THE 4 P.M. deadline for applying the NFL's franchise and transition tags slid silently past on Tuesday afternoon, and it seemed the Eagles were in for at least several more days of uncertainty - maybe much more than that - over whether Sam Bradford would be their 2016 starting quarterback.
Nobody involved in the talks was saying anything about whether a deal was close. No rumors, no hints. The free-agency "legal tampering" period would start on March 7, free agency itself on March 9, and few NFL teams looked more unsettled than the Eagles.
Then, at 4:20, up popped an email: "Eagles and QB Sam Bradford agree to terms on two-year contract."
To say the fan base greeted the news with extreme jubilation would be stretching it. The spectacular flameout of the Chip Kelly era last season produced a lot of collateral damage, and Bradford's reputation, particularly among those who stopped paying close attention around the end of November, was part of that.
But a lot of other people understood that it's good to know who your QB is going to be, that there is no apparent sure thing available this year in free agency, or with the 13th overall pick in the draft. They also bought into the organization's narrative, that Bradford's strong positive strides down the stretch, contrasting with a shaky start, had a lot to do with the 1 1/2 years he'd missed with ACL tears, and the offseason work he wasn't able to get in while healing.
This agreement was always the most logical course for Bradford and for the Eagles, both of whom lacked obvious attractive alternatives. Both sides gave a little to get the deal done, at $36 million over the two years, $26 million guaranteed, and a possibility of $40 million total, including playoff incentives, a source involved in the talks said. The 2016 transition-tag figure of $17.96 million was a reference point, a source said, with QB comparables hard to come by, given Bradford's unique history.
This was a far cry from the $25 million a year Bradford's camp was reported to be seeking during the season. It also was a really significant guarantee for a player with Bradford's medical record, who will be working in a new offense yet again this season, with new coach Doug Pederson.
It ought to put to rest any question about whether Bradford, 28, wanted to remain an Eagle after a rough introduction.
"The player wanted to be in Philadelphia," said a source involved in the talks, when asked what got the contract done. This served as a neat bookend to Pederson's quote at the NFL Scouting Combine, when he said: "All I know is, if Sam wants to be in Philadelphia, he'll be in Philadelphia."
"I think it was a great thing for our football team," offensive tackle Lane Johnson, who also got a new contract this offseason, told the Daily News Tuesday evening. Since regaining control of personnel, Howie Roseman has made a number of moves that have put roster questions to rest. "I think having him back will be huge for our offense, and allow us to keep building chemistry among the whole group."
When the offseason began, Houston was looked at as an attractive possible bidder, should Bradford hit free agency, but the Texans let it be known they had little interest, and it wasn't clear what Bradford's market really would be. But if Bradford had left, the Eagles would have been looking at backup Mark Sanchez, well-traveled fringe talent McLeod Bethel-Thompson, the draft, and an uninspiring group of free agents along the lines of Kansas City backup Chase Daniel. The QB scarcity led Washington to franchise Kirk Cousins on Tuesday, at $19.95 million.
The Eagles should be left with something like $17 million or $18 million in 2016 cap room. That's after Bradford's $12.5 million figure, which is $485,000 less than his 2015 number, when Bradford was working under the final year of the NFL richest-ever rookie contract. As the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, by the Rams, Bradford got a $78.5 million deal that forced a change in rookie rules when the collective bargaining agreement was reworked the next year.
Bradford's cap number skyrockets to $23.5 million in 2017, at which point the Eagles presumably will either want to work out a longer-term deal or cut their losses, incurring $9.5 million in dead money, should Bradford be released after this season. The cap, $155 million this year, was at $133 million just two years ago, and is projected to continue its rapid rise; $9.5 million in dead money, an enormous figure in the NFL of the recent past, might not look that big.
That brings up another key point: As Pederson and Roseman indicated last week at the NFL Scouting Combine, the Eagles remain likely to draft a quarterback this year. Had they not reached agreement with Bradford, they'd almost have to roll the dice at 13th overall, even if the first two or three QBs were already off the board by then. Now they can still take a quarterback at 13, or get one later; as NFL Network lead analyst Mike Mayock noted over the weekend, there's a solid group of non-first-round QB prospects in this draft group who could be good with some polishing.
Bradford gets 2016 to prove he's Pederson's quarterback. After missing two games with a concussion and a left shoulder injury last season, his passer ratings the rest of the way were 99.3, 77.4, 91.6, 91.4 and 108.3. He threw eight touchdown passes and four interceptions in that stretch. The Eagles were 7-6 last season in games Bradford started and finished, 0-3 otherwise.
"Listen, Sam is part of the Eagles organization and what he's done in the last half of last year, I think has given him that opportunity to stay in Philadelphia," Pederson said in Indianapolis last week.
Obviously, we saw in 2013 with Nick Foles that players can put streaks of games together that aren't indicative of who they will be in the long run. Pederson was asked last week what makes him confident he sees the "real" Bradford in that last handful of 2015 games.
"You look at that from an X's-and-O's standpoint. You can also talk to people that have been around Sam Bradford, that understand where he's come as a quarterback, his development as a quarterback," Pederson said. "The fact that he . . . put himself in a leadership role toward the end of the season proves to me that he can handle it going forward. This role, and the opportunity to start."
Bradford was in Oklahoma, where he won the Heisman Trophy in 2008, when the agreement was reached. He is due to talk to reporters Thursday at 2 p.m. at NovaCare.