Hard to get any more valuable than what the undefeated Vikings have received at the quarterback position. Here’s an early look at the award race, with four more surprising candidates, plus a reader mailbag
I feel like a 30 for 30 promo.
What if I told you …
that the MVP of the National Football League after a quarter of the season would be a quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings who is not named Teddy Bridgewater … who wasn’t even on the team 10 days before the season started … and whose acquisition enraged many of the team’s fans—who felt the GM who engineered the deal was an incompetent boob.
Normally I wouldn’t want to name a player who missed a quarter of his team’s games the MVP. But I will make an exception for Sam Bradford. Acquired for first-round and fourth-round picks eight days before opening day, Bradford sat out the opener (the Vikings got two defensive touchdowns and won by nine at Tennessee) and started the next three Minnesota games. In those three games, learning a new offense on the fly, Bradford has beaten quarterbacks who have played in four of the past nine Super Bowls, and in each game outplayed Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Eli Manning. Bradford has no turnovers. He has the best completion and passer rating, both by a mile, in his career.
The words “valuable” has always meant something to me with this award. Minnesota lost its three most important offensive players to injury in a two-week span in the summer: Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and left tackle Matt Kalil. The season, justifiably, could have spiraled to hell. But an unwavering coach, Mike Zimmer, and an emerging star defense have held the fort. And a quarterback the Rams gave away in 2015 and the Eagles gave away in 2016 has played the best three-game stretch of his pro career. The MVP, I think, should never be determined on numbers alone—though they help. The MVP should be about the player who means the most to a very good team, and without whom that team would be Just Another Team. And the Vikings would be 2-2 or maybe 3-1 with Shaun Hill playing quarterback right now.
Bradford has lifted the Vikings to a point where they believe that without their three leading men they can still win the Super Bowl. And there is tremendous value in that.
“What I’ve gone through has given me perspective I never have had—perspective I didn’t have when I was younger,” Bradford told me after the Green Bay win. “Last year, going through all that stuff in Philadelphia, I’m not sure I would have handled this well. You might not understand it at the time, but there’s always a reason. I just think it’s all part of God’s plan. I don’t worry about it.”
Then he said: “You think I should write a book about all of this?”
What would he say after the third win? On Monday Night Football, over a man with two Super Bowl rings and two Super Bowl MVPs, Eli Manning?
Hopefully, Bradford would say he belongs on a team playing for the biggest prize in the game, something he’s never had a chance to do. And something I feel confident he’ll have a chance to do this year.
Runners up for the MVP at the quarter pole, by the way:
2. Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles. The Rams are 3-1. Reason enough.
3. Trevor Siemian, QB, Denver. This is not a misprint.
4. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta. On fire for the past three weeks.
5. Derek Carr, QB, Oakland. The dawn of the next great Raider is at hand.
And now for your email:
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ON THE JULIO JONES TRADE
That the Cleveland Browns are one of the most poorly run pro sports franchises in the past 25 years should not be factored into the wisdom of the Falcons’ Julio Jones trade. Instead, it’s more appropriate to look at what the Falcons actually gave up—in terms of who they could have drafted with those picks, as compared to what they’ve needed and what Jones delivered. It may well be that they ended up ahead, but the fact that Cleveland picked the likes of Weeden and Richardson isn’t really part of the equation as far as the Falcons are concerned. Cleveland made it a bad trade for Cleveland. It did not necessarily make it a good trade for Atlanta.
—Eric Kane, Exeter, N.H.
But Eric, every trade for draft choices in history can be judged—if you wish—by what the team acquiring the pick or picks could have done. The point of my exercise is to determine what really happened. What really happened is the Falcons won the trade. The Falcons didn’t just win the trade; they Sandy-Koufax-perfect-gamed the trade. I don’t care that Cleveland, with the picks, could have chosen Muhammad Wilkerson, Randall Cobb, Julius Thomas, Harrison Smith and Josh Norman, all of whom were taken after the five players drafted by Cleveland. Just as easily as they took the players who were a collective giant bust, they could have taken those. Or they could have taken Danny Watkins, Daniel Thomas, Rashad Carmichael, A.J. Jenkins and Adrien Robinson—also all available when Cleveland took the five picks in this deal.
WWAHD (WHAT WOULD ATLANTA HAVE DONE?)
Good story but perhaps we should not be judging the success of trades based on what Cleveland does with the draft picks it receives. Cleveland could screw up a two-car funeral procession. There is no question Jones has worked out very well for Atlanta. But the more interesting question is what would Atlanta have done with the picks it gave up?
OK, I’ll bite. I know how much the Falcons have been seeking pass-rush help and playmaking linebackers, so that may influence my choice of these five players, who could have been selected (with one exception, that being a slight trade-up for Cameron Jordan in 2012) with the picks Atlanta had: defensive end Cameron Jordan, tackle Marcus Gilbert and cornerback Davon House in 2011, and linebacker Dont’a Hightower and wide receiver Nick Toon in 2012. But clearly, that’s just a guess.
KEEP JOSH GORDON
Regarding Josh Gordon, what do the Browns have to lose keeping him right now? Are they paying him? The way I see it, let him get his life together and give him a shot. What’s the worst that could happen? He comes back and can’t cut it so they get rid of him. Beats watching him go somewhere else to resurrect his career. Yes, I understand he has had multiple chances, but if it’s not costing the Browns they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
I must be old fashioned. I think 13 chances is enough.
Regarding your point related to the percentage of kickoffs that have resulted in touchbacks—I think in order to tell the whole story, you need to exclude any kickoffs that do not reach the end zone. Those HAVE to be returned. I believe that in order to truly find out what’s happening, we would need to know the percentage of kickoffs that COULD result in a touchback that the returners are choosing to run out.
—Eric Johannsen, Hamilton Square, N.J.
Fair point, Eric, but then to judge the comparison accurately, we’d have to find out how many similar kicks happened in 2015. Poring over 256 regular-season game books is something that can be done, but it hasn’t been.
ON JOHN KILICHOWSKI’S TWEET
Pretty sure John Kilichowski’s tweet about Tim Tebow supposedly agreeing to take the first pitch was meant in jest, but you did not provide this context. Many reading it in the way you presented it could take it to have been meant sincerely (which is likely the reason he took it down). A little context in these cases, please, for athletes’ reputations, as some people unfortunately miss the obvious.
I took for granted everyone would have thought that the pitcher was kidding. I guess I shouldn’t have.
WHAT ABOUT ENBERG?
While no one can argue the significance of Vin Scully’s retirement, it’s a shame that no attention was paid to someone who also played a big part in the sports landscape. And that person would be Dick Enberg, who short of hockey and soccer (and probably those too, for all I know), covered every sport imaginable, and did it in tremendous fashion. Even Vin Scully himself said Enberg did it “perfectly.” Just thought in a football column, some mention would be made of Enberg, who did a great job for many years with Merlin Olsen (among others). Oh my!
—Tim O., Douglassville, Pa.
Tim, thanks for pointing this out. Enberg deserves his own tribute, to be sure. He was great at football and baseball in particular, with a voice that naturally made you swoon. I’m sure those who’ve listened to him with the Padres in recent years are in mourning over his loss. Unfortunately for him, he retired on the same weekend that the greatest who ever did it left the booth.
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