THE EAGLES' re-signing Tuesday of quarterback Sam Bradford could turn out to be the most important move of what is a very critical offseason for the franchise.
They retained a team leader who was one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league over the second half of the season and didn't have to break the bank to do it, signing him to a two-year, $36 million deal that includes $26 million in guarantees.
That said, the news that he will be sticking around won't be well-received by many residents of Eagles Nation, who never really seemed to warm up to Bradford and are/were of the opinion that the team could have done better in the draft or free agency.
Some would have preferred to see the Eagles let Bradford go and use their first-round pick in next month's draft on a quarterback, even though history has shown that taking one outside the top 10 is pretty much a crapshoot. For every Joe Flacco (taken 18th by the Ravens in 2008), there are four Christian Ponders (12th by the Vikings in 2011).
While the short length of Bradford's contract doesn't completely eliminate the possibility of the Eagles taking a quarterback in the first round, it seems very unlikely given all of their other needs and the lack of a second-round pick.
What is much more likely is that they'll take advantage of the quarterback depth in this draft and take one in the middle or late rounds.
Doug Pederson said as much at the NFL Scouting Combine last week, acknowledging that the Eagles would "have to look hard at drafting a quarterback," regardless of what happened with Bradford.
"Every team needs to draft a quarterback,'' the Eagles head coach said. "I'm a big believer that you need to keep the (quarterback) pipeline coming.''
Others were intrigued by the possibility of signing a reclamation project like Robert Griffin III, who is expected to be released by the Redskins any minute now, or even bringing back Nick Foles, who was traded for Bradford along with a second-round pick, if the Rams let him go.
Ultimately, re-signing Bradford to a short-term deal clearly was the Eagles' best option. They could have placed the franchise tag on him for a year. But his 2016 cap number would have been higher. The franchise tag number for quarterbacks this year is $19.9 million.
I haven't seen the breakdown of Bradford's contract yet, but I'm guessing his cap number for this season probably is somewhere around $15 million.
If he stays healthy and is as productive this season as he was in the second half of last season, they then can revisit his contract next offseason and discuss a long-term extension then, knowing they still have him under contract for another season.
If he unexpectedly injures his ACL again or plays poorly, well, the financial repercussions won't be nearly as devastating as they would be if they had signed him to a longer deal with a much bigger guarantee.
The best part of this for the Eagles is that Pederson will be going into his first season as a head coach with a veteran quarterback who would seem to be ideally suited for his hybrid West Coast offense. No one the Eagles could take with the 13th pick in the draft is going to be ready to play as a rookie. This way, they can take one on Day 2 or 3, bring him along slowly and use that first-round pick to address one of their other needs, such as their offensive line.
I'm not quite sure why there has been such a lack of enthusiasm by fans for Bradford. As I mentioned earlier, once he gained confidence in his twice-damaged left knee and got into sync with his receivers last season, he was one of the most productive quarterbacks in the league.
Bradford's 97.4 passer rating over his last seven starts was the eighth-best mark in the league over the last nine weeks of the season (he missed two games with a concussion and shoulder injury). Only the Seahawks' Russell Wilson (119.6), the Redskins' Kirk Cousins (117.7), the Panthers' Cam Newton (115.0), the Saints' Drew Brees (106.3), the Lions' Matthew Stafford (105.1), the Cardinals' Carson Palmer (101.2) and the Chiefs' Alex Smith (100.8) had higher passer rating over that period. Five of those seven were on playoff teams.
Bradford had the seventh-best third-down passer rating (100.7) in the league over the last nine weeks.
He set single-season franchise records for completions (346) and completion percentage (65.0), despite the fact that his receivers dropped a league-high 50 passes. In the Eagles' Week 17 win over the Giants, he had a 78.9 completion percentage (30-for-38). That's the highest single-game completion percentage by a quarterback with at least 30 attempts in franchise history.
Just as importantly, he became one of the locker-room leaders in the second half of the season. The strong endorsements from his teammates, both on offense and defense, played a big part in the Eagles' decision to keep him.
"The fact that he put himself in a leadership role toward the end of the season proves to me that he can handle going forward this role and the opportunity to start," Pederson said.
And there are people out there who actually thought signing Robert Griffin III was a better idea than keeping Bradford. I can only hope they aren't operating heavy machinery.