Bradford, Eagles settle for each other

It's difficult to say for certain who got the better of the Eagles-Sam Bradford contract without knowing the details, but on the surface it should satisfy two parties that had a limited number of alternatives.

The Eagles' decision to re-sign the still-unproven Bradford to a two-year deal and the quarterback's decision to return to a franchise with many question marks were choices made out of convenience.

Bradford to the Eagles and vice versa: "I can't quit you."

They aren't exactly married to each other, but their courtship will continue for at least another year, with the possibility of more depending upon how the 28-year-old performs in his seventh NFL season.

The deal is worth up to $40 million, including incentives, with $26 million guaranteed. But $18 million of the guaranteed number comes in the first year, according to ESPN. That leaves $4 million guaranteed in a roster bonus for 2017, but the Eagles would have to endure a $9.5 million salary-cap hit if they were to file for divorce before the second year.

It appears that Bradford received a deal above his market value. In fact, he may not have had an offer anywhere near the $18 million per year - as contracts are generally gauged - he ultimately received from the Eagles.

Free agency doesn't start until next Wednesday and the "legal" tampering period doesn't begin until Monday, but Bradford's agent, Tom Condon, had certainly already done his homework on whether his client would have any potential suitors.

All he needed was one to leverage against the Eagles. Time may show the Eagles were the only bidders. Bradford, meanwhile, accepted a second-tier per-year deal for a quarterback that allows him a chance to reestablish his value and get a bigger contract.

The Eagles, on the other hand, surveyed the barren landscape and came to the realization that retaining Bradford made both immediate and future sense. They brought back a quarterback who, given their limited choices, gives them a chance to win this season but did not do so at the expense of finding a possible franchise-caliber one.

The deal was announced not long after the franchise and transition tag deadline passed. The Eagles were not expected to use either. The franchise tag would have netted Bradford $19.9 million for 2016, while the transition tag ($17.7 million) would not have allowed the Eagles to receive compensation if another team matched the offer.

There was never a point when negotiations were contentious, according to an NFL source close to the situation. Bradford wanted to stay in Philly, despite reports to the contrary, and the Eagles certainly made the option financially attractive.

After being traded from the Rams to the Eagles last March, Bradford had a season that showed he could rebound from back-to-back torn anterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee, but not so much that there would be several teams clamoring for his services.

Bradford struggled through the first seven games after missing almost the previous two seasons. He completed 62 percent of his passes, tossed 10 interceptions against nine touchdowns, and had a 76.4 passer rating.

But he improved as the season progressed and was particularly sharp after missing two games with a shoulder injury. In his final seven games, Bradford completed 68.2 percent of his throws, tossed 10 touchdown passes against four interceptions, and had a 97.0 rating.

The numbers were a tad inflated, however. The Texans, Browns, and Bills - three potential suitors - knew as much. It's unclear whether Chip Kelly, now with the 49ers, wanted a reunion. More than likely, Bradford didn't want to return to an offense that put him in harm's way more than others and didn't allow for him to audible at the line of the scrimmage.

Doug Pederson's West Coast offense will give Bradford that luxury. The quarterback also has experience in the scheme, having played in a version during his rookie season with the Rams.

The Eagles' options were few. There was chatter that they were interested in Chase Daniel or Nick Foles (as if!), and while the former made sense as a stopgap if Bradford walked, there were essentially only two dance partners at this hoedown.

The Eagles can try to win a weak NFC East with Bradford and potentially build for the future. They are likely to draft a quarterback in April, and retaining Bradford doesn't preclude them from using their first-round selection on a passer.

With Jared Goff and Carson Wentz likely gone (to the Browns and 49ers?) by the 13th selection, the Eagles could be more inclined to take a developmental quarterback on Day 2 or 3 of the draft.

Critics of Bradford will bemoan his return, but the future isn't that bleak unless the hope was that the Eagles would completely start over at quarterback. But that was unlikely to happen with Howie Roseman possibly on a short leash and Pederson untested as a head coach.

There's also too much existing talent on the roster to roll over and hope for a top-five pick in 2017. Bradford's return could mean another middling season. He has yet to prove that he can stay healthy or guide a team to the playoffs, but the potential the Eagles have on defense could offset a less-than-dazzling offense.

Getting the starting quarterback situation sewn up - they still have a decision to make on backup Mark Sanchez - was good for all parties involved. Does that mean it will result in ultimate success? That is impossible to say. The odds aren't good.

But it was inevitable because neither side had a more attractive alternative.

Reality isn't often pretty.

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane