PHILADELPHIA -- Almost immediately after the Philadelphia Eagles acquired Sam Bradford in a trade with the St. Louis Rams, the team announced another transaction. The Eagles had signed backup quarterback Mark Sanchez to a new two-year contract.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly had good reasons for making those two roster moves. In each of his first two seasons in the NFL, Kelly had to deal with an injury to his starting quarterback.
In November of 2013, Nick Foles replaced Michael Vick. In November of 2014, Sanchez replaced Foles.
In November of 2015, Bradford has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers due to a concussion. Sanchez will make his first start of the season.
“First off, it says we're unfortunate because we've had an injury, so we have to make that adjustment,” Kelly said. “But I think in this league, quarterbacks know -- at least here they know and they should know -- that you have an opportunity to play every single week in that position because of the injury rate with quarterbacks in the National Football League.
“So you have to prepare like you're the starter so that you're 'a chinstrap away' from having to go in the game and you better understand the game plan from that standpoint. It's a lot harder because you don't get as many [practice] reps. Obviously, the ones get a lot more reps than the twos and that's throughout the league in terms of how it is. But you still have to stay on top of your game from a game-plan standpoint.”
Sanchez started eight games for the Eagles last season. He went 3-1 in the first four, getting the Eagles to 9-3 and first place in the NFC East. But the team lost three games in a row to finish 10-6 and out of the playoffs.
Overall, Sanchez completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 2,418 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also turned the ball over 14 times, throwing 11 interceptions and losing three fumbles.
After serving as the starting quarterback for the New York Jets for four seasons, Sanchez learned the role of backup quarterback during the first half of last season. He has reprised the role this year.
Up until now.
“That is one thing about Mark -- his work ethic,” Kelly said. “He's in this building very late every night, he works extremely hard on the game plan, he prepares himself like he's going to be the starter whether he's named the starter going into that game or it occurs in the first quarter, second quarter or third quarter.
“When he goes in there, he has to be able to function in our offense, so we don't have to say, ‘Hey, we have to throw this whole chunk of offense out. We just only can go with this small portion of it.’ Because of Mark's understanding of what we're doing, we can run everything that we have in our game plan that week.”
Sanchez also is more likely than Bradford to pull the ball on read-option plays and run it himself. He had 34 rushes for 87 yards and a touchdown last season. After relieving Bradford Sunday against Miami, Sanchez had two carries for 4 yards.
“He’s a little more of a runner,” Eagles running back DeMarco Murray said. “It just gives us another variable in our offense. The defense has to respect the pull, so that’s going to help us out.”
In acquiring Bradford, Kelly knew he was getting an oft-injured quarterback who had missed the previous season and a half. Bradford had held up very well physically this season, starting the first nine games and not missing a snap until Miami linebacker Chris McCain sacked him midway through the third quarter.
Bradford went down on his left side, spraining his non-throwing shoulder and sustaining a concussion. He was not cleared through the NFL’s concussion protocol all week. Kelly said that made it impossible to gauge how much the shoulder injury would affect Bradford. He couldn’t practice or participate in any football activity.
Through nine games, Bradford had been inconsistent as the Eagles’ starter. He has completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,297 yards and 11 touchdowns. Bradford threw 10 interceptions. His passer rating is 82.4.
Those numbers are very close to Sanchez’s for his nine games played in 2014. So there is a sense that the Eagles will not be losing much by having Sanchez step into the starting lineup for Bradford.