TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Sam Bradford has arrived in Arizona, acknowledging his difficult history with injuries but saying he feels fine now as he prepares to start at quarterback for the Cardinals under new coach Steve Wilks.
“There has been, definitely, some dark times,” Bradford said at his introductory news conference Friday. “You fight through that process and every time you turn that corner and you’re able to get yourself back on the field. I feel like I’ve come back mentally tougher and mentally stronger than I was the time before.”
The Cardinals called Bradford’s deal a two-year contract, although the second is a club option. He can earn up to $20 million next season, with $15 million guaranteed.
Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, is known for his strong and accurate arm but he has struggled with injuries.
After being named NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2010, Bradford tore his left ACL in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He was traded to Philadelphia in 2015.
Bradford signed with Minnesota in 2016 and started 15 games, completing 71 percent of his passes for 3,877 yards and 20 touchdowns with five interceptions. But he missed most of last season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
“I feel good right now,” he said. “Obviously, last year was difficult, but after the procedure I had in November I was able to rehab and get myself back in position to play and was able to suit up the two playoff games in Minnesota.”
When asked about Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s statement that Bradford had a “degenerative” knee condition, Bradford said, “I’m not sure what that means, to be honest.”
“Look, obviously there’s some wear and tear on my knee,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot with it, but all I can tell you is how I feel right now and really where it’s gone since I had the procedure in November. It’s done nothing but get better and I feel good at the moment.”
He has appeared in 80 games — all as a starter — for the St. Louis Rams, Philadelphia and Minnesota.
Last season’s injury was particularly devastating, Bradford said, because he was playing well on a team loaded with talent. In the season opener on a Monday night against New Orleans, Bradford completed 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards, three touchdowns and a career-best 143.0 passer rating, earning him NFC offensive player of the week honors. He was injured the following week.
“I think last year was definitely the hardest because I knew how special a group we had last year,” Bradford said. “Going into the year, we all thought that we had an opportunity to do something. I felt like I played really well during training camp. … In week one, I played great, and I felt really good about where we were as a team. To not be able to do it again, yeah, it was tough.”
The 30-year-old quarterback acknowledged the injuries to wear on him.
“It seems like each time, it’s a little bit tougher mentally,” Bradford said. “As you get older, you just realize how precious each game is and how few of these opportunities you are given. So each time it’s taken away from you, it’s a little bit harder because you realize what you’re missing out on. … To not be able to compete on Sundays, that’s the tough part about it.”
Before agreeing with Bradford, the Cardinals had no QBs on their roster after the retirement of Carson Palmer and the departure of free agents Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert. The Cardinals now have Bradford’s backup lined up after signing Mike Glennon following his release by the Chicago Bears. Glennon gets a two-year deal worth $8 million. The Cardinals probably will add a third quarterback in the draft.
Now, once again, Bradford has to learn a new offense. He said he really doesn’t know offensive coordinator Mike McCoy but talked to him this week. McCoy has said he would build an offense around the things his quarterback does best.
Bradford said he had other opportunities but chose Arizona because of the roster. He also likes that the Cardinals play on grass in front of perennial sellout crowds.
He mentioned the return of running back David Johnson, who missed all last season after breaking his wrist in the season opener. And, of course, there’s wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
“I’ve never played with a guy like that before,” Bradford said. “Yeah, I’ve played with some good receivers, but when you talk about Fitz, he’s in a class that very few guys are in. To be a part of that and to get to play with him, it’s probably one of the best opportunities of my career.”
NOTES: In addition, the Cardinals signed ex-Cincinnati offensive tackle Andre Smith to a two-year contract and re-signed inside linebacker Josh Bynes to a three-year deal. Offensive lineman Vinston Painter re-signed for a one-year contract. … Arizona was awarded its waiver claim on linebacker Jeremy Cash and released defensive lineman Josh Mauro.
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This story has been corrected to reflect that the coach of the Vikings is Mike Zimmer, not Don Zimmer.