By Pranay Bhargava
Statistically, Sam Bradford had the best season of his NFL career in 2016.
In 15 games, the former number one pick compiled 3,877 yards, 20 touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 99.3 while only throwing 5 interceptions. He also broke the NFL record for single-season completion percentage at 71.6%.
Many state that these solid statistics are a product of quick-passes and check-downs, but Bradford averaged 7.02 yards per pass in 2016, which is not only a career-best, but also higher than big-name quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Eli Manning, and Joe Flacco.
What makes Bradford’s season more impressive is that he learned the Vikings offensive system in a mere two weeks, and then had to adjust to a new system when offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned after week 8. And he did it all without big-name receivers. His two best receivers were Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, both of which fell just shy of the 1000-yard mark. If the good chemistry between Bradford and the Vikings receiving corps continues, one can expect both receivers to hit 1,000 yards in 2017. Don’t discount tight end Kyle Rudolph, either. He worked well as a security blanket in 2016 when he hauled in 83 receptions for 840 yards. He has a shot at a 1,000-yard season as well.
The Vikings offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL in 2016. Ranked 29th in the league by Pro Football Focus, Bradford had next to no time in the pocket, and the Vikings were forced to invest heavily in their offensive line during free agency. Assuming the signings of offensive linemen Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers pan out, Bradford seems poised to become what the Rams expected him to be when they drafted him in 2008. With the departure of aging feature-back Adrian Peterson, and the signing of pass-catching and pass-protecting Latavius Murray, 2017 is Bradford’s opportunity to show the world that he can be a franchise quarterback. As the Vikings are transitioning from a run-first to a pass-first offense, Bradford and Murray will have to be the centerpieces.
But this all begs the question: What will happen to Teddy Bridgewater?
Bridgewater was a Vikings first round pick in 2014. He led the Vikings to a division title in 2015, and was supposed to be the quarterback that the Vikings have been looking for since Daunte Culpepper tore his ACL in 2005. But Bridgewater’s gruesome knee injury – a torn ACL and dislocated knee – may have changed all of that. Doctors say he’s lucky that he still has his leg, and the fact that he may return to football is a miracle. But will he be the same? The American Journal of Sports Medicine reports that roughly 30% of players do not return from an ACL tear, and those that do see on-field production reduced by 33%. Bridgewater’s ACL tear, coupled with the dislocated knee and a year (possibly two years) out of football, make his future a big question mark.
If Bradford doesn’t meet expectations in 2017, we will likely see a quarterback competition come 2018. That could be Bridgewater’s chance to make his comeback, and Bradford would become a free agent. But if Bradford performs well in 2017, there’s no doubt the Vikings would extend his contract, and Bridgewater may not get a chance to prove himself. After two years out of football, he won’t be good trade bait. And although the Vikings will most likely pick up his fifth-year option to keep him as a very serviceable backup, he won’t want to settle for a backup role. He’ll likely look at declining this fifth-year option so that he can test the market. Maybe a quarterback-hungry team will take a chance on him, but there are no guarantees.
Everyone is rooting for Bridgewater to make a successful recovery. Even members of rival teams have come out to say that they’re hoping he comes back strong. He’s been cited as great teammate with a great attitude and a great outlook on life. Unfortunately, his future is very uncertain. We can only hope that he lights it up whenever he gets his next chance to play.