The Philadelphia Eagles traded for Sam Bradford a few months after Chip Kelly was given full control of player personnel. Now, Kelly has made it clear that the Eagles plan to build around Bradford moving forward.
A widespread opinion is that the quarterback position is the toughest position to play in all of professional sports. In the NFL, teams spend a great deal of time searching for the right man to occupy that spot. A professional quarterback is intelligent, poised and physically gifted in many different ways.
Quarterbacks come in all shapes and sizes; Cam Newton is a 6’5 specimen with a rocket arm and a dominant physical presence, while Drew Brees is a 6’0 pocket technician. Both have one thing in common, however, and it is their ability to take the lead. Every quarterback must be a natural leader to sustain long-term success at any level.
When the Philadelphia Eagles acquired Sam Bradford, they knew the positives and negatives. The former Heisman winner and first overall pick was returning from back-to-back ACL tears that had capped off his run with the St. Louis Rams. His career had been mostly overshadowed by injuries, and the Rams’ staff had seen enough by 2015.
Chip Kelly dealt quarterback Nick Foles and a 2016 2nd round draft selection to bring Bradford to Philadelphia. With only one year left on his contract, many wondered what the Eagles needed to see in order for them to sign the oft-injured quarterback to an extension.
Early on, Bradford looked very shaky in his first regular season action in nearly two years. His goofy demeanor made it even harder for anybody to endorse him. He suffered from tons of dropped passes in St. Louis, and the same could be said for his stint in Philadelphia thus far. The Eagles fielded a makeshift offensive line after seeing their once sturdy unit depreciate, and that has not helped in the run or pass game. Many grew tired of Bradford after a sloppy start, and many grew tired of the coach/general manager that brought him to the team.
After huge wins over the New England Patriots and the Buffalo Bills to save the season, Bradford was back in the good graces of Philadelphia fans. The support that he has from his teammates never wavered, and they knew he’d be back leading the team after a shoulder injury sidelined him for over two games. Mark Sanchez failed miserably as the fill-in starter, and the team seemingly gave up on him.
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Chip Kelly explained that quarterbacks don’t blossom overnight, and that the good quarterbacks in the NFL have been playing in their team’s systems for multiple years. You think of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Tom Brady and Andy Dalton and you can definitely see the benefit of gaining experience. Even young quarterbacks such as Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr made huge improvements from year one to year two.
Recovering from an ACL injury is a tough task, and recovering from two straight is more mental than physical. Physically, Bradford has great accuracy and footwork. His pocket awareness and field vision resemble that of an elite quarterback. He has worked on refining these traits throughout his recovery this season, and he has visibly progressed.
However, his best trait is the natural leadership ability that he brings out on Sunday. Teammates have raved about Bradford’s rallying speeches, his work ethic and his poise. The offensive skill players will improve around him, as will the offensive line. His techniques and comprehension of the playbook will continue to progress, too. One thing that cannot be taught is natural leadership, and it is for certain that Bradford is wired that way.
The only numbers that matter right now are wins and losses. Bradford is 6-2 in the last 8 games that he has started and finished. The playoffs are within reach, and that is the goal for the Eagles as it stands now. After the season, expect to see the once unknown become an Eagle for the long run.