PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly insists that he will hold an open competition for the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback job.
“The best players are always going to play,” Kelly said last week. “I think that's always been the way it has to be, and that's the way it will be. … It's not fair to the rest of the guys on the team if the best players aren't playing. It's not fair to this city, it's not fair to the staff and it's not fair to anybody, if the best players aren’t playing and the best players are always going to play.”
That sounds pretty definitive. So Kelly has to hope that Sam Bradford has a great training camp and clearly wins the competition with Mark Sanchez. That's clearly, because Kelly's own words will haunt him if Sanchez looks better but Bradford is proclaimed the starter.
If Bradford isn't the winner, Kelly’s decision to trade Nick Foles plus second- and fourth-round draft picks for Bradford is going to look like a disaster.
Remember, Kelly is the one who has explained the disposal of several Pro Bowlers by pointing to their contracts. DeSean Jackson and Trent Cole and LeSean McCoy were all going to make too much money for Kelly to keep them on the Eagles’ roster. They had to go.
Well, Bradford is going to make more than any of those guys. In the final year of the original contract Bradford signed with the St. Louis Rams, he will earn $12.95 million. Chances are, the Rams did that deal with Bradford with the assumption that one of two things would happen. He’d be a great quarterback, and they would negotiate a new contract with him that would make the final year of his rookie deal moot. Or, if Bradford flopped as a player, the Rams would release him before they ever had to pay him that last year’s salary.
Injuries robbed Bradford of two seasons, leaving the Rams unable to determine whether he was a great player or a flop. Rather than release him, they were able to trade him to the Eagles.
That would be a good deal for the Eagles if Bradford established himself as their starting quarterback. In that case, it is the Eagles who will be looking to sign Bradford to a new contract. Because of the timing of the trade, they have just this one season to get a handle on Bradford. It is, in other words, almost necessary that Bradford is the starting quarterback.
That would make $13 million a reasonable salary. That would make Foles and two draft picks a reasonable price to pay in trade.
But if Sanchez, who went 4-4 in eight starts for the Eagles last year, wins the competition? And that is possible. Bradford hasn’t even taken part in full-squad practices during the offseason. Sanchez has a one-year head start in Kelly’s offense. The coach raved about Sanchez’s performance in offseason workouts, citing his progress in his second season running Kelly’s offense.
If Sanchez is starting in September, would the Eagles be better off with Foles earning about $1.5 million as his backup or with Bradford making $12.95 million? Foles would not only be about one-eighth the price, he would have two seasons’ worth of experience in Kelly’s system. And let’s face it: Foles’ 2013 performance was better than anything Bradford has managed in the NFL.
Kelly came to believe that the Eagles didn’t have the quarterback necessary to contend for a Super Bowl. He came to believe that while Sanchez was on his roster. That’s what inspired him to go after Bradford.
If Bradford is the starter and he’s not quite an elite quarterback, that would be bad for Kelly. But it would have been a chance worth taking, a shot at the brass ring.
If Sanchez wins the starting job and Bradford never gets to take that shot? That would be a disaster.