In other words, if it can't work for Bradford this season, it clearly never will.
The financial commitment Philly made to Bradford earlier this week wasn't earth-shattering in today's quarterback market -- a two-year deal worth $36 million, with $22 million guaranteed at signing -- but it didn't have to be. The Eagles just had to do enough to let Bradford know they still have some faith in him. The rest is on Bradford. It's up to him to make the most of an opportunity he's surely been waiting years to find.
Anybody who's followed Bradford's first six years in the NFL knows he looked extremely comfortable in the same West Coast offense that first-year head coach Doug Pederson is installing this offseason. Anybody who's followed Pederson realizes that he built a productive relationship in Kansas City with Alex Smith, another quarterback who had plenty to prove after injuries, inconsistency and an assortment of coaching changes plagued his career. There's no question Bradford remains a work in progress after an underwhelming season with Chip Kelly. There's also little doubt that judging him off 2015 isn't entirely fair.
The 28-year-old Bradford earned the right to remain in Philadelphia by how he performed in his final seven games of last season, after his completion percentage rose (from 62 percent through October, to 68.2 over the remainder) and he threw more touchdowns (10) than interceptions (four). When asked why he believes Bradford can be that same quarterback for an entire season, Pederson said, "You can look at it from an Xs-and-Os standpoint. You also can talk to people that have been around Sam Bradford and understand where he's come, as far as his development as a quarterback. The fact that he put himself in a leadership role toward the end of the season proves to me that he can handle this role and the opportunity to start."
"My main objective was to be back in Philadelphia," said Bradford, who helped Philadelphia go 7-7 in his 14 starts. "It just happened on a two-year deal, and that's perfectly fine with me. I would've preferred a 100-year deal, if they wanted to give it to me. I just wanted to get back in Philadelphia. My agent felt like it was a great deal for both sides. I think the organization felt the same way. As long as I continue to play the way I know I can, it shouldn't really matter."
The best thing Bradford has going for him is Pederson. The head coach wasn't the sexiest pick to replace Kelly -- nor was he even the predictable choice -- but he has learned plenty from working with Andy Reid, both in Philadelphia and Kansas City. What Pederson realizes is that most coaches don't have the good fortune of being blessed with a Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. The successful ones make the most of the less-gifted signal callers they actually end up having to coach.
Just as Reid and Pederson found ways to maximize Smith's talents in Kansas City, Pederson's staff can do the same for Bradford. This is still a quarterback who was promising enough to be the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, a prospect that one former general manager called "as accurate as any quarterback who's ever come out of college." Bradford didn't regress because he was overrated. He has struggled because he's been a victim of several bad breaks.
The obvious issues have been health-related. He sustained torn anterior cruciate ligaments in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons -- and that would be enough to stunt anybody's development. Bradford also was never a great fit for Kelly's fast-paced offense. That experiment looked disastrous from the moment we saw defenders launching themselves at Bradford as he carried out his read-option fakes in the preseason.
Pederson still has to prove he can win as a head coach, but does have intimate knowledge of the quarterback position (he spent most of his 12-year NFL career as a backup with four different teams). He should be able to see what didn't work for Bradford, why it didn't work and where the quarterback needs to go from here. As Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said, "One of the benefits we have as a staff is having Doug, who played the position, having [offensive coordinator Frank Reich], who played the position, having [quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo], who played the position, and having their input into the evaluation process, as well, and how they see [Bradford] fitting their system."
The other benefit for Bradford is the offense Pederson wants to run. Bradford won the 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award because he started his career in the West Coast offense. He's always looked most effective when distributing the ball quickly and allowing his receivers to run after the catch. There were West Coast elements in the offense he ran as a Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma. It's also proven to be the system that most fits a quarterback who's often been lauded for his smarts and his accuracy.
Unfortunately for Bradford, he found himself lost in the same abyss that sometimes claims talented, young quarterbacks. The Rams hired Josh McDaniels to run their offense in Bradford's second year. They turned to Brian Schottenheimer as their offensive coordinator in 2012, once the franchise decided to replace head coach Steve Spagnuolo with Jeff Fisher. Bradford wound up playing a total of 23 games over the next three seasons before being dealt to Philadelphia last offseason.
That last paragraph is enough evidence to give Bradford one more benefit of the doubt. Smith had three head coaches and seven offensive coordinators with the San Francisco 49ers. It wasn't until the arrival of head coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011 that Smith's troubled career turned for the better (aside from a somewhat-promising year with offensive coordinator Norv Turner in Smith's second season with the 49ers). Bradford has experienced more individual success in his first six seasons than Smith did in the same span, so it's not hard to imagine a similar mid-career rise.
This isn't to say there weren't troubling issues in Philadelphia last year. It's just that the entire team was filled with problems that had nothing to do with Bradford. Kelly's offense is built on its breakneck pace, meaning the quarterback doesn't have much time to read defenses or audible. Bradford is reputed as a quarterback who can win with his mind and his decision making, which is exactly what he'll do in a more traditional system.
The contract the Eagles gave Bradford might be mystifying to some because, on the surface, it sounds like they overpaid for an underwhelming product. The reality is that Philadelphia, like every other team in the NFL, understands how hard it is to find even a serviceable quarterback in this league. It's the same reason why Smith found a chance to redeem himself and a journeyman quarterback named Ryan Fitzpatrick nearly led the New York Jets to the playoffs. Results can change quickly when certain players are put into better situations.
Bradford has found that opportunity for a new life in Philadelphia. The contract raised more than a few eyebrows and there will be skeptics who'll want to see the Eagles consider other options. But that doesn't mean Bradford is doomed to more struggles. If anything, the Eagles might be realizing that there's still plenty to like about their quarterback's long-term future.