Sam Bradford rejoined his Philadelphia Eagles teammates for offseason workouts Monday, ending a mini-holdout -- can you even call missing voluntary workouts a holdout? -- that was long on bruised feelings and short on practicality.
The Eagles were not going to trade Bradford to Denver or anywhere else, barring a Godfather offer that everybody knew was not forthcoming for a quarterback with a strong pedigree (and, perhaps, still with a bright future) but limited results. When the Broncos opted to draft Paxton Lynch late in the first round, the brief Bradford-to-Denver dalliance died.
The Eagles need Bradford, after all, and the fact that they need him for less time than Bradford might have hoped for -- until second overall pick Carson Wentz is ready to take over as the starter, not the two years Bradford was counting on when he signed a two-year deal just two months ago -- is merely the way business is done in the NFL. Teams are constantly in search of an upgrade -- whether Bradford understood that the Eagles were going to draft his replacement this year is beside the point -- and sentimentality and any fantasyland sense of fairness goes by the wayside.
Ron Wolf, the great former Packers general manager, believed in drafting a quarterback every year to keep the pipeline full. The Packers did it when they had Brett Favre under center and wound up with Aaron Rodgers. Peyton Manning was represented by the same agent who reps Bradford, Tom Condon. So Bradford should've had a front-row seat to Manning being released when the Colts decided their future would be in better hands if those hands were attached to Andrew Luck's arms, and then to Manning being forced to take a significant pay cut last offseason as the Broncos signaled they were just about ready for life without him. Nobody with the drive to reach the pinnacle of professional sports gets there without developing a very healthy sense of self. So these transitions are rarely without roughed-up egos.
But Bradford needs the Eagles, too, and can use this awkward -- though not unfamiliar -- situation to his benefit. He is clearly not the Eagles' quarterback of the future, but he is the quarterback right now and he should regard the upcoming season as an opportunity to construct an audition tape for other teams in a QB-starved league.
It is impossible to accurately predict what the quarterback market will look like in a year -- maybe there will be multiple starting opportunities available and maybe there will be none. But at the worst, Bradford will pocket $18 million this season, be the starting quarterback for however long he gives the Eagles the best chance to win and then go in search of a job one year earlier than he probably thought he'd have to. No less than Drew Brees was in a similar spot in San Diego when he was the starter and the team traded for Philip Rivers in the 2004 NFL Draft. Rivers was the future, Brees was the present in San Diego -- and when the Chargers were ready to go with Rivers two years later, Brees went to New Orleans, where things have turned out quite nicely for him. It takes just one season -- or less than one -- to convince teams that their long-term solution is out there. Just ask the Houston Texans and Brock Osweiler.
Bradford's brief work stoppage -- two weeks is a blip, especially because it did not include any missed OTAs or other team work -- was predictably polarizing. If you listen to his teammate Connor Barwin, there will be no hard feelings in the Eagles' locker room. General manager Howie Roseman might have helped when he offered Bradford cover by saying on radio station WIP that some of the Bradford staredown was agent-driven, although no agent would make such a brazen demand without the buy-in of his client.
"I'm excited to be back on the field today with my teammates and coaches," Bradford said in a statement Monday. "The business-side of football is sometimes a necessary consideration. My attention and efforts are focused on the participation in and preparation for a championship season: I am committed to my teammates and the Eagles organization for nothing less."
But Bradford's perceived toughness has taken a hit with his trade demand -- Terrell Owens, he of the driveway sit-ups, called him a coward -- and he is unlikely to receive a warm welcome from Eagles fans who just endured the dramatic Chip Kelly era, have little patience for crybabies and are desperate for something approximating competence and steadiness. If Bradford provides that in September, all of this will be forgotten and forgiven -- by teammates and fans alike -- not long after the shore houses are closed.
It is ludicrous, though, to suggest Bradford shies from competition or is not mentally strong enough to want to engage in the Eagles' plans. Should he, as Owens said, find the idea of holding Wentz at bay motivating? Maybe ideally, yes. But according to Spotrac.com, which tracks player earnings, Bradford, in his first six seasons in the league, made $78 million in cash earnings. He has been a big winner in the game of football business. Had he found competition so unappealing, had he been so completely disgusted by the Eagles, he certainly had the financial wherewithal to simply walk away.
But Bradford rehabilitated through two consecutive ACL reconstructions that detoured his career in St. Louis, which should be all the evidence anyone needs about how much football matters to Bradford. Pride might have mattered more to Bradford than the Eagles for a brief period, but money and reality crept back in Monday and that is what always keeps professional sports churning.
Now Bradford needs to put the grit he used in recovering from injuries on display for the Eagles. He threw a temper tantrum -- see, also this offseason, Colin Kaepernick -- but this was, in the end, the most minimal kind of protest. Deep down, Bradford might still wish he were elsewhere. But the Eagles, under the old regime, kept Riley Cooper on the roster after he was caught on video using a racial slur. If a locker room can absorb that ugliness from a marginal player, it can surely move past Bradford's entitled pique over a dashed dream, no matter how many former players excoriated him.
Bradford tried to play hardball. The Eagles played harder. Now they're getting back together on the practice field. That's business. And a good reminder, most especially to fans, that loyalty -- for both sides -- lingers about as long as the results of the last game.