In Defense of Sam Bradford

The following is a guest post by Stephen Silver

Everybody hates Sam Bradford. That's the result of a seven-week whirlwind of activity for the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. After restored general manager Howie Roseman spent March systematically undoing every major acquisition of the brief Chip Kelly front office era except for Bradford, the free agent quarterback on March 1 signed a two-year, $35 million contract, including $22 million guaranteed and an $11 million signing bonus, half of which has already been paid. 

But then, just weeks later, the Eagles made a dramatic trade to move up to the #2 pick in the NFL Draft, surrendering numerous picks this year as well as next year's #1 and 2018's #2, with the stated purpose of drafting a quarterback, and Thursday night they used the pick on Carson Wentz. Now, Bradford has requested a trade, even threatening to sit out the team's offseason program. And as a result, Bradford is the new most hated man in Philadelphia, among fans and media alike. 

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I think Bradford is within reason and certainly within his rights to ask out of town. And I'm not exactly sure how the story of the last month is "Bradford is a jerk" and not "the Eagles bungled this situation in multiple ways." 

Nine times out of ten in the NFL, player/team disputes that result in the player demanding a trade or threatening to sit out are about money. But that's not the case here. Bradford has already made a huge amount of money in the NFL -- you could say more than he should have -- and his salary this year is essentially guaranteed whether he plays or not. If Bradford were a greedhead professional athlete worthy of ridicule, wouldn't he just collect his signing bonus and salary for sitting on the bench, keep his mouth shut, and spend the whole season lying to the media about not really being upset? 

If Bradford had reacted to the Eagles' move by asking for more money, I wouldn't defend him for a minute. Ditto if he stated out loud that he hates the city of Philadelphia and its fans and wants to leave for that reason. But that's not what happened. I can't blame the man for wanting to earn his contract, and for wanting to go where he's wanted. And I can't blame his agent, Tom Condon, either -- advocating for the interests of his client is his job. 

I'm not privy to what was said by either side during the Eagles negotiations with Bradford. But judging by the structure and amount of money in the contract, Bradford was almost certainly given the impression that he was the Eagles' starting quarterback for 2016 and possibly beyond. Sure, the presence of two quarterbacks on the roster (and not three) indicates that the team was likely to draft a QB this year, but given how much both Bradford and backup Chase Daniel were earning, it appeared the team would draft someone in the middle or later rounds -- a "developmental quarterback," as Doug Pederson's mentor Andy Reid was fond of frequently drafting in his time with the Eagles. 

But instead, the Eagles have drafted a quarterback second overall, after surrendering huge assets to do so. Every fan assumes that Wentz will sit out most or all of his first year. But that's not how the NFL works these days -- quarterbacks taken at the top of the draft usually start from Day 1 or close to it. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were both Week 1 starters last year. The Jags went to Blake Bortles in Week 4 in 2014; Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were both the man from Day 1 in 2012. Wentz, as a small-school guy, may need a little more time. But the days of a top-drafted QB sitting out a full year are over. 

Should Bradford try to "beat out" Wentz, as every critic seems to suggest? When a team has committed the resources the Eagles have to the new QB, that's not a fight Bradford could ever hope to win. 

Look at it from Bradford's point of view. He was signing a contract to play quarterback for a team with holes all over the roster -- especially on offense, where there's not a star player to speak of at any skill position. Instead of some of this year's high draft picks being used to address needs at running back, wide receiver or offensive line, those picks have been traded, for a guy who sooner rather than later is going to be Bradford's replacement. Even if he's been named the starter, can you blame Bradford for not seeing a long-term future for himself with the Eagles?

My question is,  if the Eagles were planning all along to take a quarterback early, why re-sign Bradford at all? Why not allocate those resources to other parts of the roster, sign Chase Daniel and go into the season with Daniel and the rookie? How can the Eagles justify outlaying that much money for three different quarterbacks, while other positions languish?  And why didn't they have any inkling Bradford would be upset? 

Did Bradford overplay his hand, and misjudge his value around the league? He may very well have. It doesn't sound like Chip Kelly wants him back, and the one team reported to express interest, Denver, drafted a quarterback in the first round instead. And the Eagles should only trade Bradford if the deal is right, and/or if they determine his situation is too much of a distraction to keep him around. If Bradford isn't traded, drops his trade demand, and returns to the Eagles without incident, I wouldn't be remotely surprised. 

Whether Wentz leads the Eagles to years of Super Bowl contention, or he's an all-time bust that sets the franchise back years and costs Roseman and Pederson their jobs, what happened with Bradford in 2016 will likely go down as a footnote either way. But to vilify the Sam Bradford for a totally defensible reaction, to this degree, makes no sense at all.

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