The Curious Case of Sam Bradford’s Contract
No team was more active this offseason than the Eagles. Once he became armed with the power to reshape the roster fully in his image, Chip Kelly went to work with abandon, replacing most of his skill players and jettisoning some who didn’t fully “buy in” to the culture. Like him or not, Kelly is a refreshing change agent in a profession that sorely needed one. In his world, there is no time to dawdle. He talks fast, walks fast, coaches fast and now, having been in the role for less than six months, general-manages fast.
No trade contingency?
In the midst of this frenzied offseason, however, the Eagles’ inactivity relating to their biggest move is what I find most curious. It has been almost four months since the Eagles acquired Sam Bradford, their quarterback of the present and (presumably) the future. Considering the terms of the trade—the Eagles sent Nick Foles and a 2016 second-round pick to the Rams—it seemed natural that Philly wouldn’t just add a player who only has 16 games left on his contract. Yet Bradford’s contract status remains unchanged: one remaining season, at roughly $13 million.
Before shipping him to Philadelphia, the Rams had unsuccessfully tried to reduce Bradford’s salary in exchange for playing time and performance incentives to make up the difference. Bradford and his agent, Tom Condon, rejected those advances, forcing the Rams to 1) honor the existing $13 million, or 2) pursue an exit strategy. They obviously chose the latter.
As for a parallel contract extension, I am told there was some loose conversation between the two sides about “doing something” upon the trade transaction, but it was never a trade contingency. Since that time, limited talks between the Eagles and Bradford’s camp have produced little toward an extension.
The lack of an extension accompanying the trade has given Bradford some leverage going forward, assuming he stays healthy. While I have agreed with most of the moves made by the Eagles, an extension for Bradford could have been negotiated as a trade contingency. The Eagles could have given themselves leverage, but that opportunity was lost.
Let’s examine the pros and cons for each side about extending or not extending.
In recent years the Eagles have been as proactive as any team in extending the contracts of quarterbacks, albeit under different leadership. After trading Donovan McNabb in 2010, they added a contract year and approximately $10 million (much of it upfront) to presumed starter Kevin Kolb. The next year Michael Vick, who had replaced Kolb with great production, received a $100 million extension after receiving a Franchise Tag designation. Now, with significant trade compensation given up for Bradford, logic would suggest they want the same.
As noted already, the Eagles could have negotiated extension terms while using the leverage of the trade acquisition. Now, if Bradford stays healthy and thrives in Kelly’s system, he would present as the most rare commodity in free agency: a proven and successful quarterback who is still young enough to have years of production ahead of him. What the Eagles could have paid already would pale in comparison to what they would be forced to pay in the future, including a potential $20 million Franchise Tag next year.
Why not extend?
Although the moment has passed for the Eagles to acquire the object of Chip Kelly’s infatuation (Marcus Mariota), there’s still a lingering (albeit remote) chance that Bradford could still be moved. The lack of an extension for Bradford may indicate the Eagles have not completely closed the door on possible advances from teams such as the Browns.
Alternatively, the Eagles may simply want to see what happens with the injury-plagued Bradford, who is now benefiting from the Eagles’ unique sports science training division. It’s a risk, but perhaps one worth taking.
Players usually want what every employee wants: a long-term commitment from their employer. Bradford has been a regular presence at the Eagles’ facility since being traded, working with the conditioning staff and training staff to continue rehabilitating his knee. He is projected to steer a high-flying offense in which predecessor Nick Foles produced a 14-4 record as a starter. Bradford will have a superior offensive line to what he had in St. Louis; he’ll have longtime pal DeMarco Murray as part of a strong running back rotation; and he’ll also have perhaps the most innovative offensive mind in football coaching him on what is expected to be a contending team. What’s not to like being in Philadelphia?
Further, there is the still the possibility of a trade, albeit remote. Kelly is also known to value backup Mark Sanchez, who was re-signed immediately after last season. While low, there is still some risk for Bradford in not securing a longer commitment from the Eagles.
Why not extend?
The upper echelon quarterback market is soon to have another uptick. After Cam Newton’s recent extension, more are on the horizon for Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and others. While many might argue that Bradford doesn’t present the same way as those quarterbacks, he could be the lone player in this group reaching free agency, and he could negotiate in a new and improved marketplace.
Thus, Bradford could make $13 million this season while setting himself up for a long-term contract from the Eagles or another team in 2016. There is risk, but there is potential for greater reward.
What will happen?
My sense is the Eagles want to secure Bradford at a similar or perhaps even lower rate than his scheduled $13 million, at least in the short term. They probably would have been able to leverage that deal as a trade contingency, but that opportunity has passed.
My best guess is that nothing happens contractually with Bradford, at least through the early part of the season, which puts him in prime negotiating position with either the Eagles or several other teams should he be set free into the marketplace in March (assuming, of course, if he stays healthy).
But as always with the Eagles, don’t blink—you could miss something.
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