The question was broad, but if there was an NFL coach who could fill the spaces on Sam Bradford, it was Pat Shurmur.
But the clock was ticking.
Teddy Bridgewater had just suffered a career-threatening leg injury, the Vikings were looking at potential replacements, and they had learned that Bradford was available via trade. Conveniently, Minnesota had someone in the building who had worked with the quarterback at two stops.
“They basically said, ‘Hey, listen, there’s a possibility we could trade for Sam. Tell us about him,’ ” Shurmur recalled. “So then I went on to tell them what I knew about Sam.”
His response was “lengthy”, as Shurmur described it. Tight end coaches aren’t typically involved in top-floor decisions that could alter the course of a franchise. But Shurmur not only worked closely with Bradford in St. Louis and Philadelphia, but he had vast experience with quarterbacks as a head coach, offensive coordinator and positional assistant.
So when general manager Rick Spielman included Shurmur in the Vikings’ think tank, it wasn’t specifically to quiz him on Bradford.
“At that point they were going through the decision of what quarterback we could add to our roster and, ironically, there were a lot of quarterbacks on the list that I had worked with in the past,” Shurmur said. “But (trading for Bradford) was certainly something I didn’t expect.”
Shurmur said that he wasn’t the intermediary who first brought the Eagles and Vikings together. It must have been awkward to be in a position, though, to influence not only his current employer, but also his former one. He spent 13 years with the Eagles and just seven months earlier he had been one of a half-dozen candidates to interview for their head coaching vacancy.
No one can argue after five games that Minnesota made out on the deal. Bradford has played some of his best football and the Vikings are undefeated heading into Sunday’s game at the Eagles. They have an elite defense and thus Super Bowl aspirations.
The Eagles can’t possibly be looking back either. The Bradford trade paved the way for Carson Wentz to play from the first game, and looking back now it would have been regretful had the rookie sat the entire season as had originally been the plan.
So was the trade a win-win?
“I don’t know,” Shurmur said. “If you’re referring specifically to Sam – Sam’s one piece to the puzzle here. The Vikings have won a lot of games in the previous years. I think the same could be said for Sam and myself. We’re just here to try and help the Minnesota Vikings win and do our jobs.”
They’ve been linked since the Rams drafted Bradford first overall in 2010. Shurmur was the offensive coordinator and he helped the quarterback have what was then considered one of the better rookie seasons. But Shurmur left after one season to take the Browns head coaching job.
By the time they were reunited in 2015, they each had NFL battle scars. Shurmur was fired after two seasons in Cleveland and Bradford had a roller coaster ride in St. Louis that culminated with the second of two torn anterior cruciate ligament injuries.
Last season was a disappointing one for the Eagles, but Bradford finished strong. He had a 97.0 passer rating in his final seven games and his best performance, at least statistically, came in the season finale with Shurmur leading the team and calling the offense after Chip Kelly was fired.
“He was getting his legs back a little more each week,” Shurmur said. “He was getting more and more comfortable with the receivers he was throwing to. He was getting more comfortable with what we were trying to do on offense, which was very different than he was accustomed to.”
Shurmur went into his interview with the Eagles saying that he would keep Bradford, who was set to become a free agent, if hired. Doug Pederson, of course, would eventually get the job, and Bradford would be retained, but Shurmur’s interest in his former team and quarterback didn’t wane.
“I was curious,” he said. “I’m always curious about players that I have a strong relationship with. I want to know how they’re doing. You still root for them.”
Shurmur said that he watched each of Bradford’s preseason games. The numbers suggested that he had thrown at a high level. Bradford completed 80 percent of his passes in three games. But Shurmur was able to watch the coaches film and evaluate his performance from the perspective of someone who knew many of the passing concepts.
“Those are our West Coast roots. So that was easy to see,” Shurmur said. “So I sort of knew what the plays were in terms of what the quarterback was asked to do. I was able to see that he was executing it on a pretty high level.”
Shurmur saw a quarterback who had once again made the adjustment to a new offense in a short time. Bradford was working with his fifth coordinator in seven years. If the Vikings were to trade for him, he would be asked to learn another new offense, develop chemistry with another new cast of players, and he would have just days to get ready.
Shurmur, during his lengthy answer to Spielman’s question, gave all the reasons why he thought Bradford could successfully make the transition. The results: Bradford leads the league with a 70.4 completion percentage, has yet to turn the ball over, and has a 109.7 rating.
“He came here and got right to the business of learning our offense, which is different,” Shurmur said. “Norv Turner’s vision of offense is a little bit different than other things he’s done.”
Turner is from the Air Coryell school of offense, which traditionally emphasizes vertical passing. Don Coryell was head coach of the Chargers when Dan Fouts led that team’s prolific passing game during the 1970s and 1980s.
But Bradford also had to learn new terminology and how it was communicated. Shurmur helped translate.
“Any time you have a relationship with a player, there’s natural dialogue that goes on,” Shurmur said. “I was able to help him on things like, ‘This is what we used to call this. This is what we call it here. This is something that we did last year that’s now part of our offense.’ “
Bradford wasn’t ready to start by the opener, but he looked like he had been in Turner’s offense for years when the Vikings beat the Packers the following week. His best throw of the night, though, came on a familiar play. He hit receiver Stefon Diggs for a 25-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone.
“That was actually a play that he had run last year,” Shurmur said. “So he was familiar with what Diggs was going to do. Probably the most amazing element of that throw was he had a guy in his face.”
Pederson confirmed on Monday that the Vikings have implemented some of the same offensive concepts the Eagles run. It’s fairly clear that Shurmur’s voice has been heard, just as it increasingly was last season.
“This is the Minnesota Vikings offense and Sam’s executing it,” Shurmur said. “I’ll leave it at that.”