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Sam Bradford trade shows Vikings won't give in

The Vikings could have used Teddy Bridgewater's ghastly knee injury as an airtight excuse against any ugliness Minnesota encountered during the season ahead.

If we've learned anything about coach Mike Zimmer and his team, though, the concept of lying down isn't part of this regime's operation manual.

Saturday's surprising trade for Sam Bradford isn't the equal of Denver bringing a peak-performance Peyton Manning to town in 2012 -- not even close -- but Minnesota aimed as high as this year's shaky quarterback market would allow.

Instead of settling for an aging Shaun Hill or a warmed-over Mark Sanchez, the Vikings have landed a quarterback who many coaches around the league -- if not the fans -- still believe in.

The price is high and easily criticized -- a first-rounder next year and a fourth in 2018 -- but Minnesota wouldn't make this trade if it didn't see itself in the clear light of day as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Why they might be right

One reason the Vikings crept into public consciousness as a threat in the NFC, prior to Bridgewater's injury, was the team's layered roster surrounding the quarterback spot.

Minnesota boasts an attractive duo of young wideouts in Stefon Diggs and rookie Laquon Treadwell and a top-three running back in future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, Bradford's former college teammate and still the centerpiece of this offense.

The defense is a layered beast at every level with pass-rusher Everson Griffen, young linebacker Anthony Barr and emergent safety Harrison Smith leading the way for a well-coached crew sprinkled with veteran anchors and up-and-coming talent.

This is the best NFL team Bradford has ever played for. His career has been underwhelming, frustrating and dotted with drab play, but he is capable of outshining Bridgewater's totals from last season: 14 touchdowns to nine interceptions for an offense that rarely tested the field deep.

It's easy to question the cost. Just ask the Rams, who also used a first-round pick on Bradford and paid for that decision in full. Jeff Fisher's clubs in St. Louis, though, were a talent-poor dead-zone on offense. Bradford, of course, didn't help by refusing to escape the trainer's room.

Learning this offense in mere days won't be an easy challenge for the team's new signal-caller, but talented coordinator Norv Turner can do more with Bradford than he could have accomplished with Hill, whose arm strength hovers at the bottom of the league.

The Vikings were a playoff team with Teddy -- with a chance for much more -- and Bradford gives them an equal shot to win the NFC North.

Where this gets interesting

Bradford is more than just a one-year (hyper-expensive) patch: He's security for what comes next with Bridgewater.

If the Vikings learn that Bridgewater's gruesome knee injury is something he can't overcome by next season, Minnesota has Bradford through 2017. Instead of having to toil through this year with Hill and a cast of no-namers, the Vikings have a quarterback they can lean on well into next season if they must.

As much as Zimmer and the Vikings believe in Bridgewater, the injury renders him a burning question mark at the most important position in sports. You don't give up a first-round pick for Bradford unless there are concerns about what the future holds under center.

If the Vikings surge deep into January -- as Zimmer believes they can -- will this trade have been worth it? Absolutely.

What this tells us about Zimmer

Minnesota's coach was crushed by Bridgewater's injury, but Zimmer's overriding message to reporters last week was clear: The Vikings are much more than just their quarterback.

Zimmer preached on the overall strength of his roster and the locker room's innate desire to press on. He vowed, almost tearfully, that Minnesota wouldn't view the setback as a final and fatal blow.

Zimmer also noted that he called up longtime mentor and friend Bill Parcells, the Hall of Fame coach who always hammered home the importance of riding into the fray with a signal-caller you can trust.

As colleague and pained Jets fan Dan Hanzus pointed out this week, Parcells saw his own 1999 Jets team -- a stacked club -- crash and burn when veteran Vinny Testaverde was lost one game into the campaign. Stuck with the inglorious combination of Ray Lucas and Rick Mirer, Gang Green quickly spiraled to earth.

Zimmer was also in Dallas for many up-and-down seasons under Parcells, watching his mentor deftly transition the team from veteran passer Drew Bledsoe to an undrafted fellow by the name of Tony Romo.

There's no young Romo in this scenario, but Parcells -- who famously crafted his own list of 11 quarterback commandments -- certainly has pointed takes on the position.

His first commandment? "Ignore other opinions -- Press or TV, agents or advisors, family or wives, friends or relatives, fans or hangers on -- ignore them on matters of football, they don't know what's happening here."

Zimmer must agree, because plenty of people will criticize shipping a first-round pick to an NFC rival for Bradford. The Vikings, though, don't care what you think about this trade. Zimmer, especially, isn't interested in mass-market opinions on Bradford.

Like Parcells before him, Zimmer is proving to be an instinctive, risk-taking coach who refuses to sit around and wait for "next season."

Minnesota's window to do damage in the NFC is wide open -- and Saturday's trade tells us that swapping a few picks in exchange for January dreams is entirely worth it to this long-suffering franchise and their no-nonsense leader.

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