Looking Back…Who Won the Eagles-Vikings Sam Bradford Trade?

The History

Less than two weeks before its 2016 season opener, Minnesota’s 23-year-old starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, suffered a gruesome and season-ending injury. Given their 11-5 record the year before, the Vikings were hesitant chalk it up as a lost season.

As a result, general manager Rick Spielman began to scour the trade block for a veteran quarterback. One name stood out, and Spielman got his guy.

This move was surprising at the time, and without Bridgewater’s injury, Bradford likely would have played out the year in midnight green. After all, Doug Pederson’s message all offseason was that Bradford would start while rookie Carson Wentz rode the bench.

But, every player has a price, and the Vikings met Bradford’s. After being acquired in 2015, Bradford impressed enough to earn a two-year contract, but simultaneously disappointed enough for the team to draft his replacement.

Minnesota Post Trade

Photo by Andy Clayton-King/The Associated Press

Minnesota chose to start Shaun Hill week one due to his experience in the system. That gave Bradford an extra week to study the playbook and a free mark in the win column. The Vikings added additional marks in each of their next four games as Bradford took over and posted six touchdowns with zero turnovers. It was early, but Minnesota and its shiny new acquisition were looking dangerous.

Then, the wheels started to fall off. Bradford turned the ball over three times in week six as the Eagles abused their former quarterback and gave Minnesota its first taste of defeat. It was the Vikings’ first loss on the season, but far from their last. Including the shellacking in Philadelphia, they lost 8 of 11 to secure couch seats for the playoffs.

At first glance, Bradford was far from the problem. He finished with a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio and would have gone over 4,000 yards if he played all 16 games. Most impressively, he broke Drew Brees’ record for highest single-season completion percentage (Brees has bested it every year since).

Look further in depth, though, and you’ll see why surface-level statistics are often misleading (and why I think completion percentage is extremely overrated). Bradford was the perfect example of an overly conservative game manager in 2016.

Instead of throwing it up and giving Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs the chance to make plays, he usually just checked it down. While that limits turnovers, it puts more pressure on the defense to be perfect. To their credit, the Vikings’ star-studded unit stepped up to the plate more often that not. Few defenses were better that season, but Minnesota’s putrid offense sunk them to mediocrity.

In Bradford’s defense, the offense was missing a key cog. Adrian Peterson only suited up in three games in what was ultimately a disappointing, injury-plagued end to his career in The Gopher State. No matter what stage of his career he was in, AD undoubtedly would have made Bradford’s job easier.

Also, this was generally an impossible situation. One of the primary reasons the NFL has so few trades compared to other leagues is how complex and unique each team’s playbook is. Learning a whole new offense in a matter of weeks is no small feat.

It’s also worth noting that Minnesota only paid $7 million of his $18 million 2016 salary. That helped lessen the dissatisfaction towards Bradford while inspiring hope for a strong second season.

But, in typical Bradford fashion, he went down week one. In his first game back, he suffered a season-ending injury. That ended his time with the Vikings, as he somehow convinced the Cardinals he was worth a $40 million contract. Three games into the season, Arizona benched him after what were likely his last snaps in the NFL. He was released the next November and has yet to sign with another team.

Hilariously, Bradford is the 17th-highest paid player of all time, slotting in right behind Brett Favre. He might not be the best quarterback, but he certainly knows how to pick an agent.

For Minnesota, their last-ditch effort to save the season didn’t really pan out. They finished 8-8 in 2016 and fared much better once Case Keenum took over for Bradford.

Even though Bradford was solid overall, there’s little doubt the Vikings would take a do-over for this deal. Those extra picks could have pushed Minnesota over the hump in 2017 or yielded replacements for some of the team’s aging stars. With Bradford’s stay being short and uneventful, just a chance at either of those would have been an improvement.

Philadelphia Post Trade

Photo by Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

As sad as Bridgewater’s injury was, it led to a perfect scenario for the Eagles. Without it, Bradford likely would have started as many games as he was healthy for and led the team to a similar record to the 7-9 one they finished with. Good on them for trading Bradford before he even played a single game played on his contract, too. Not all owners would sign off on that.

Dealing Bradford paved the way for Wentz to start as a rookie, something the team was initially against. With a difficult transition from the Missouri Valley Football Conference to the NFL ahead, Pederson wanted his young qb to learn from the bench. Instead, Ginger Jesus was unleashed.

Wentz’ first season featured the typical mix of amazing throws and boneheaded mistakes. Overall, it was about as good as anyone could have expected from an FCS rookie. Plus, the experience he gained proved to be invaluable.

Wentz came out the following year and set the league on fire. He was a near-lock to win MVP before he tore his ACL in week 14. We all know how that story ended, with Nick Foles coming out of nowhere to lead the team to the Super Bowl.

So, without even considering the picks they received, Philadelphia had already seen accelerated growth from its star quarterback and a championship parade within two years of the deal. Sounds pretty good to me.

With Minnesota’s 2017 first-rounder, the Eagles took Barnett, who was most famous for breaking Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee. That record led some to compare Barnett to The Minister of Defense before he even played a professional down. Others (rightfully) thought these comparisons were asinine and worried that his lackluster athleticism would cause him to struggle as a pro.

As a rookie, Barnett tallied five sacks in a rotational role and made a couple huge plays during the team’s playoff run. With a starting job the following year, Barnett was expected to take a huge step forward. But, a bum shoulder derailed the hype as he missed 10 games and the postseason. After a full offseason of recovery, the spotlight was back on Barnett in 2019. He was healthy for most of the year, but didn’t take the superstar leap Eagles fans hoped for.

Still, Barnett is a very good player, even if the White comparisons set him up for failure. His 6.5 sacks last year were underwhelming, but his 22 quarterback hits—tied for 16th-most in the league—are a better indicator of his value. For reference, Danielle Hunter, who also had 22 qb hits, finished with 14.5 sacks.

That’s not to say Barnett is on Hunter’s level, or even close to it, but it does suggest he was more disruptive than the sack total indicates. Sack numbers can be a little flukey, so Barnett could be due for some positive regression. Even if he hasn’t lived up to the hype, I don’t think he’s close to bust territory.

Philadelphia’s other pick is a similar story. Like Barnett, Sweat had large contingents of both fans expecting greatness and those calling him overrated. In his case, he was the top recruit in his high school class before suffering a brutal knee injury. Concerns over his body’s long-term sustainability dropped him to the bottom of the fourth round despite the talent and production of a much higher pick.

Between adjusting to a new scheme and needing to put on weight, Sweat played scarcely as a rookie. Then, in an increased role last year, he flashed. 2020 should bring another substantial bump in snaps for him, so we’ll get a better idea of how good he really is. Until then, it’s tough to judge the value of the selection.

Given how Wentz starting as a rookie was crucial to his growth and the Eagles’ championship, hindsight shows keeping Bradford would have hurt the team. Hell, without this trade, the 2017 Foles-Philly reunion probably never happens.

Netting potentially their starting defensive end duo of the future for a negative asset was well worth the $11 million signing bonus and $5.5 million in 2017 dead cap the Eagles ate. Howie Roseman killed this deal, just as he did countless times en route to the Super Bowl.

Final Verdict: Eagles Win

I understand Minnesota’s thinking behind this trade, and they were far from the only team to mistakenly put their faith in Bradford, but this is an Eagles win through-and-through.

Philadelphia has been a proponent of always having multiple capable quarterbacks for years, and it has proven to be genius every time, including this deal. Maybe we should all have a little more faith in the Jalen Hurts experiment.

Who do you think won the trade? What deal should I look at next? Sound off in the comments.

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