Sometimes, circumstances arise that bring two previously unconnected parties together. Through an unusual sequence of events, NFL general managers can stumble into each other on the phone, and end up creating something no one saw coming.
That's how it was for the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings this weekend. A freak injury to Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, combined with the playoff roster in Minnesota and an owner opening a new stadium, put that franchise in heavy pursuit of a new passer. Enter the Eagles, who just so happened to be carrying three quarterbacks, all making good money, while firmly in rebuild mode. Add in that the Eagles were desperately short on upcoming draft picks, having surrendered a boat load to move up twice to draft one of those quarterbacks (Carson Wentz), and you have the makings of a blockbuster trade.
Don't forget the owner with whom money is no object. It's why the Eagles, who had already paid Sam Bradford $11 million, including a payment of $5.5M in bonus money only two days before the trade, were still willing to dump him a week before the start of the regular season.
Yes, it was a bizarre confluence of factors at exactly the necessary time. Bradford finally got his wish for a trade (remember his hissy fit from the spring?), and the Eagles got a bonanza for the oft-injured passer. The first-round pick in 2017 and the fourth-round pick in 2018 could both rise based on performance.
It's something no one could have predicted -- even the men who engineered the swap. Especially not before Bridgewater suffered a devastating knee injury in practice and, well, even after it reached the point where Eagles football boss Howie Roseman and Vikings general manager Rick Spielman were deep into discussions.
Personally, I think the Vikings gave up too much for a quarterback who might not prove to be much better than Shaun Hill, the de-facto starter until this trade. If Bradford were not a former No. 1 overall pick I suspect wouldn't be making $18M in the first place. I'd have been content to sign Josh Johnson or try to give up far less than these two picks to see if I could pry someone like Matt Moore out of Miami.
Bradford won't put the Vikings over the top and isn't taking a team to the Super Bowl, so why trade those two valuable picks? Even if Bridgewater isn't ready for the start of next season, I'm looking at a wide spectrum of potential stop-gaps over Bradford anyway.
But that's just me. I'm not a Bradford guy. And even if you are on Team Bradford, well, even his most sympathetic evaluator would have to factor his deep injury history into any decision to acquire him, especially under these save-the-season circumstances. Bradford has appeared in only 21 of his teams' past 48 regular-season games. And since entering the NFL in 2010 he ranks 25th in completion percentage and 35th in touchdown percentage.
When you consider the Eagles would have been lucky to win six games, even with Bradford, it's a total no-brainer for them, given the bounty they received. They've still got Chase Daniel, a proven system QB who's a great backup and spot starter, and Wentz, the QB of the future, er, present.
Sure, they ate $11M, but that's chump change compared to the hundreds of millions they've committed to over the past 15 months. They are building for the future, and when you consider they are now off the hook for the $3.5M due Bradford in 2017 whether he stays or gets cut, well, it's really like eating $7.5M (sources said the Eagles are assuming no future salary in the trade).
So, is Bradford plus $8M worth those two picks to a franchise in the Eagles' situation? Absolutely. And when you factor in Bradford's durability and the fact I already was picking up chatter inside the building on my recent visit to Eagles' camp about Bradford's shoulder maybe showing some wear and tear, well, I'm making this trade in an instant and then popping some bubbly to celebrate.
But enough about what I think.
The league was abuzz with chatter in the fallout of this blockbuster and it has dominated discussions since, even with so many rosters in transition at the 53-man cut-down. There wasn't an exec I spoke to who wouldn't have done what Roseman did, and some who endorsed Spielman's thinking more than others. Here is a sampling of what I heard as I surveyed some football men I trust most in terms of insight and evaluations.
We'll start with one whose initial reaction was that the Vikings gave up too much:
"I have to give Howie credit. I don't agree with everything they do and he opens himself up to criticism with some of the things he does, but he is a wizard when it comes to some of these trades. Not everyone's owner will eat $11M to make that trade, but his will and this is another contract I didn't think he could get value for. This gets him back some of the picks he gave up for Wentz, and moving up twice doesn't look as crazy now. I cannot believe he got a 1 for Bradford. I really can't.
"And if you are Rick, you have to see the red flags with this quarterback. The Rams, who didn't have a quarterback and paid him $70M, just dumped him two years ago for Nick Foles. Now the Eagles are dumping him after one season. Maybe he is an upgrade over what they have, but that's a lot to give up for Sam Bradford. Are you going to go deep into the postseason with Bradford? They obviously think so. Unless you do, you probably gave up way too much."
Here's someone who came down a little more pro-Viking.
"Am I 'shocked' by it? Sure. But I can understand where Rick is coming from. I don't think this trade is nearly as one-sided as some people seem to think. Rick still has like five picks in the first four rounds (in 2017) and he has multiple picks in several rounds. They are a young team and it's not like he is mortgaging the future. They have a limited window with [Adrian] Peterson before he starts breaking down, they have a roster that is capable of making a playoff run if they get stable play from the quarterback. They should've beat Seattle last year and that was with limited production at QB (Bridgewater had 14 touchdowns to 9 interceptions).
"You have [offensive coordinator] Norv Turner, who will coach Bradford up and a proven scheme and good talent around the quarterback. With the running game and defense he doesn't have to do that much to keep you in games. So you're thinking that first round pick is going to be a late pick, closer to a second-round pick than something high. And if Bradford can stay healthy -- and that's a big if -- but if he does and he's somewhere between the 12th-18th best quarterback in the league, then I think you have to try to make that trade to send a signal to your locker room that the season isn't over."
And, here's someone who comes down more-or-less in the middle:
"It's a win-win. I really believe that. Well, it's a win-win if Bradford stays healthy. If he can stay healthy. And you don't know that. That's the part that would scare me a little bit about it. But it really could be a win-win. From the Eagles' side, I don't see how anyone could argue it's not a great trade. Let me ask you this -- if that kid doesn't get hurt in Minnesota, is there anyone in the league who would give Howie a 1 for Sam Bradford? Anyone? Of course not. It was a matter of having the right player at the right time to get something for a player that no one else would ever give you, and Howie took advantage of that for a player he was only going to have on his roster for that season, anyway. But I see why Spielman did what he did, too. You can see both sides of it. "
In the end, I don't see how the Eagles can lose by doing what they are doing. Again, this was a rebuilding team either way -- though obviously the up-side is potentially much greater for the Vikings in the short term, particularly if they can retain their division title. I'd suggest the Eagles remain on the course they were on regarding Wentz prior to the trade. They were dead-set on redshirting the raw North Dakota State product for his rookie season, so why not let Chase Daniel start at least the first month of the season? Especially after Wentz missed nearly the entire preseason. I wouldn't thrust the pressure of Week 1 upon him, with teammates he has barely thrown to recently, in a city in which patience seems a counterintuitive construct.
I wouldn't stray from the long view with that first-round pick now, and every indication I've received in the past day is that the Eagles are preparing to start Wentz on Sunday, but I would barely be able to mask my glee the moment someone told me I could have a first-round pick for Bradford. That's a trade you absolutely have to make.