When Case Keenum (who replaced injured Sam Bradford as the Vikings’ quarterback this season) drops back to pass Sunday in Philadelphia (a city hosting the NFC Championship Game in large part because of the emergence of Carson Wentz), he could find himself pursued by Derek Barnett, the promising rookie pass rusher the Eagles took with the 14th pick that originally belonged to the Vikings.
Those parameters alone would suggest the Eagles won their trade with the Vikings last September, when Minnesota sent first- and seventh-round picks in 2017 and a fourth-rounder in 2018 to Philadelphia for Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater’s knee injury. And it always was going to be difficult for the Vikings to win the deal, in an empirical sense, based on where both teams were when they made the move on Sept. 3, 2016.
In their first year with coach Doug Pederson, the Eagles had reason to be focused on the future, months after having selected Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick, in a move that led Bradford to skip voluntary offseason workouts in the weeks after the draft. The Vikings made the move based on the belief they could keep Super Bowl aspirations on track if they had the right quarterback to replace Bridgewater, and the fact the deal came so close to the start of the regular season meant they would have to pay a high price.
The 2018 fourth-rounder also put the Eagles in position to take advantage of another team down on its luck in October, when they acquired running back Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins for the pick.
As Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman was named the NFL Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America on Thursday, it was hard to think the Eagles would be hosting the NFC title game without the series of moves he made related to their quarterback situation: trading up for Wentz, recouping a first-round pick by parting with Bradford and letting Wentz develop, selecting Barnett and using his fourth-round stockpile to acquire Ajayi.
But while Roseman is being lauded for building a championship contender with the help of the Bradford trade, Vikings GM Rick Spielman has a team favored to win the NFC title on the road Sunday.
Spielman, who was named Pro Football Weekly’s Executive of the Year last week, is being honored in some ways for his ability to build a contending team even though the player for whom he traded his first-round pick has been on the field for just six quarters this season.
The Vikings knew they needed a veteran backup behind Bradford, and signed Keenum on March 31 in a deal that will turn out to be worth $2.25 million after incentives. His contract is a bargain that’s delivered returns beyond even what the Vikings expected. And despite not having a first-round pick in a draft that was already thin on the offensive line, Spielman made moves to upgrade the dilapidated unit, betting on Riley Reiff’s ability to play left tackle, signing Mike Remmers on the right side and trading up to select center Pat Elflein.
Dalvin Cook appeared on his way to an outstanding rookie season before tearing an ACL in Week 4, and the Vikings have fashioned a functional running game with free-agent pickup Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. And Pat Shurmur — the former Eagles offensive coordinator the Vikings initially hired as a tight ends coach in 2016 — is about to become the New York Giants’ next head coach because of the work he did as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator this year.
So while the Eagles appear to have won a deal where the percentages always favored them, the Vikings found another way to the NFC Championship Game after their best-laid plans didn’t work out. Roseman and Spielman, the two friends who authored the Bradford trade, have both been praised for their work — Roseman in part because of the deal, Spielman, to some extent, despite it — and one of them will hoist the George Halas Trophy on Sunday.
Who knows? Maybe if Bradford is Keenum’s backup again Sunday — as he was against the Saints — it’ll be him kneeling in victory formation on the turf of his old stadium to seal the game.