Nigel Bradham will sometimes look back at all the players selected ahead of him in the 2012 draft.
“A lot of them aren’t even in the league today,” the Eagles linebacker said.
But there was one pick he recalls more than the others and uses as motivation to this day.
“One that always stood out to me was the Jacksonville one,” Bradham said earlier this week. “That was the year they picked the punter in the third round. The whole time — Senior Bowl, combine — [the Jaguars] were all over me. And they were like, ‘If you’re there, we’re going to get you.’
“And they picked the punter.”
Bryan Anger is still in the NFL, although he now punts for the Buccaneers. Bradham had to wait another day and another round before he was chosen 105th overall.
It’s an oft-told tale — the professional athlete chiseling out his draft position and placing it on his shoulder. But in the NFL, where careers are short-lived, a drop in the draft can have a significant effect on perception and salary.
Bradham landed in small-market Buffalo, playing for the perennially losing Bills. He played well there, peaking in his third season under now-Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. But a new coaching staff and an injury the following year, along with the lack of exposure, per Bradham, decreased his value when he hit the free-agent market in 2016.
The Eagles signed him to a two-year, $7 million contract — “a decent deal,” Bradham called it — but he is poised to cash in on two Pro Bowl-caliber seasons in Philadelphia. He said he doesn’t think of his financial future, but the 28-year-old linebacker has pondered what it would mean to remain an Eagle.
“If I could finish out here, especially with Carson Wentz, my opportunities are very high to continue to win and have success,” Bradham said. “I think this is probably the best thing that could have happened to my career. … That part has worked out nicely.”
Bradham is just one of 13 potential free agents on the Eagles, but he must be near the top of the list. He moved up a spot after defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan signed a four-year, $48 million contract two weeks ago. Does that mean Bradham could be next?
“I don’t think they would come to me right now,” Bradham said.
But they extended Jernigan, with whom he shares an agent, Drew Rosenhaus.
“That was bye week, though,” Bradham said.
Whether it’s now or the offseason, the Eagles are likely to make a push to bring him back. Schwartz, who played an obvious role in the initial acquisition, may be biased, but the comparison he made a month ago suggests that Bradham’s the type of player the franchise wants on defense.
“I think I’d throw him a little bit into the Tim Jernigan mold,” Schwartz said after Bradham had his best game of the season against the Panthers. “He plays tough, he plays mean. He plays with a lot of spirit. Players feed off of him. He feeds off of the guys.
“He’s sort of stuck with it through some tough times. But we never really lost our belief in him. That game he played against Carolina was big-time.”
The tough times Bradham overcame were mostly of his own doing. He faced a felony battery charge after he allegedly assaulted a Miami hotel employee in July 2016. And he faced a misdemeanor gun charge when he brought a weapon into Miami International Airport three months later. Bradham accepted a deferred prosecution program in relation to the felony this past July that could result in no jail time if the conditions of the program are met. And the gun charge was dropped last month.
The Eagles supported Bradham throughout both ordeals.
“They realty stood behind me,” Bradham said. “That showed me that they trusted me and knew the kind of person that I am. They knew that wasn’t my character.”
On the field, the Eagles have had nothing to complain about. Bradham was arguably one of the most consistent defenders last year. And this season he has been just as good, even though he’s had the added responsibility of calling the defense after Jordan Hicks suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon rupture four games ago.
“We haven’t missed a beat yet since losing Jordan,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said.
Hicks is under contract for one more year, but he is unlikely to get an extension this offseason. His injury could also make the Eagles more inclined to keep Bradham.
Bradham wants to stay.
“I would hope,” Bradham said. “But I heard that before. When I was in Buffalo I was in the same situation. They were thinking about re-signing me. They put out articles and all kinds of stuff.”
This isn’t Buffalo.
Future free agents
Aside from linebacker Nigel Bradham, the Eagles have 12 possible unrestricted free agents — defensive tackle Beau Allen, tackle Will Beatty, running back LeGarrette Blount, tight end Trey Burton, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, linebacker Najee Goode, safety Corey Graham, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, cornerback Patrick Robinson, running back Darren Sproles, and kicker Caleb Sturgis.
Jeffery is the most prominent. He signed a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the Eagles hoping that a strong 2017 would increase his value and give the 27-year-old the opportunity to earn a long-term deal in line with the highest-paid receivers in the NFL. His numbers won’t place him in that class, but there are still six games to play. The Eagles will likely entertain the idea of bringing Jeffery back, but the market will dictate their ultimate interest. There should be other attractive free-agent receiver options, like Sammy Watkins or Allen Robinson.
At running back, Sproles’ future could depend on his desire to stave off retirement, especially after suffering a season-ending knee injury. The 31-year-old Blount has performed well, but with Jay Ajayi in the fold, he could be unnecessary. Barner returned in October after Sproles’ injury and has been solid in a minor role.
The Eagles signed Burton to a one-year, $2.746 million deal after they tendered the then-restricted free agent in March. He’s a four-core special-teamer and a decent third tight end, but if he wants to get paid, the Eagles may bow out.
Allen and the Eagles were negotiating an extension during the offseason, but the defensive tackle suffered a pectoral tear in April and talks were suspended. Tim Jernigan was acquired before the injury, but the four-year extension he signed earlier this month could impact Allen’s future in Philly.
Robinson is an interesting case. The Eagles basically got the 30-year-old for a one-year, bare-minimum deal, but he has been a pleasant surprise, particularly in the slot. The Eagles are suddenly deep at corner, but if they can get Robinson on a team-friendly contract, why not bring him back?
Sturgis has been Wally Pipped by Jake Elliott. Even though he’s nearly healthy after suffering a season-opening groin injury, the Eagles are sticking with the rookie. Unless Elliott folds down the stretch, Sturgis will likely leave via free agency.
Goode has been with the Eagles for parts of five seasons. If the numbers are right, and they probably will be, he could return in a similar, bottom-of-the-roster role. Graham, 32, is a savvy veteran, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and likely expendable.
Ellerbe, 31, and Beatty, 32, were added last week to buttress linebacker and tackle. They will need to play a fair amount to persuade the Eagles to invest in their futures.
Cornerback Jaylen Watkins is the Eagles’ lone restricted free agent. His versatility — he can also play safety — may increase the odds the Eagles tender him a contract.
Vinny and Derek
For most of his first five seasons in the NFL, defensive end Vinny Curry was a third-down, pass-rush specialist. He wanted to start, but he also liked pinning his ears back on obvious throwing downs.
But Curry has seen his role reversed with Derek Barnett this year. He’s now the starter, and the rookie spells him on the right side, often on third downs.
“I tell myself that it’s a way to get Derek on the field, and I’ve been in those shoes before,” Curry said Wednesday. “Hey, go do your thing, and I’ll get what I can on first and second down, and for the most part, I’m doing a pretty damn good job.”
He has. Curry has been one of the Eagles’ best run-stopping defensive linemen this season. Through 10 games he has 31 tackles and eight for losses — already more than any other year in his career. He has only three sacks, though, which is low considering he’s among the highest-paid edge rushers in the NFL. But his quarterback-pressure numbers — three sacks and 21 hits and hurries — have been as good as the Eagles’ three other primary ends.
Brandon Graham has played 326 pass snaps and has 23 total pressures (six sacks and 17 hits and hurries), as compiled by the Eagles. Chris Long is next with 230 pass snaps and 23 pressures (three sacks and 20 hits and hurries). And Barnett has been the most productive with 28½ pressures (4½ sacks and 24 hits and hurries) in 228 pass snaps.
“We drafted him in the first round,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said of Barnett, “so we expected a lot from him.”
Still, Barnett has been getting hot. Over his last five games, he has 4½ sacks, which is fewer than only eight other NFL edge rushers over that same span — Joey Bosa and Adrian Clayborn (six), and Calais Campbell, Everson Griffen, Chandler Jones, Matthew Judon, and Yannick Ngakoue (five).
“He had some games early in the year where he was rushing well, but the ball was coming out,” Schwartz said. “You can’t always let that affect you as a rusher. I think the thing that’s impressed me more about Derek is he’s been good in the run game.”
He sounds like a future starter.
Five questions: Jalen Mills
- If you couldn’t play the position you now play in the NFL, which position would you want to play? Wide receiver, of course. Score touchdowns. Do the “Nae Nae.”
- What’s your least favorite part of the week of practice leading up to a game? If I feel like the past Sunday I didn’t really play a good enough game — even if my coaches said I did — I’m ready to get to the next game.
- What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit? Saturday night game, LSU at Auburn and I had a little, itty-bitty running back and I tried to clean him up on the sideline. He acted like he was going to go out bounds, but at the last minute he just dropped on me. My chin strap came unbuckled and the whole crowd was like, “Ooo.”
- What’s your favorite play you ever made in football? My interception [that he returned for a touchdown] against San Fran [last month].
- If you didn’t play football what career do you think you would have? Professional soccer player. I played my senior year of high school — forward, left mid, and right mid.
Inside the game
— In their first four games, the Eagles defense allowed 13 plays of over 20 yards. In the last six, they’ve allowed only 10.
“The thing that correlates the highest to scoring plays, whether it’s a field goal or ends up being a touchdown, are plus-20 plays,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “You don’t want to play conservative. There’s a fine line there, too. You [might] not give up a plus-20 the whole time and just let somebody matriculate down the field, all due respect to Hank Stram.”
While the Eagles have done a better job of stopping 20-plus-yard plays, they’ve also kept opposing offenses from popping for big, chunk-yard plays. In their first four games, they gave up nine plays over 32 yards. In the last six, they haven’t surrendered a single play over that distance.
“Generally, when you’re doing your job and when you’re tackling well,” Schwartz said, “you’re not giving up explosive plays.”
— Percentage-wise, Alshon Jeffery lined up in the slot against the Cowboys significantly more than the wide receiver had in the first nine games of the season.
“When we self-scout we want to make sure the guys are not always lining up in the same spots,” Pederson said. “You get predictable a little bit offensively.”
In the Eagles’ first nine games, Jeffery lined up in the slot on 49 of 299 routes run (16.4 percent). He caught 5 of 10 targets for 61 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday, he lined up inside on 8 of 26 routes run (30.7 pct.) and caught 2 of 3 targets for 39 yards and a touchdown.
Jeffery’s increase in slot snaps wasn’t only to give defenses another look, though.
“He’s a big body, big target in there,” Pederson said.
Inside the locker room
New Eagles running back Jay Ajayi likes to play music in his locker stall. On Wednesday, the sounds of West Coast hip-hop drifted down to fellow running back Kenjon Barner.
“You don’t know West Coast,” Barner said to Ajayi, a native Londoner who was raised in Maryland and Texas.
Ajayi and Barner jokingly exchanged barbs until the latter mockingly spoke loud enough for all nearby reporters to hear.
“There’s drama in the running back room,” Barner joked. “Jay really is a ‘Me’ guy, just like they said in Miami.”
By the numbers
16: Number of drops by Eagles receivers this season. Last season, there were 24 drops through 10 games.
8: Number of false starts for the Eagles this season, which is tied for the seventh-fewest in the NFL. Last season, they had 26 false starts, which was third-worst in the league.
90: Number of consecutive games played by Brandon Graham, fifth among active defensive ends (Julius Peppers 154, Connor Barwin 106, Cameron Jordon 106, Jerry Hughes 93).