EAGAN, Minn. – Walking into the building Monday morning confirmed everything for Garrett Bradbury.
A month after re-signing with the Vikings, Bradbury returned to Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for Minnesota's voluntary offseason program. Along with the brisk air of a 35-degree April morning, Bradbury was met with a sense of peace.
"You don't really feel it until you come back into the building today and you're like, 'You know, there's a chance I wasn't going to be here. That these guys were all going to be starting [the offseason program] and I wasn't going to be here,' " Bradbury told media members. "It just reassures that you made the right decision, and I'm happy to be back."
He and his wife Carson sat down following the 2022 season and discussed potential free agency scenarios.
After four seasons with the Vikings, who drafted Bradbury 18th overall in 2019, he and Carson realized that – if given the opportunity – Minnesota really was the only place they wanted to be.
"We were like 'We want to be somewhere we want to live. We want to be somewhere with good coaches, system, locker room.' And thinking about everything we wanted, Minnesota had it all," Bradbury said. "The past four years kind of turned into home for us.
"This checked every box we had, and we've loved it here," Bradbury added. "And it's only getting better."
View photos of Vikings players arriving for offseason workouts at the TCO Performance Center.
He noted that the "new coaching staff and new culture" under Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, who took the helm in Minnesota last season, was a major part of the selling point. As is remaining part of a close-knit position group.
"I love the o-line room. I've talked to you guys enough about how much those guys mean to me," Bradbury laughed.
One piece of that offensive line, right tackle Brian O'Neill, tried to remain an unbiased party this offseason.
As free agency approached, Bradbury spent a lot of time chatting with O'Neill and seeking his friend and teammate's counsel.
"He was trying to stay as neutral [as he could], like, 'I want what's best for you, but … I want you back' kind of thing," Bradbury said of their conversations.
Blake Brandel, Ezra Cleveland "and a few other guys" spent two months working out in Arizona with Bradbury this spring and shared his excitement when he agreed to terms with Minnesota.
"I was kind of just working out, going about my daily business throughout free agency, letting my agent handle it," Bradbury said, "so once I could finally tell them, they were all juiced. Got calls from the coaches. Like I said, just reassured that [we] made the right decision."
Bradbury did well in a new offense last season, starting all 12 regular-season games he played. Despite his missing five games with a back injury, analytics site Pro Football Focus highlighted a jump in performance for Bradbury, who received an overall PFF grade of 60.2 in 2021 and 70.2 in 2022.
View the best photos of Vikings C Garrett Bradbury from the 2022 season.
He credited the improvement to consistency as a unit, combined with O'Connell's offensive system.
"I say it a lot, but the more reps you have as an o-line together, the better you are. And that was now my third year with Ezra, fourth year with Brian, second year with C.D. (Christian Darrisaw); Ed [Ingram] played every snap all year," Bradbury said. "So when you know the guys that are playing next to you, you know what they're good at and just, I don't know, experience matters a lot. Especially at the offensive line position.
"The new coaches were awesome; the new system was awesome. It was kind of just the perfect mix," he added. "I felt like I got a fresh start with the new coaches last year. I felt like we had a good season up front, and we can even build off that and have a better year this year."
Bradbury said there's "a little more freedom" for the offensive line under O'Connell, Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips and offensive line coach Chris Kuper.
"The coaches give a lot of ownership. Chris Kuper played eight years [in the NFL]. He gets it. He's been at our shoes, at a very high level," Bradbury explained. "He's not necessarily hammering, 'You have to do this or that, this way or that way.' He understands that it's an NFL game – there might be some NFL muddy pockets or some dirty runs where we give the running back 'this' much room, and it's an explosive run.
"His understanding of the game, and the way he coaches it, and the way our room kind of responded with him and gelled with him, it was a great combination," Bradbury added.
He noted that Kuper places a strong emphasis on team protection and working as a single unit rather than five individual players on the line.
"There's usually four [defenders] rushing the quarterback, and there's five of us, so a lot of it is, 'OK, someone's uncovered; how can we help each other?' You play as a unit," Bradbury said. "And that's why I talked about how those reps are so important. Because it's, 'All right, if I'm uncovered, who can I help? And if I go take his guy, who can he then go help?' It's limiting the 1-on-1 opportunities and playing together as a unit. It was just that togetherness, that collectiveness of us going out there and saying, 'We are one.' "
Feeling fully healthy, Bradbury is champing at the bit to hit the ground running again this spring.
"That was not fun," he said of the back injury that sidelined him for six weeks ahead of Minnesota's Wild Card playoff game. "But I'm feeling great. Doing everything. Full participant in everything. Once the season ends, you have a few months off to just work out and get your body right, and everything starts to feel a lot better.
"Coming in the building, working out for the first time today, I feel great. Everyone does," Bradbury continued. "It's great to get back into this competitive team setting where you're working out and pushing each other."