As we’ve said here before, Kelly should have made the Bradford trade contingent upon the Eagles negotiating a contract extension with the quarterback. As Kelly said in December, “We wouldn't have traded for him if we thought he was going to be here for a year.”
But that’s exactly the situation Kelly created by failing to tie a contract extension to the trade. If Bradford had refused to accept an extension, the Eagles could have voided the trade. That would have left them with Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez, but would that have been worse than their current predicament?
The Eagles can use the franchise tag to hold on to Bradford, but that would mean paying him a guaranteed $25 million or so for 2016 and then facing the same predicament next year.
It’s no wonder, then, that the Eagles’ public comments about Bradford have been measured. Pederson said positive things about Bradford last week, but stopped well short of making any kind of commitment. Owner Jeff Lurie and vice president Howie Roseman have been just as noncommittal.
The Eagles’ plan seems to be pretty simple: go to the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine and take a close look at draft prospects such as Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. Get a feel for which, if any of them, would be available with the 13th pick in the first round. Simultaneously, get a sense of whether any of them can be legitimate franchise quarterbacks.
If they’re convinced they can get a legit quarterback in the draft, the Eagles can let Bradford walk in free agency. If not, they can use the franchise tag or negotiate a long-term contract with him in order to keep him.
There are ramifications beyond the identity of the Eagles’ quarterback.
At his introductory news conference last week, Pederson was asked if he believes the Eagles can get back into contention in 2016.
“I think the nucleus of this football team is very good,” Pederson said. “It's structured very well. There's some talent here and I do believe that you can put yourself in a position to not only win the [NFC] East, but have a chance to get yourself into the postseason and then go deep into the postseason.”
That’s fine to say, but if the Eagles draft a quarterback, expectations are going to change. It should take a year or two -- or three -- for that quarterback to be ready to take a team deep into the postseason. That scenario would give Pederson some slack as he remakes the Eagles in his image.
But if the Eagles bring Bradford back, the equation is different. A 28-year-old quarterback will and should be expected to win right away. There might be an adjustment period as Bradford learns his fifth new offense in seven years and as the Eagles plug some of the other holes that Kelly left behind, but fans will be expecting results sooner rather than later.
Pay Bradford and increase the pressure on Pederson to win right away. Draft a rookie and reduce the pressure, but take the risk that the rookie isn’t a franchise quarterback. The third option is to acquire a veteran quarterback that some other team has already determined isn’t a franchise quarterback.
That is the knot the Eagles have to untie, and it was tied for them by Chip Kelly.