit of past years’ tax returns. I have no idea where this will lead us, but it’s a journey worthy of our collective efforts.

    1. Really? This debate is this lopsided? Okay, I concede, Sam Bradford is the NFL’s Most Valuable PlaNope Can’t Even Type It.

      We’ll check back in on this come Week 17, fair?

      1. Well, no, of course that’s not fair. The conversation was about who was MVP thru the first quarter of the season; not who’s going to be the season MVP by extrapolating solely off the first quarter of play. That’s an entirely different conversation yet to be had.

        Ultimately, I don’t know, I was just being a Richard to you for fun. In reality, I’d give you the win based solely off of Sam’s baseball comparison. Baseball. Ew.

        I do, however, like that someone took me serious enough to give me a downvote. My thespian skills are improving. They may be approaching MVT mention, at this point, but it’s still early in the season. Wish me luck.

          1. Welcome to Tomb Town, Sam. He has the best written and oral skills in all of VT.

            I am reserving the option to comment on Tomb’s hair style

  7. Ok, I read the article and the comments. Sorry Adam, you need to fire yourself.

  8. Bradford the MVP of league? Ok, if that happens…great! Means this season will be very successful. Probably a 1st round bye.
    But right now he’s riding the coattails of the defense, as is every other offensive player.
    I’m a bit surprised at the amount of people here following along with this skewed logic.
    Bradford is playing pretty good and the Vikings are 4-0, only 3 of those games he played in. My vote goes to Carson Wentz. Who would be a better team without the QB? Eagles or Vikes? I rest my case.

  9. What I haven’t heard is who in the Super Bowl era has done what Bradford has done: 3-0, no interceptions after a month with the team. In my mind that puts him in talks of one of the best ever. I say that tongue in cheek, but seriously, who has done it? Obviously the no INT’s is probably a product of not having to force the ball with this defense. Anywho, what a season so far! Skol