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May 10, 2017

Let's correct a financial re-telling of Sam Bradford's time in Philadelphia

Former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford has made a boatload of money over his career in the NFL, despite being a mediocre starter. Is he a guy playing a position that teams are desperate to fill, and has capitalized on teams' faulty evaluations of him as a player? Or are he and his agent some kind of financial masterminds?

In a story by Andrew Brandt of Sports Illustrated, Bradford is celebrated as the latter. Brandt's piece walks you through Bradford's career from a financial perspective up until the conclusion of the upcoming 2017 season, pointing out that Bradford will have pocketed $114 million in eight years despite never achieving "elite" status.

Within the piece, Brandt characterizes Bradford's time in Philly as a "missed opportunity" for the Eagles to have locked up him to a long-term contract. Let's walk through the Eagles' section of the piece, point-by-point:

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.

It is true that any team trading valuable assets for a player with one year left on his deal should want that player to be in their long-term plans. However, the Eagles' idiotic 2015 offseason piloted by Chip Kelly didn't make much sense, across the board. Kelly was willing to trade those valuable assets for a player he was only kinda-sorta committed to.

Trading for Bradford the way that Kelly did was indeed dumb, but it was only dumb because Bradford was not worth the assets they were giving up for him. At the time, he was coming off consecutive seasons in which he tore his ACL, and hadn't been anything close to a successful quarterback to that point in his career, which was five years deep by then.

From the Eagles' perspective, they dodged a bullet by not striking a long-term deal with Bradford that might have kept him in Philly to this day. A major reason they held off, post-trade, was because they were still very much targeting a trade-up in the 2015 NFL Draft to select Marcus Mariota, which they failed to accomplish. 

The whole chain of events was moronic, but in no way did the Eagles "miss an opportunity" to tie their franchise long-term to a mediocre starting quarterback.

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.

During the 2016 offseason, the Eagles did indeed sign Bradford to a new, short-term deal that would, in theory, enable them to remain competitive in 2016, while allowing them to continue to look for an actual franchise quarterback. Paying a little extra for a short-term deal was unquestionably a better play than tying the franchise to Bradford for the foreseeable future.

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.

I don't know if I'd necessarily refer to the Wentz deal as "mortgaging valuable resources," as much as I'd say they traded valuable draft picks to acquire by far the most valuable player on the team. At that point, Bradford became nothing more than a placeholder for Wentz, and potentially a trade chip that they could use to help recoup some of the resources spent on acquiring Wentz.

We'll also note that the piece omits the part where Bradford went on strike briefly after the Eagles traded up to the No. 2 overall pick. Bradford's agent felt blindsided by the move, which was always a possibility to even casual observers because of Bradford's short-term deal.

Jimmy Kempski/for PhillyVoice

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.

At the NFL Annual Meetings in Phoenix earlier this offseason, Jeffrey Lurie noted that the Eagles essentially bought draft picks with that $11 million bonus, which is true in hindsight to some degree. If Bradford had a decent 2016 season in an Eagles uniform (perhaps wishful thinking), maybe they would have found some team willing to give them a two during the 2017 offseason. 

It's probably more accurate to say that the Eagles lucked out big-time when they found a panicky team that thought they had a Super Bowl contending roster willing to give up the absurd price of first- and fourth-round picks for Bradford, a player who had no long-term future whatsoever in Philadelphia.

Brandt's piece reads as though Bradford is some kind of hero to the other players around the league, claiming that "Sam Bradford is fast becoming a hero to the labor side in the business of football." 

In baseball, that might be true. 

In a league where there's a salary cap, I can't imagine many players are looking at a career 32-45-1 quarterback who has never won more than seven games in one season and saying, "Gee, Sam, thanks for eating up a huge piece of the pie."

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