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Stripped of his starting role, Bradford is now Arizona’s’ silent, third-string quarterback who isn’t even active on game days
Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium was supposed to be a homecoming for Sam Bradford.
It was his chance to show the Minnesota Vikings and their fans that he not only had made it back from his latest knee injury, but he was leading his new team to great things. It was his chance to show the Vikings they made a mistake by releasing him after last season.
Instead, the Vikings couldn’t be happier with Kirk Cousins as their starting quarterback and Bradford will now return to Minneapolis as a virtual stranger.
Relegated to third string
Stripped of his starting role three weeks into the season, Bradford is now the Cardinals’ silent, third-string quarterback who isn’t even active on game days. He’ll be on the sideline Sunday, but he won’t be wearing a uniform and he won’t be holding a clipboard. He’ll be in a hoody, probably wishing he wasn’t there at all.
These days, Bradford is barely visible around the Cardinals’ training facility. He hardly gets any reps during practice. He no longer wears that black sleeve over his left knee. And he’s rarely, if ever, seen in the locker room during portions that are open to reporters.
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He also hasn’t granted any interviews since he was benched in favor of rookie first-round pick Jose Rosen some three weeks ago. azcentral sports formally reached out through the team’s media relations department on Thursday seeking a conversation with Bradford after practice. Bradford wasn’t available.
Who can blame him for not wanting to talk? Who wants to be the center of attention after working year-round to rehabilitate a worn-out knee, only to lose your job and then get vanquished to the bottom of the depth chart? To add insult to injury, Bradford’s weekly inactive status also prohibits him from receiving game-day bonus checks worth an extra $312,500.
Last of the NFL’s ‘bonus babies’
To be fair, Bradford’s earned plenty of money in the NFL as the league’s last “bonus baby” quarterback. Upon signing his first contract with the Rams as the No. 1 overall pick out of Oklahoma in 2010, Bradford had a six-year, $78 million deal which had $50 million in guarantees and a maximum value of $86 million. The next year, the NFL imposed a rookie salary cap, which significantly lowered the value of a first-year player’s contract.
Bradford, though, kept earning. He signed a two-year, $36 million deal with the Eagles and upon being traded to the Vikings and then getting released, he’s already banked $16 million from the Cardinals. It could end up being the last contract he ever gets, given the state of his knee and the overall inconsistency he showed during his three games as Arizona’s starter.
A report by Forbes calculates his career earnings to this point to be $129 million.
Bradford seemed to embrace an uncertain future during an interview right before the season-opener against Washington.
“I know that right now (the knee) does feel as good as it’s felt in a long time,” he said. “I’ve done everything in my power to put myself in this position. If something happens and I get injured, or if something happens and it doesn’t hold up, I’m going to hold my head high knowing that I put my body and myself in the best position to be successful. I think that’s all you can do.”
But this can’t be how Bradford imagined things turning out. It’s not how Vikings coach Mike Zimmer envisioned it, either. When Minnesota traded for Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater went down with a devastating knee injury just prior to the start of the 2016 season, Zimmer thought Minnesota had found its next long-term solution at quarterback.
“I did. I really love Sam,” Zimmer said earlier this week during a conference call with Arizona reporters. “We developed a really good relationship. He throws the ball as well as anybody. It was unfortunate that he got hurt. His problem throughout his career has been getting hurt, but he is special throwing the football.
“If he wasn’t getting hit and wasn’t getting injured, then he would be amazing.”
Bradford, 30, thought he had found a home in Minnesota after an outstanding first season there. But upon hurting his knee again early in 2017 and then facing a difficult surgery and recovery process, he knew his days were numbered. Missing the rest of the year was painful enough and it took Bradford to some “dark places.”
“Well, Sam’s a lot like me – he’s a little bit grumpy all the time,” Zimmer said. “No, it obviously hurt him because I think he felt like this was a good place for him. He had success and he was feeling good about the things we were doing offensively. And then he got hurt. Really, it lingered on a lot longer than anybody thought it would. He really didn’t know how long he would be out, so I think it was just frustrating and maybe that’s what he meant by ‘dark place.’”
Bradford is in that lonely place again now that both the Vikings and the Cardinals have decided to move on from him. He’s holding up rather well, though, according to Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
“We can’t give Sam enough credit for what he’s done for this team,” McCoy said Thursday. “Unfortunately, early on we didn’t have the success we wanted to. But from the day we decided to go in the (Chicago) game with Josh, he has been 100 percent behind Josh and it’s been that way since we drafted Josh.
“Sam is a great person and we can’t give him enough credit and thank him enough for what he’s done helping these guys. … That’s what the great pros do. The great pros want to help everybody out. But I can’t thank him enough for the way he’s handled it in a tough situation because we’re all competitors here and everyone wants to play, but hey, he just came in the next day and said, ‘I understand my role right now.’ ”
Cousins, meanwhile, couldn’t be performing much better for the Vikings. He’s completing 71.2 percent of his passing attempts and his 1,688 passing yards are second in the league only to the Rams’ Jared Goff. Cousins has also thrown 11 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
Bradford, meanwhile, was yanked after totaling just 400 yards and two touchdowns with four interceptions.
“He’s (Cousins) done a great job since he has come in here,” Zimmer said. “And really our offensive coaches as well, trying to incorporate what he does well and what’re trying to get accomplished. Kirk has been a good leader. He’s been tough. He’s been accurate. I can’t really say enough good things about him.”
He used to say the same things about Sam Bradford, who’s now become the invisible man.
Reach McManaman at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 3-6 on 1580-AM The Fanatic with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-3 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.
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