The oft-discussed should-he-stay-or-should-he-go story is resolved: Bradford, who started 14 games in 2015 after the Eagles acquired him on the first day of free agency in a trade with St. Louis, is able to spend his offseason working to get stronger and more physically prepared for new head coach Doug Pederson and his “hybrid” West Coast offense rather than rehabbing from knee injuries that robbed him of all but seven games in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Bradford came on strong in the latter stages of the 2015 season. In fact, there were times when Bradford was downright red-hot, showing the strong arm, accuracy and timing that made him the first overall pick (to St. Louis) in the 2010 NFL Draft. The numbers say that Bradford set Eagles franchise records in ’15 in completions (346) and completion percentage (65.0) and threw for the fourth-highest total yards (3,725) despite missing two full games and half of another with a concussion and left shoulder injury suffered in a loss against Miami.
Beyond the numbers, Bradford showed great toughness in the pocket, growing leadership and a level of comfort in the locker room and clearly played with more confidence down the stretch when he – and the numbers are important to illustrate his level of performance – completed 175 of 256 passes for 1,959 yards and 10 touchdowns for a 99.1 rating in the final six starts of the season. Five times in the season for an offense that at times was grounded in the mud, Bradford threw for more than 300 yards.
The Eagles believe that Bradford’s career is on the rise, that he’s healthy and that with some help around him – the team wants to improve the offensive line, run the football more effectively, particularly in short-yardage situations and get more production and consistency from the wide receiver corps – he could help the team vault right back into contention in the NFC East and beyond.
This is, as they say, a win/win proposition.
Beyond Bradford and the team, it’s a win for the players in the locker room who were so vocal in their support for Bradford. Wide receiver
“He has to be the guy,” Matthews said. “Point blank. Period. He has to be the guy. You gotta build. You’ve got to continue to grow with people. I think it goes without saying his maturation, what he’s been able to do these past couple of games and how he’s ended the season. You look at the numbers, OK, yeah, I knew he was going to get that regardless, you look at his leadership, how the guys are really starting to gravitate towards him, how they’re starting to trust him and then the reps he’s building with all of his receivers.
“You can look at Zach (Ertz, tight end) from the first part of the season to this part? It’s night and day. You can look at me from the first part of the season to this part? It’s night and day. So, like I said, he has to be the guy and I want him to be the guy.”
Bradford is the guy as the Eagles take care of a hugely important part of business prior to free agency. Tuesday at 4 PM was the deadline for teams to use their franchise or transition tags, and there was plenty of speculation on whether the Eagles would use either tag on Bradford. Instead of using a tag, the Eagles got another deal done, their seventh contract negotiated with a player on the current roster (Bradford joins tight ends
In other words, the Eagles still have time to sign any of their veteran free agents-to-be prior to the period of time when free agents are able to negotiate with other teams – the non-exclusive negotiating period begins on Monday, March 7.
We’ll stay tuned for all of that. The big news is that the Eagles worked out another deal, this time retaining Bradford and giving the quarterback position a presence for 2016 and 2017. Who knows if the Eagles will use a draft pick on the position in April, but they can if they desire. Only Bradford, veteran No. 2
On this day, the answer to the biggest question of the offseason, Who is No. 1?, was solved. The Eagles and Bradford both win with this deal.