Sam Bradford Gets Paid Again

One week ago today, hours after my first column on the 2018 NFL offseason published, the Arizona Cardinals signed Sam Bradford to a one-year, $20 million contract, including $15 million guaranteed. In today's market, that's not a particularly generous contract, but it prompted All-Pro safety Eric Weddle to tweet, "So dumb. Bradford has been paid more for nothing than anyone in history of NFL."

I don't agree with Weddle's first assertion, that signing an established starting QB to a short-term, relatively modest contract, was "so dumb." In his last full season, Bradford broke the single-season record for completion percentage. While that stat is virtually meaningless, it's hard to break a record like that and not at least be about average.

I do mostly agree with Weddle's second sentence: Bradford has made a lot of money — three rich contracts — with not much to show for it. As a rookie, Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million deal — the largest contract ever for an NFL rookie, since the rookie wage scale changed the following year. In 2016, following his trade to the Eagles, Bradford signed a two-year, $36 million deal, putting him in nine figures overall. His new $20 million contract, which has a team option for another $15-20 million in 2019, is his richest yet on a per-season basis.

Bradford's performance, while adequate, has never justified all that money or salary cap space. Bradford has been in the NFL for eight seasons without accomplishing anything noteworthy. He's never made a Pro Bowl. He's never passed for 4,000 yards or 30 TDs or a 100 passer rating. He's never had a winning record as starting QB, unless you count 1-0 last year, when Case Keenum led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. Bradford has never passed for 400 yards in a game, or thrown 4 TDs in a game, and he's spent 40% of his career sidelined by injuries.

Since Bradford entered the league in 2010, 24 quarterbacks have thrown at least 2,000 regular-season passes (Bradford has 2,887). Among those 24, Bradford ranks 23rd in yards per attempt, 24th in yards per completion, 24th in touchdown percentage, 20th in TD/INT differential percentage, 21st in passer rating, 17th in adjusted completion percentage, 24th in net yards per attempt, 23rd in total yards per game, 24th in total TDs per game, and 22nd in winning percentage.

Since 2010, 34 players have combined for 109 400-yard passing games. Bradford is not among them. Forty-six players have combined for 222 four-TD passing games. Bradford is not among them, either. In eight seasons, Bradford has never ranked among the top 10 in passing yards or pass TDs. He has never, not for single day, lived up to his draft status or his princely contracts.

Sam Bradford is an adequate starter when healthy, and there's real value in that, but he has never in his professional career been an above-average starting quarterback. Let's look at his career, year by year. I'll refer in this section to TSP, Quarterback Total Statistical Production, a stat-based rating system for QBs. As a guide, in a given season:

* Zero TSP indicates replacement-level performance, on the fringe of being playable. 2017 example: Trevor Siemian.

* 500 TSP is an inconsequential season, an ineffective starter or a good part-time player. 2017 examples: Jacoby Brissett, Aaron Rodgers.

* 1000 TSP is an average season. The player had some value to his team, but he wasn't a Pro Bowl-quality performer. 2017 examples: Blake Bortles, Dak Prescott.

* 1500 TSP is a good season, a top-10 season, a borderline Pro Bowl season. This is a positive contribution to any player's résumé. 2017 examples: Ben Roethlisberger, Matthew Stafford.

* 2000 TSP is a great season. It's a top-5 performance, the player almost always makes the Pro Bowl, and he'll usually generate some all-pro support. 2017 examples: Alex Smith, Tom Brady.

So how has Sam Bradford performed each season? Let's dive in.


Bradford won Offensive Rookie of the Year, but he is the least deserving winner in the history of the award. His 76.5 passer rating ranked 25th in the NFL, while the Rams had the 26th-ranked offense in the league, and Bradford produced only 141 TSP. Granted that he was a rookie QB on a bad team, but that's a really bad season. Shaun Hill, playing for the equally bad Detroit Lions, produced 500 TSP.

Playing in the weakest division in NFL history, the 7-8 Rams were in the playoff race, just needing to beat the 6-9 Seahawks to clinch the division title. In the finale, Bradford had 36 attempts and 3 sacks, producing 137 yards, eight first downs, an interception, and a 52.4 passer rating. The Rams were held to 184 yards, 10 first downs, and 2/15 on third and fourth downs. They lost 16-6 and missed the postseason. You can't even blame this on the Legion of Boom. Earl Thomas was a rookie, Kam Chancellor was a backup, and Richard Sherman was a senior at Stanford. Seattle ranked 25th in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed. So not only did Bradford have a poor season, he wilted in the most important game.

It was a relatively weak year for offensive rookies, but there were plenty of candidates who were clearly more worthy than Bradford. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was a rookie in 2010; he scored double-digit receiving touchdowns. Rookie RB LeGarrette Blount rushed for 1,000 yards with a 5.0 average. Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey made the Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro. I'd rank all of them, and several others, ahead of Bradford, who was totally undistinguished except that he started every game and threw a lot. He didn't have a good season. He played well enough not to get benched.


Bradford was even worse in 2011. Hindered by a high ankle sprain, Bradford missed six games. When he did play, he was a disaster. Bradford finished the season with 6 TDs, 13 turnovers, a 70.5 passer rating, an appalling 4.9 net yards per attempt, and a 1-9 record as starter. He scored -150 TSP, which is below replacement level. As a comparison, in 2017, Cleveland's DeShone Kizer had -167 TSP. That's the level Bradford produced at.


This was Bradford's first respectable season. He threw 21 TDs and 13 INTs, with an 82.6 rating and 723 TSP. Bradford started every game, and the Rams went 7-8-1. The 21 TD passes are the highest of Bradford's career. Since Bradford entered the league, 35 players have passed for at least 22 TDs in a season, including former Bradford backups Case Keenum, Mark Sanchez, and Carson Wentz. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers have done so every year. Ryan Fitzpatrick has four seasons with more TDs than Bradford's career high.


Bradford tore his ACL in Week 7 and missed the final nine games. The Rams went 3-4 with Bradford starting and 4-5 with Kellen Clemens. Bradford had 454 TSP and Clemens had 134. This likely would have been Bradford's best season if he had stayed healthy.


Bradford re-injured his ACL and missed the whole season. The Rams went 6-10 with Austin Davis and Shaun Hill splitting QB duties. At this point, Bradford had played 49 out of a possible 80 games. In those 49 games — essentially three seasons — he had a 79.3 passer rating and just 1168 TSP, under 400 per season. As a point of comparison, Joe Flacco produced 1352 TSP in 2014 alone. Aaron Rodgers produced 2420 TSP in 2014.


On March 10, the Philadelphia Eagles traded Nick Foles and a 2016 2nd-round pick to acquire Bradford — actually even a little more once you account for some late-round choices thrown in. It was a high price to pay for a guy who was good in college six years before. Bradford did stay mostly healthy, playing 14 games, and posted the best starting record of his career, an even 7-7. Philadelphia went 0-2 with Mark Sanchez starting, and Bradford accrued 669 TSP. He had a career-high 6.3 NY/A, but only 19 TDs, compared to 14 INTs. He tied for 23rd in TD/INT differential.

That performance somehow earned Bradford a two-year, $36 million contract, even though he hadn't noticeably outplayed his backup. Here's what Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez did in their Philadelphia careers:

Bradford: 346-of-532, 3725 yards, 164 first downs, 19 TD, 14 INT, 28 sacks for 200 yards, 39 rush yards, no rush TDs, 10 fumbles

Sanchez: 257-of-400, 3034 yards, 146 first downs, 18 TD, 15 INT, 32 sacks for 205 yards, 109 rush yards, 1 rush TD, 8 fumbles

That produces the following efficiency stats:


Bradford made fewer mistakes — sacks and interceptions — but he didn't create much, with much lower rates of yardage, first downs, and touchdowns. By the stats, it's not clear that Bradford outplayed Sanchez. And that implies that signing Bradford to a two-year, $36 million contract extension — when he's injury-prone and not obviously superior to his own backup — was a massive error in judgment. The Eagles caught a huge break the following preseason.


On September 3, eight days before the season opener, the Eagles traded Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings — looking to replace the injured Teddy Bridgewater — for a 1st-round draft pick (used on Derek Barnett) and a 2018 4th-round selection. Shaun Hill started Week 1 and managed the game, an unimpressive win over the rebuilding Titans. Bradford started the rest of the season, guiding the Vikings to a 7-8 record. Bradford passed for 20 TDs and just 5 INTs, setting career-highs for passer rating (99.3) and TSP (1,006).

That's a case, though, of a player whose stats are better than his real performance. The Vikings ranked 28th in total offense and 23rd in scoring. Bradford's problem is exemplified by a loss in Week 16. Minnesota trailed Green Bay 38-19 in the fourth quarter. With 3:39 remaining, the Vikings got a good punt return and took over at the Green Bay 34-yard line. It's a tall order, but every team is looking for a quick comeback in that situation. Instead, Sam Bradford directed a 10-play drive with only one deep pass even attempted, using 3:07. The score became 38-25, but with only :32 remaining. Minnesota recovered an onside kick, and Bradford threw a three-yard pass — in bounds. The onside kick is the ultimate expression of urgency, but Bradford couldn't get away from his preference to check it down.


Bradford played well in Week 1, then missed 14½ of the next 15 games with another knee injury. Case Keenum led Minnesota to 12 more wins and a Minneapolis miracle in the playoffs. Bradford scored 194 TSP in very limited action.

* * *

So, eight seasons in, here are Bradford's TSP scores: 141, -150, 723, 454, 0, 669, 1006, 194. That's a total of 3,037. His Career Value (which is derived from TSP using a process explained in the links above) is just 2.3, which ranks 34th from 2010-17. He's behind Blake Bortles (2.7), Josh Freeman (3.1), Robert Griffin III (3.1), Journeyman Jay Cutler (3.4), Nick Foles (3.5), Colin Kaepernick (3.8) ... a long list filled with names both impressive and otherwise.

Bradford has passed for 19,000 yards and 100 TDs, so he hasn't really been paid for "nothing," as Weddle wrote. But other than winning a Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, it's hard to understand what Bradford has done to earn $134 million. I don't have anything against Sam Bradford, but I've never understood the hype from the media, the ransoms traded for him, or the tens of millions of dollars teams pay to have him throw checkdowns, or wear their colors while he rehabs his knee.

Bradford's most recent ex-coach, Mike Zimmer, characterized his knee as "degenerative". Bradford had the 9th-highest salary cap figure in the league last year — 4th among QBs — which is outrageous for a player who's missed 38% of his teams' games (48/128) and has never obviously had a good season. In the exploding QB salary market, Bradford's $15-20 million from Arizona for 2018 might not be outrageous, but it's still a significant investment in a 30-year-old player with limited upside and a history of serious injuries.

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