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The Cardinals Reportedly Just Paid $15 Million for a Bridge Quarterback Who Can’t Stay Healthy

Sam Bradford isn’t a long- or short-term answer for Arizona, and his apparent signing represents the limbo the team finds itself in

Sam Bradford with his right hand on his hip Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Deal

Sam Bradford has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Cardinals for one year and $15 million guaranteed, with the potential to reach $20 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Cardinals will also have a $20 million team option to keep Bradford in 2019. The deal won’t become official until Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET.

What If Sam Bradford Could Stay Healthy?

What if cars could drive themselves? What if SportsCenter put its “Top 10 Plays” on YouTube? What if Sam Bradford were healthy for an entire NFL season? These are the defining questions of our time, and now the last is the defining question of the Cardinals’ 2018 season. Arizona committed $15 million to Sam Bradford’s knees Tuesday, giving the team the upside of a top-10 quarterback and the downside of a player who has spent more time with Dr. James Andrews than his own family over the last decade.

Bradford, 30, can still sling it when he’s healthy. In Week 1, he shredded what turned out to be a good Saints defense to the tune of 27 completions on 32 attempts for 346 yards (10.8 yards per attempt) and three touchdowns.

Just as Bradford seemed to be reviving his career, he reinjured his surgically repaired left knee during the game, and he played in just one more matchup in 2017. In retrospect, that outing against the Saints encapsulates his entire career. In the last five seasons, Bradford has played 7, zero, 14, 15, and two games.

Wandering the Arizona Desert

If there’s any team desperate enough to gamble on Bradford’s health, it’s the Cardinals. After Carson Palmer and Bruce Arians retired in January, the team entered 2018 with a new head coach, new offensive and defensive coordinators, and no quarterbacks under contract. They seem to have lost out on Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum, and the other viable quarterbacks on the market have a similarly checkered injury history (Teddy Bridgewater), are unproven (A.J. McCarron), or are 38 (Josh McCown). Arizona has the 15th pick in the draft, but that slot may be too late to find a franchise quarterback. If the Cardinals do find a signal-caller, Bradford would serve as a bridge, but even that is a gamble: Bridges are supposed to reliably stay upright, and Bradford doesn’t qualify. If the team can’t find a long-term quarterback this offseason, the Cardinals may succeed Cleveland as the most quarterback-desperate franchise.

Worsening the situation is general manager Steve Keim’s win-now roster. Inside linebacker Deone Bucannon, right tackle Jared Veldheer, and running back David Johnson are set to become free agents next year, and the team has already handed out monster deals to outside linebacker Chandler Jones and cornerback Patrick Peterson. It will require some salary cap wizardry to keep Arizona’s core in place in the coming seasons. As big of a risk as Bradford is, his signing reflects the limbo the franchise is in. Arizona needs a short- and a long-term answer at quarterback. It ended up signing Bradford, who doesn’t satisfy either need.