Sam Bradford goes back to Philadelphia on Sunday for the first time since the Eagles traded him to the Minnesota Vikings, and he is bringing all of his knowledge of rookie starter Carson Wentz and the offensive system of first-year coach Doug Pederson.
The Vikings (5-0) are on top of the NFC and Bradford has won all four of his starts since replacing Shaun Hill under center in Week 2. Bradford landed on his feet and said he has recovered from the ego bruising that comes from being traded for the second time in three years. The Eagles decided to hitch their wagon to Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, and pulled the trigger on a deal that brought a first-round pick in 2017 in return.
“You could tell early on, he wants to be great,” Bradford said of Wentz. “I think it showed up on the field.”
While Wentz is winning, Pederson said Wednesday his plan was to fully redshirt Wentz in 2016, using Bradford as his No. 1 quarterback and backup Chase Daniel in case of emergency. The No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams, has not yet played this season.
“My plan was for him to sit the whole year,” Pederson said.
That changed when general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikings' front office collectively signed off on forfeiting multiple picks, including the first-rounder next April, for Bradford. The Eagles had declared Bradford off the market publicly after signing him to a two-year, $35 million contract. But Bradford asked for a trade when Wentz was drafted and only relented when it became evident he wasn't moving despite tepid interest from Denver and the New York Jets.
“Initially, I was a little shocked (the trade) was going to be a possibility,” Pederson said.
The Sept. 3 trade also netted the Eagles a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018.
Defending Wentz, who has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,186 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception with a passer rating of 99.9, might be easier for Pederson than protecting him. With right tackle Lane Johnson starting a 10-game suspension, the Redskins attacked rookie replacement Halapoulivaati Vaitai with a variety of blitzes and twice outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan beat him on pure effort for sacks of Wentz.
The Vikings have 19 sacks and lead the NFL with a plus-11 turnover differential. But Pederson, who rarely used a tight end to help Vaitai last week, said the Eagles will make adjustments and Vaitai will be better.
“Was it perfect? Was it pretty? No. Were there assignment errors? Yes,” Pederson said. “And I'm not going to stand here and point the finger at 'Big V' because that's not what happened. There were enough mistakes all around in this football game that cost us this game.”
The Vikings are one of the league's biggest surprises. Not because Bradford is off to a great start — six touchdowns and zero interceptions, a 70.4 completion percentage and 109.8 passer rating — but because personnel issues have caused a weekly juggling act by coach Mike Zimmer and Spielman. With 10 players on injured reserve, including starters Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and Ryan Kalil, the offense has been functional even when leading receiver Stefon Diggs was unavailable for Week 5.
“We still have a long season left,” Spielman said. “I would say we're pretty happy with the retuns we've got at this point.”
Credit goes beyond the adjustments made to the roster since the start of the season for the Vikings.
Minnesota leads the NFL in defense, allowing 12.6 points per game, thanks to heavy investments in the core of Zimmer's defense, including first-round picks Harrison Smith at safety, Xavier Rhodes at cornerback, linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
How much Bradford might help the Vikings prep for Wentz and diagnose what is on Pederson's play sheet is “overrated” according to Zimmer. Pederson worked himself into a huff on Monday when he said “only one person” has seen the entire playbook. That person is Pederson.
“Honestly, I think all that stuff's overrated,” Zimmer said, with a qualifier that he has grilled Bradford for intel on the Eagles. “I've looked at and people have left stuff in locker rooms when they've played us before and I can't even decipher it. I don't think he was there very long with Doug, really, he wasn't there during the spring and he wasn't there all that long. I think you go watch the tape and do the best you can.”