- Phil Sheridan, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHILADELPHIA – There is competition for jobs at every football training camp. It is what coaches work hard to foster and it is what gets the best out of many players.
The 2015 Philadelphia Eagles training camp is no exception. There are several open competitions for starting positions this year: at cornerback, at safety, at inside linebacker, at guard, at wide receiver. But thanks to Chip Kelly’s declaration of one competition last month, all of those other battles became mere subplots.
When Kelly said that Mark Sanchez will compete with Sam Bradford for the starting quarterback spot, that became the focus for the Eagles’ entire summer. To take it a step further, Kelly said that it was imperative that the best players start. That will make it tough to award Bradford the starting job if Sanchez is visibly better during training camp and the preseason.
On paper, it should be a pretty close competition. Sanchez was the fifth pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Bradford was the No. 1 pick a year later. Sanchez started as a rookie and took the New York Jets to the AFC Championship Game. Bradford started as a rookie and was named AP offensive rookie of the year.
Injuries, of course, became the dominant theme in Bradford’s career with St. Louis. He missed six games with a high ankle sprain in 2011. In 2013, Bradford tore his left anterior cruciate ligament. He returned last summer, only to tear the ligament in his left knee a second time. He missed a total of 23 games over the past two seasons.
While Bradford was rehabbing his knee in 2014, Sanchez was returning from a 2013 season missed because of shoulder surgery. He entered the season as the backup to Nick Foles, but moved into the starting lineup after Foles broke his collarbone in the eighth game of the season.
Sanchez started the last eight games. The Eagles went 4-4 in those games, including a three-game December losing streak that knocked them out of the playoff race. Sanchez did good things – setting a franchise record with a career-best completion percentage of 64.1 percent – and some not-so-good things. He threw 11 interceptions, including at least one in seven of the nine games in which he played.
The turnovers seemed to limit Sanchez’s prospects with the Eagles after the season ended. But Kelly signed him to a new contract, while at the same time trading for Bradford. In explaining the trade, Kelly said he believed Bradford was a good enough quarterback to help take the Eagles from being a good team to being a great team.
But Bradford’s deliberately slow comeback from his knee injury forced Kelly to use Sanchez as the primary quarterback during all of the offseason workouts. And Sanchez looked very good. His arm is stronger with another year of recovery from his shoulder injury. His knowledge of the offense is better after the experience he got last season. Sanchez said he welcomes the competition and believes he can win it.
Can he? You would think the odds are pretty long. Bradford is in the final year of his original NFL contract and will make $12.95 million this season. That is not only starter’s money. It is coming in the only year Kelly has to see what Bradford can do in his offense before deciding whether Bradford is the Eagles’ quarterback going forward.
So Kelly has a need to see Bradford play. He also has made it clear that the best players will start. If Bradford plays better than Sanchez this summer, then Kelly has no problem. If Sanchez has the better summer, things get very interesting for the Eagles.
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