Selected first overall in the last draft without a rookie wage scale, Bradford has enjoyed uncommon leverage and amassed a fortune

By Andrew Brandt
May 09, 2017

In a business tilted toward management, the number of NFL players who win in the business of football can be counted on two hands, if not one. Players are squeezed coming into the league by fixed-rate contracts that can’t be renegotiated for three years. On their way out, players are often left with only one-year deals (see Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles) that eventually turn into zero-year deals. If they are lucky, players will have contract leverage once in their career; a chosen few find themselves in that position twice; even fewer still—elite quarterbacks usually—might get three bites at the leverage apple.

But one quarterback who has never been categorized as “elite” is now enjoying contract leverage for an extraordinary third time, with three different teams. Sam Bradford is fast becoming a hero to the labor side in the business of football.

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Sam the Man

Bradford’s timing was invaluable to his financial picture. He was the top pick in the 2010 NFL draft, a year before the current collective bargaining agreement was implemented and rookies were locked into a pay scale. Cam Newton, the first pick of the 2011 draft, received $22 million guaranteed—barely 40% of Bradford’s eye-popping $50 million guaranteed with the Rams. Even now, the top overall pick in the draft earns less than $30 million guaranteed, roughly 60% of Bradford’s first deal in 2010.

Bradford, who played behind what can charitably be described as a subpar offensive line in St. Louis, struggled with injuries during his time with the Rams. In 2015, when the team approached him about a significant pay cut in the final year of his rookie deal, he refused. So the Rams found a willing trade partner in the Eagles, who took Bradford in exchange for Nick Foles and a second-round pick.

Bradford’s career earnings from the Rams: $65 million.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Eagles’ Missed Opportunity

When adding important players on expiring contracts, two discussions should occur concurrently for the acquiring team: 1) trade negotiations with the offering team, and 2) contract extension negotiations with the player’s agent to ensure more than a 16-game rental. At the time of the trade, the Eagles had a golden opportunity to reduce Bradford’s $13 million number for 2015 and extend his contract at a team-friendly rate. Bradford’s options at the time were to 1) stay with the Rams, who were trying to forge a substantial pay cut and looking for other options; 2) be traded to the Browns, who were, well, the Browns (although I see reason for hope now); or 3) be traded to the Eagles and a coach (Chip Kelly) who had just guided Nick Foles to a Hall of Fame-like season. Getting Bradford under contract for the long term in Philadelphia shouldn’t have been difficult.

For whatever reason, the Eagles did not request or demand an extension upon the trade, shifting all the leverage to Bradford. His agent, Tom Condon, used it strategically. After a 2015 season with mixed results, the Eagles re-upped Bradford for $18 million fully guaranteed in 2016 (a $5 million raise from his bloated rookie contract) and another $4 million guaranteed as part of $18 million in 2017. Although the Eagles then mortgaged valuable resources to draft Bradford’s eventual replacement (Carson Wentz), Bradford received an $11 million signing bonus to ensure his status as a starting quarterback at least through 2016 . . . although it would not be for the Eagles.

Bradford’s earnings from the Eagles: $24 million.

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Minnesota Misfortune

The fortunes of two NFL teams changed dramatically last August when Teddy Bridgewater’s gruesome knee injury set off a chain reaction. The Eagles wrangled a first-round pick from the Vikings for Bradford, inheriting his $7 million salary for last season and $18 million for 2017. Bradford had already received his $11 million bonus from the Eagles, earned essentially for some offseason workouts and a couple minicamps.

Bradford kept the Vikings in playoff contention for most of 2016 and now—for the second time in three years—he enters a contract year making top dollar with leverage to forge yet another favorable extension, this time from the Vikings. With Bridgewater’s injury continuing to be a factor, the Vikings chose not exercise an option on Bridgewater’s contract (we’ll discuss that in a future column). This creates another leveraged opportunity for Bradford entering his contract year.

The Vikings will soon be coming to Bradford to offer more money and more years just like the Rams and Eagles—teams that each paid at least $24 million to a quarterback who never made the Pro Bowl.

Bradford’s earnings from the Vikings through 2017: $25 million

Total Earnings for Bradford through 2017 (through 8 seasons): $114 million

A Final Thought on Another QB

I will never forget the reaction our scouts had when returning from Jay Cutler’s pro day at Vanderbilt. On a nasty, windy day in Nashville, Cutler seamlessly zipped the ball with force; scouts were envious when he was drafted No. 11 overall by the Broncos. Cutler was also that exceedingly rare example of a productive quarterback traded in his prime, something that really hasn’t happened since. That rarity brought the Broncos the incredible haul of two first-round picks (and a third-rounder) from the Bears.

Playing Cutler twice a year in Green Bay, we knew there would be one or two wow-plays every game because of his extraordinary arm. However, we also knew he would throw a lot of questionable balls that we had to take advantage of and intercept.

Cutler retired due to either not having any playing options (or only having undesirable ones). Like 99% of players that leave the NFL, Cutler was “retired” involuntarily rather than saying goodbye on his own terms. However, unlike the vast majority of that 99%, Cutler, like Tony Romo, walks into a high-profile, high-paying job. Like Bradford, Cutler and Romo are among the fortunate few.

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