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GREEN BAY, Wis. — If Aaron Rodgers plays Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings — and that remains an if — coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t want his quarterback to take the kind of punishment he did in his return from his collarbone injury on Sunday.

Rodgers was sacked three times and took seven hits from the Carolina Panthers during his first game in two months.

“Aaron Rodgers is sore — rightfully so,” McCarthy said Monday evening. “He was hit too many times, took two big hits. So we’re working through that. So we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
By then, the Packers (7-7) will know if they have any chance at the postseason. Their streak of eight straight playoff appearances will end if the Atlanta Falcons beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.

McCarthy wouldn’t say if that would impact his decision to play Rodgers in either of the final two games.

“Well, we’re obviously watching the game tonight,” McCarthy said. “It impacts our opportunity to move forward, so you’re definitely aware of it. We treated today as a Tuesday with the coaching staff, no different for our players. They were all in here pretty much getting treatment and going through the weight room and strength and conditioning. We’re going to start having a little lighter start tomorrow, and we’re on a six-day week. But our preparation is getting ready to beat Minnesota. That’s our focus.”

Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in Sunday’s 31-24 loss but also had his first three-interception game since 2009. He completed 26 of 45 passes in his first game since Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr hit him and broke his right clavicle. Rodgers underwent surgery and was brought back off injured reserve at the earliest possible mark last week.

Rodgers said after the game that he was “disappointed in my performance … I obviously didn’t play very well.”
McCarthy wasn’t nearly as critical.

“I thought [he] did a lot of good things,” McCarthy said. “I think when you see him come back and not playing for two months, there’s so many things he makes look easy. For the most part, a number of throws, the plays he made with his feet, the awareness of plays, handling short-yardage situations, fourth-and-1, just a lot of critical decisions that he made in the game. We obviously did a lot more at the line of scrimmage with run-pass calls.

“They played us extremely aggressive — as aggressive as anybody played us all year. Handling that challenge. … If you go through it and you look at the three interceptions, two of them were like long punts. Those were all throws he’s made throughout his career. I think it was just a product of not playing for as long as he has because he’s made those throws. Those are routine throws for him. I thought he did a lot of really good things.”

The Packers re-signed backup quarterback Joe Callahan on Monday, which could be an indication that they will play Brett Hundley the rest of the way if they are eliminated from the postseason.

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – The news Sam Bradford received Wednesday — his 30th birthday, no less — delivered a major blow to the veteran quarterback’s chances of landing a long-term deal.

Bradford was placed on injured reserve by the Minnesota Vikings in order to create a spot on the 53-man roster for Teddy Bridgewater, who was activated off the physically unable to perform list. Since leading the Vikings to a season-opening win over the Saints where he also suffered a noncontact injury, Bradford has faced ongoing problems with his left knee.

Over the past three months, the quarterback has dug into his own pockets to conduct an exhaustive search for an answer to his knee problems, making repeat visits to orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews, undergoing Regenokine treatments and trying out an arthroscopic procedure on Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
The “good news” he received each time had to be frustrating. While there’s apparently no joint or structural damage, the inflammation has caused Bradford chronic pain.

Bradford was told by those who treated him that this was not expected to be a long-term issue. That’s the belief the Vikings said they had, too, until Wednesday.

“We all did, but it didn’t happen,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “Nothing really changed, it just didn’t get better.”

The veteran quarterback, who came to the Vikings via a trade in September 2016 after Bridgewater went down with a catastrophic knee injury, will hit the market in 2018 as an unrestricted free agent. This season was supposed to help him secure a megadeal with Minnesota or elsewhere.

Sam Bradford's trip to IR because of chronic left knee pain could scuttle any hope for a big contract anywhere in 2018.

Sam Bradford’s trip to IR because of chronic left knee pain could scuttle any hope for a big contract anywhere in 2018.

Instead, the move to IR could cost him millions.

The 2017 season was Bradford’s chance to put up big numbers after spending a full offseason versed in Pat Shurmur’s system and lead the team on a playoff run. Doing that could have earned him his next big deal – aka Derek Carr and Matthew Stafford money – as evidenced by how many NFL teams are desperate for a solid starting quarterback.

Bradford, who is making $18 million from the Vikings this season between his $14 million base salary and $4 million roster bonus, could have been looking at a multiple-year deal worth over $100 million.

Now? Well, needless to say, Bradford probably doesn’t want to do much in the way of celebrating this crushing reality. But let’s keep things in perspective for a second.

Bradford has made $114 million over his eight years in the NFL. He could decide to retire now or take next season off and live comfortably.

The former top pick in the 2010 NFL draft (the year before the present CBA locked rookies in on a pay scale) made $65 million with the Rams over five seasons where he dealt with injuries to that same left knee that caused him to miss considerable time, including the entire 2014 season.

After being traded to the Eagles in 2015 and producing so-so results that year, Philadelphia re-upped his deal for $18 million guaranteed in 2016. He was then traded to the Vikings for first- and fourth-round picks when Minnesota desperately needed a quarterback.

We don’t need to go through the entirety of Bradford’s contract history, so in sum, the veteran quarterback made $24 million from the Eagles and will end 2017 making $25 million from the Vikings.

There’s a miracle scenario out there that could keep things in line for Bradford. He’s eligible to come off IR after eight weeks, which would be the first week of the playoffs. If Minnesota makes the postseason, he’s healthy and the Vikings aren’t getting what they need out of Bridgewater, maybe Bradford shocks the world, leads the team to the Super Bowl and secures his dream-come-true deal.

Maybe there’s a .001 percent chance that happens, but even still, future teams are going to have pause over handing out a big contract because there’s so much uncertainty over whether his knee is going to continue to be a problem.

In all likelihood, Bradford’s future will consist of shorter, possible one-year deals for a reduced price. A look around the league’s quarterback situations could put him in a place like Washington or Miami next season. Maybe Cleveland or another team that drafts a quarterback could sign him to compete with their younger player for a spot.
Is the Bradford era in Minnesota over before it ever really got started? Possibly. Bridgewater just so happens to be a free agent in 2018 as well. If the Vikings aren’t confident that he’s their guy for the long-term, Bradford could be back next year, albeit for a reduced price and shorter duration. He won’t get the franchise tag that was being thrown around in discussions several months ago.

Minnesota wasn’t ready to pull the trigger on a big extension with Bradford before the season started, and the other 31 teams in the NFL won’t likely be eager to do the same going forward.

This was supposed to be a year of leverage for Bradford; a chance to get another favorable extension that would increase his net worth among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league.

What this season instead revealed was an injury issue that he could no longer outrun and may cost him his next big payday.

As Vikings face Blake Bortles, QB Class of 2014 remains an enigma

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback search of 2014 took them across the country, to meet with players in restaurants and hotel rooms, on practice fields and in front of whiteboards, as they joined a handful of other teams in what amounts to the NFL’s annual search for happily-ever-after by way of speed dating.

The Vikings took Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles out to dinner in Orlando following his pro day in March 2014, but by the end of the spring, their months-long search had put two names above Bortles’ and everyone else’s on their draft board: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, followed closely by Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. The Jacksonville Jaguars, meanwhile, had become enamored enough with Bortles to spend the third overall pick on him and stake their future on the quarterback.

Two-and-a-half years later, as Bortles faces the Vikings for the first time in his career, it’s a logical moment for one of our periodic checks on the Class of 2014 — which, depending on how you look at it, can be characterized as anything from eclectic to enigmatic. Bortles, who has started every game for the Jaguars since Week 4 of 2014, threw 35 touchdown passes last season but leads the league in interceptions for the second straight season. Manziel, who went to the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd overall pick, is out of the league thanks to a long list of personal demons. Bridgewater, who led the Vikings to a division title in 2015 and was named as an injury replacement to the Pro Bowl, tore his left ACL and dislocated his knee during the Vikings’ final preseason practice on Aug. 30. And the quarterback drafted after all of them, Oakland’s Derek Carr, is a MVP candidate in 2016.

It’s been an eventful start for a group of quarterbacks that elicited polarized reactions during the 2014 draft, and as the Vikings face the Jaguars this weekend, desperately in need of a win after losing six of seven games, they’ll hope they can get the better of the one quarterback they didn’t have the chance to take two years ago.

“He’s a lot like the guy we looked at when he was coming out,” Zimmer said. “He’s got a big, strong arm. He’s an athlete. He’s been making a lot of plays with his legs. The scramble tape this week is twice as big as any other tape. He can make all of throws. He’s got a good, strong arm, big rangy athlete.”

Bortles has run for 325 yards already this season, after posting 729 during his first two years, but his 50 interceptions in that time are the main reason why he admitted Wednesday his season “hasn’t been great — not the results you’ve wanted, not the personal play I’ve wanted.” While he said he believes the Jaguars’ offense is headed in the right direction under new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Bortles is coming off a game against the Denver Broncos where he completed just 19 of 42 passes for 181 yards, while being picked off twice.

“He’s thrown a lot of interceptions, but don’t get it wrong: He makes throws,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “He forces passes from time to time, but he’ll still make great throws. He gives his receivers time to run backyard routes, other than the route that was called. We’ve got to stay on those guys in coverage, keep it tight on them so we can stop him from scrambling around and giving his guys time to get open.”

Bridgewater operated by a different ethic during his two years as the Vikings’ starter, using his feet to extend plays but generally finding ways to limit turnovers and keep the Vikings out of trouble. Carr, by most lights, has been the quarterback to strike the best balance between precision and aggressiveness. He’s played behind the offensive line his older brother David never had (and, for that matter, the one Bortles and Bridgewater lacked during their first seasons), and the Raiders are 10-2 while Carr has thrown for 24 touchdowns against five interceptions for former Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

While the Raiders are in a fight for home-field advantage, the Vikings are trying to keep their playoff hopes alive after trading their first-round pick for Sam Bradford following Bridgewater’s injury. The 2-10 Jaguars, meanwhile, have fielded questions about whether Bortles should be benched in his third season. For the QB Class of 2014, it seems, common ground will continue to be hard to come by.

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MANKATO, Minn. – The Minnesota Vikings have an evening practice on Saturday night, so Adrian Peterson(Adrian Peterson Jersey) will be otherwise occupied when one of his former teammates is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But the running back was on Brett Favre’s invitation list.

Peterson, who played with Favre during the quarterback’s last two seasons, said it was “pretty cool” for Favre to invite him to the ceremonies in Canton. Peterson added he owes some of his passionate playing style to Favre, whom he watched growing up, and said Favre is one of the few players he’s ever asked for an autograph.

“I can always say I played with him,” he said. “That right there is satisfying to me.”

Favre had the best statistical season of his career in his first year with the Vikings, throwing 33 touchdown passes against seven interceptions while leading the team to the brink of the Super Bowl in 2009. He turned 40 during his first season in Minnesota, but his arm strength was still second to none. “He threw the only ball I’ve heard whistle when it goes by my helmet,” Peterson said. “To still be able to throw the ball with that much power was incredible to me.”

The Vikings’ overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game cost the team its first trip to the Super Bowl in 33 years, and the team went 6-10 in Favre’s tumultuous second season in Minnesota. But despite the fact the run didn’t end with a trip to the Super Bowl, Peterson said he’ll never forget it.

“Initially it was like, ‘Wow – it’s Brett Favre,’” he said. “To have a locker right next to him, that was pretty special. It was a great experience, one I’ll always remember and cherish.”

Practicing for the first time during training camp after nursing a slight hamstring strain, Peterson was still used lightly in team drills, and said he won’t play in the Vikings’ first preseason game next Friday in Cincinnati. If he were to play in the preseason, he’d likely do so toward the end of the exhibition schedule, perhaps in the Vikings’ third preseason game as they open up U.S. Bank Stadium on Aug. 28. The team’s joint practices against the Bengals next week could also provide Peterson a chance to get some better competition without being tackled.

“I went out today, and I felt pretty good. I was able to open up some,” Peterson said. “I’ll continue to approach it that way, until I feel like I’m able to open it up all the way. Obviously, I’m not playing in the first preseason game, so we’ll see what happens.”