Sam Bradford didn’t want to discuss his future Sunday. Too soon, he said.

He also brushed aside questions about his contract and whether he expects to return as the Vikings starting quarterback.

“I’m not going to lose much sleep over it,” Bradford said.

He shouldn’t. There should be no suspense over those looming organizational decisions.

Bradford is due a $4 million roster bonus in March, which should be a formality. And given his performance amid tumultuous circumstances this season, his status as the starting quarterback seems safe, regardless of Teddy Bridgewater’s recovery timetable.

But what happens if Bradford’s representatives approach the Vikings about a long-term deal this offseason? That would make for interesting conversation inside Winter Park about Bradford’s value relative to Bridgewater’s future post-knee injury and how the team should proceed at that position.

The opinion here back in September was that the Vikings made the right decision in giving up a first-round pick and a provisional fourth-rounder to acquire Bradford via trade. That opinion hasn’t changed, despite the Vikings finishing 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

The Vikings didn’t miss the playoffs because of Bradford’s play. They’re packing up and going home because of inadequacies surrounding him, specifically an injury-riddled offensive line that sabotaged the entire operation.

Bradford finished as one of the few bright spots in a lost season, one he described as a “whirlwind.”

He etched his name in the NFL record book Sunday in a 38-10 rout of the disinterested Chicago Bears in a meaningless finale at U.S. Bank Stadium.

He completed 25 of 33 passes with three touchdowns in setting the league record for highest single-season completion percentage, at 71.6 percent.

Some argue that Bradford’s record deserves an asterisk because of his reliance on a dink-and-dunk approach that padded his statistics but too infrequently challenged defenses down the field. His yards-per-attempt average is lower than any NFL quarterback who has completed 70 percent of his passes in a season.

But whatever one’s opinion of the low risk-reward nature of the passing game, Bradford’s impact during a season of utter chaos should not be discounted.

He wasn’t perfect, but he provided highly competent quarterback play in an offense lacking a legitimate line and viable running game.

“If you set an NFL record, that’s pretty good,” Mike Zimmer said. “I think he played well all year. He took good care of the football.”

Bradford threw only five interceptions, but again, that reflects the conservative nature of their offense. Left unanswered is whether that safe approach can and will change with an improved offensive line and running game.

Bradford showed accuracy on deep passes when given time in the pocket. He connected with Cordarrelle Patterson on a 39-yard completion on the opening possession Sunday, in part because he didn’t have the pass rush breathing down his neck.

The line’s ineptitude makes it impossible to accurately assess Bradford’s ceiling in this offense — assuming offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has the interim tag removed and returns in that role.

The Vikings used their fifth left tackle of the season Sunday after T.J. Clemmings suffered an elbow injury and was replaced by Rashod Hill.

The entire line was a mess all season, and Bradford took a beating.

Did the accumulation of quarterback hits result in him getting rid of the ball quicker than necessary and prevent deeper routes from developing? That seems plausible. Bradford probably saw quick-hitting passes as a means of self-preservation.

When he did get ample time, Bradford looked mostly accurate and capable of more than just screen passes and dump-offs to Matt Asiata.

The passing game needs to become explosive with Bradford at the controls, not just high-percentage. That starts with upgrading the pieces around him.

Bradford carries an $18 million cap hit next season. The uncertainty over Bridgewater’s future made the trade necessary then and now because the Vikings needed more than a one-year rental. Bradford responded with the best season of his career.

The team experienced a nosedive and ultimately missed the playoffs, but quarterback play belongs far down the list of reasons why.


Chip Scoggins