On a day of Free Agency such as this, the move that the Cardinals made for Sam Bradford flew under the radar. This is probably for good reason. Sam Bradford has once again cashed in by coming away with a one-year, $20 million deal ($15 million of which is guaranteed). It is abundantly clear that the Cardinals still feel like Bradford has some value.
The price tag is also a result of the position that the Cardinals found themselves in. Before this signing, they had zero Quarterbacks on their roster. They didn’t want to enter the draft without a seasoned signal caller on their roster, and they paid what they had to to get it done.
But what can we expect?
Let’s start with his health. Bradford should be at least healthy at the beginning of the season. But beyond that, I have little faith in his ability to stay on the field. Earlier this month Mike Zimmer called Bradford’s knee injury “degenerative,” which is probably accurate considering the amount of time he has lost over the last eight seasons due to knee injuries. So even if he has a decent season statistically, he has a very high chance to miss a big chunk of games.
(Note, when breaking down his efficiency I mostly used 2016, as he only played two games in 2017)
On the field, Bradford is an accurate QB. His completion % has steadily risen in every season since 2011 until it finally reached 71.6% in 2016 (74.1% in his two games last season). It sounds good, but take a look at his completion percentage when compared to how far downfield the target is:
The left chart shows Bradford’s accuracy compared to the depth of target. The right graph shows the total targets sorted by depth. If you look at the first chart, Bradford’s accuracy drops to about 10% below the league averages when his throws are roughly 8-13 yards downfield. Then it shoots up to nearly double the league average when his targets are 18-30 yards downfield before it drops back down to average again.
The major problem here is that Bradford is poor at 8-13 yard throws, which is how you pick up first downs through the air. If you can’t move the chains, your offense doesn’t get opportunities to score. He does have a terrific completion percentage when he throws 20 yards or more, but that only accounts for around 8% of his total attempts. It’s also not a figure that is sustainable long-term, especially when moving to a team that has fewer reliable downfield options for him.
From an efficiency standpoint, Bradford finished 2016 with a 2.3% DVOA (Determines a QB’s value per play) and a 2.2% DYAR (A measurement of a QB’s total value). These were enough to rank him 16th and 17th in the league respectively. However, he was unable to convert this into fantasy value because he simply didn’t get the ball into the red zone enough to score TDs
In 2016, he started 15 games for the Vikings and finished as the QB23 with 3,877 yards, 20 TDs, and 5 INTs. That was with Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph as his receivers. I can’t imagine he will finish much higher with Larry Fitzgerald as his only decent downfield option. David Johnson will bail him out of certain situations, but overall Bradford is ill-equipped to deal with the challenges he is going to face in Arizona. The Cardinals would be wise to take a stab at one of the young QBs in the upcoming draft despite the hefty contract they’ve paid for Bradford.
Overall, this is not a long-term success plan for the Cardinals. New head coach Steve Wilks may choose to begin the season with Bradford under center. The Cardinals also signed Mike Glennon, and he’ll attempt to present some (not much) competition for the starting job. If the Cardinals do use a high draft pick to acquire another QB, then Bradford would be on a much shorter leash than if the Cardinals simply load up on depth QBs in free agency.
He joins an NFC West division that should be tough against the pass. The Seahawks have lost Richard Sherman, but he stayed in the division. The Hawks have no guarantee that Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas will return either. The Rams boast an excellent secondary, helped by the fact that they’ve acquired Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters and Sam Shields. The 49ers should also improve after their huge 3-year deal with Richard Sherman.
At this point, I am not putting Bradford any higher than the QB25 in redraft formats and QB32 in dynasty leagues. That number will naturally fall if the Cardinals dip into the QB pool in the draft.