Losers are complex creatures and the most tortured are the competent losers, those who do just well enough to come up just short of greatness time and again. Lose big, and it’s clear: You’re just not good enough. Repeatedly lose close or on the biggest stages and you start searching inward for a deeper problem, some psychic or cosmic block that’s keeping you from being great. Ever play a video game and die over and over at the end of a level? Ever shirk every responsibility and necessary human function until you beat it because if you didn’t, then a deep black fog would befall your universe?
That’s the Vikings, more or less. Few teams in the history of the NFL have been so consistently good and gone this long without feeling the fog-lifting release of greatness. They’ve been to four Super Bowls and lost them all. They’re 0-fer in their last five NFC Championship appearances, most recently losing on Brett Favre’s overtime interception to Tracy Porter and the New Orleans Saints, who won by three points before winning the Super Bowl by 14. Fans have watched Daunte Culpepper and Adrian Peterson break records, and also just two playoff wins since 2004.
So if you’re still wondering why the Vikings gave up first- and fourth-round picks to get Sam Bradford, start there. Don’t discount what can happen when all that pent up, molten anxiety finally busts through the crust when, say, the third-year quarterback on whom the team had plopped its weighty dreams suddenly suffers one of the most debilitating injuries a person can without taking contact.
And the Vikings are supposed to remain level headed?
The front office knows that Bradford isn’t a sure thing. Peter King got Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman to walk through the events that led up to the trade. Spielman told the naked truth: One week before the season began — a season in which the Vikings had outside championship hopes — the team was hosed.
I said to them: "This is what we’re getting paid to do, finding the best solution out of the worst-case scenario. And that’s what we’re going to do here.’ I got up on the white board, and we sorted out the scenarios—guys on the street we might want, guys who might get cut, guys on teams that might have enough depth that they’d consider dealing [a quarterback]. ... To be honest, there was no solution. No good solution.
Bradford isn’t a good solution, emphasis necessary, because he could certainly be a solution if you give him some benefit for all the time he has missed since entering the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick in 2010. More than six years later, his dossier is still thin, and that’s the best thing he has going for him, that and a decent seven-game stretch for the Rams in 2013 that lasted until he got hurt again.
Mostly, Bradford has been pretty mediocre. Last season, he had 24 turnovers in 14 games, which is bad even if he was far from the biggest reason the Eagles struggled last season. He finished 25th in the league in passer rating. He was 11th in 2013, but otherwise has done no better than 18th, which is in the bottom half of the league. Bradford is at best a nondescript starter with a good pedigree and a few positive practice reports to his name.
This close to the start of the season, Bradford may have been the best quarterback the Vikings could have feasibly acquired, but even the Eagles know they made a coup. Here’s Roseman, via King:
When we talked [earlier Thursday], I said to Rick, "Rick, this is going to be a premium." It had to include their first-round pick in 2017 [Philly had traded its 2017 in a package to be able to draft rookie quarterback Carson Wentz], plus something else. I didn’t think they’d consider that. We talked about it, but I wasn’t thinking it was very serious.
The Vikings were serious and "punch drunk" as Spielman described it. Adding to their anxiety is that no one knows how long Teddy Bridgewater is going to sit. The trade suggests that the Vikings are at least entertaining the idea of keeping Bradford around long term, $17 million cap hit in 2017 and all.
The trade also suggests that the Vikings legitimately believe they have everything else in place to win a Super Bowl this season. Adrian Peterson may be old, but he hasn’t demonstrably slowed down. The offensive line is much better and the receiving corps could be really fun. The defense is top shelf if the secondary lives up to its draft grades, and it should under the Vikings’ DB-whisperer of a head coach.
The Vikings don’t know that they can win it all, but lord they’re a lot closer than they have been in a long time. They won their first division title in six seasons in 2015. The last time they ended a drought that long was in 2008, when it was eight seasons, and they signed Brett Favre the next year. Before that, the Vikings ended a nine-year drought in 1989, and in the midst of that season gave up 13 players to get Herschel Walker.
If the Vikings had perspective, they’d revulse from Bradford’s contract, clutch their draft value charts tight and suck up what might be a pretty good 2016 season under Shaun Hill, anyway. They don’t have perspective. They acted rashly in search of a competent quarterback in a bone-bare market, knowing the entire time that every team they talked to knew they were vulnerable and was trying to fleece them. The Vikings did something rationally stupid. They know it, they don’t care, and if you have an empathetic bone in your body, you can’t blame them.
History doesn’t care about a pretty good runner-up. The difference between winning and losing can be a sliver, but the difference in glory is a chasm, and the Vikings are at the edge and they can’t see down.
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