Cardinals GM Steve Keim (left) shakes the hand of new quarterback Sam Bradford after Bradford signed his contract Friday.
The veteran quarterback came to the Cardinals with some success but also an injury history, with few expectations.
That’s how Kurt Warner arrived in Arizona. And Carson Palmer. And now, Sam Bradford.
“Those two guys were tremendous players and were both able to accomplish a lot here in Arizona,” Bradford said Friday, soon after signing his two-year contract to become the Cardinals’ new starting QB. “Hopefully I’ve turned a corner (injury-wise) and this is a place I can be the rest of my career. Hopefully I can do some of the things those guys were able to do.”
Bradford passed his physical Thursday afternoon. His deal is reportedly worth up to $20 million this season, with $15 million guaranteed, becoming the first quarterback on the roster for new coach Steve Wilks.
Bradford, 30, was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in 2010 by the Rams. But his career has been derailed by multiple injuries – a lingering ankle problem in
2010, a torn ACL in 2013, a re-tear of the ACL in 2014, a shoulder injury in 2015 and then a knee bruise that later needed surgery in 2017.
When Bradford has played, he has played well, particularly during his last stop in Minnesota. In 17 games, Bradford completed 72 percent of his passes for 4,259 yards, 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions, for a passer rating of 101.1.
“It’s frustrating,” Bradford said. “There are definitely some dark times. You fight those battles mentally. But every time you go through that process and every time you turn the corner and get yourself back on the field, I feel like I have come back mentally tougher and mentally stronger than the time before. You have to be aware enough of the injuries to gather and grasp the positives of going through the process. But at the end of the day, you essentially have to forget about them.”
Bradford has come to realize how precious each of his opportunities are to play, as many times as he has lost out on them when hurt. He acknowledged there was a time last season that he wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to continue to play, or worse, that no one would want to give him a chance to do so.
“I think everyone outside of this building is probably worried about it, but having gone through the rehab process and having gone through injuries before, as a player, you really can’t focus on it,” Bradford said.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had termed the knee “degenerative,” but Bradford said he wasn’t even sure what that meant.
“Obviously there is some wear and tear on my knee,” Bradford said. “I can tell you where I am right now how I am
feeling … I am feeling good at the moment.”
Bradford was the Vikings starter going into 2017, and was excellent in a season-opening win over the Saints, throwing for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Then the knee bruise took him out of the lineup, and a brief return in Week 5 didn’t last before Bradford had to shut it down.
He did come back in the playoffs and was Case Keenum’s backup in the NFC Championship game.
“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Zimmer said at the recent NFL Scouting combine, noting that Bradford had just been skiing in Wyoming in February. “I think he’ll stay healthy, but who knows? I have a crystal ball, but I don’t have it with me. But it didn’t tell me if he’s going to stay healthy.”
Bradford did say he had interest from other teams, but did not get specifics. The Cardinals were attractive in part because of the chance to throw to a future Hall of Famer like Larry Fitzgerald and to work with a running back like David Johnson.
Bradford was also close friends with tight end Jermaine Gresham when the two played in college at Oklahoma, and he praised a defense that would make it easier for an offense “where you’re not going to have to score 50 points to win.”
Bradford said he looked around the locker room at all the nameplates on the stalls, recognizing good player after good player, becoming impressed with the roster.
The hill to reach the level of either Warner or Palmer is a steep one. But Bradford believes he – and his knee – are ready for the climb.
“I’ve been around for a while now and I have played in quite a few different systems,” Bradford said. “I am very comfortable standing in the pocket. I am comfortable in my own skin. I feel like I can provide leadership to this offense and to this team.”