As Nigel Bradham held court in the NovaCare Center auditorium Thursday afternoon, his five-year contract extension with the Eagles now official, his 3-year-old son, Nazir, bopped back and forth in one of the aisles at the center of the room.
Just as Bradham finished some opening remarks, speaking of how grateful he was to return to a locker room full of friends and teammates with whom he had won a Super Bowl, Nazir let out a little “Woo!” as though he were offering a note of reaffirmation for his father.
It was an appropriate note. Nazir’s dad had much to be thankful for – most of all, the opportunity to stand there, still, as a member of the Eagles.
They signed him in March 2016, and in those early days of the Howie Roseman-Doug Pederson era, when the Eagles admittedly were taking chances on players who had blotches in their backgrounds, Bradham was one in a lengthy list of question marks: Jalen Mills, Wendell Smallwood, Dorial Green-Beckham, Alex McAlister. Two arrests in a two-month span – one in a felony assault, one on a gun charge – were more than enough for people to doubt the wisdom of bringing Bradham in and for Bradham himself to earn the wrath of the coach he admires more than any other in the NFL: Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
“I feel like we’re kind of best friends at the same time,” Bradham said Thursday. “It’s something that’s special and unique.”
And maybe the nature and depth of their relationship – Bradham had played for Schwartz with the Buffalo Bills – made it easier for Schwartz to deliver a memorable and cutting warning to Bradham in early October 2016: “If you do dumbass things, pretty soon you’re going to be labeled a dumbass.”
Maybe, too, their relationship made it easier for Bradham to take the criticism to heart and wise up. He accepted a deferred prosecution deal on the assault so he could avoid jail. The gun charge was dropped. Ever since, Bradham, from all available indications, has been both a model citizen and, at middle and outside linebacker, an essential member of the Eagles’ defense.
“Obviously, I went through some things and made some changes and got things right,” he said. “I figured it out and knew what I had to do. Luckily for me, I had an organization that trusted in me and was able to stand by me throughout that whole process. I was able to overcome it, and I set goals to overcome it. … Everybody goes through something, and it’s not just all glory. Anytime you go through things, man, obviously, I never want to be in those situations again. But look at me. I’m here today, and I overcame that. … You go through adversity at times, but you keep fighting. That’s what it’s all about.”
What did he have to do? What were the changes he made?
“Pretty much just looking at myself and probably some of the people I was around,” he said. “Just taking a step back, man, and realizing, at that point in time, ‘Why is all this happening to me?’ Obviously, I’m a good guy. I’m laid-back and really chill. Some things have just gone different for me, and I can’t really say exactly what it was, but I made some changes, and it ended up working out for the better.”
Not all of those risky acquisitions from that spring and summer of 2016 did. McAlister never cracked the linebacker rotation. Smallwood became an afterthought in the Eagles’ backfield. Based on Green-Beckham’s pass-catching skills and work ethic, the Eagles might as well have lined up a 6-foot-6 stack of sandbags at wide receiver.
But Bradham and Mills remain big parts of the team’s present and future, and the fear at the time – that all those troublemakers would overrun their neophyte head coach – never became reality.
That’s a credit to Bradham, of course, and to Pederson and Schwartz and the rest of the coaching staff, as well.
“It was huge, man,” Bradham said. “They kept confidence in me. They kept me level. They always believed in me. Throughout that whole process, people were saying all kinds of things: suspensions, all kinds of things. And the organization really just backed me up throughout the whole process. They were pretty much like, ‘No matter what happened, we were going to stand by you.’ I feel like that showed, obviously, with my decision” to re-sign.
“This organization is everything to me, just because of that alone.”
In the middle of the auditorium, his son was still being a typical 3-year-old, sprinting across the floor, falling down, getting back up, sprinting, falling, having fun. A five-year contract, for as much as $40 million, in the place he wanted to stay, his family on hand to see it happen: Those days of being a dumbass had to feel so far away for Nigel Bradham.