Sam Bradford's contract continues to vex Eagles

The Eagles could use the franchise tag on Sam Bradford, or they could sign him to a long-term deal. James Lang/USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA -- The Sam Bradford puzzle is going to be a difficult one for the Philadelphia Eagles to solve.

The feeling here is that Chip Kelly erred last March when he worked out the trade that sent Nick Foles and a second-round pick to St. Louis for Bradford. Kelly should have made the trade contingent upon the Eagles’ ability to work out a contract extension for Bradford.

As Kelly said in December, "We didn't trade for him to say, 'Hey, we want to get one season out of him and then we are going to go in a different direction.' That's certainly not the case."

ESPN’s Jim Trotter shed some light on the matter last week during an appearance on "NFL Insiders." Trotter said he was told that Bradford’s agent, Tom Condon, asked for $25 million per year. Negotiations broke down after that.

Two major points:

One, that number is not all that extreme. There is a very good chance the franchise tag salary for quarterbacks will be about $25 million for 2016. So that’s a perfectly reasonable starting point for an agent representing a starting quarterback.

The logic is simple: If there is no deal, the team will have to pay $25 million for 2016. So that’s a good starting point for negotiating a long-term deal.

Two, that number suggests the Eagles were looking to do a relatively short-term contract for Bradford. That’s understandable. Bradford had missed a season and a half with two ACL tears. The Eagles didn’t know how his knee would hold up or whether he would play well in Kelly’s offense.

If the Eagles had made the trade contingent on a deal, they would have accomplished two things. Bradford’s price might have dropped a bit because he wanted to get out of St. Louis by that point, and the Eagles could have voided the trade if no deal was possible. They probably wouldn’t have had a worse record with Foles at quarterback, and they would still have a second-round pick in this year’s draft.

The primary way teams lower the salary-cap number on player contracts is by giving the player a large amount of guaranteed money up front and then spreading the cap hit out over a multiyear contract. If the Eagles were looking to do a two-year contract with Bradford, for example, that would make it tougher for them to lower the cap number.

Faced with that, Condon would have been smart to seek the franchise tag salary for a shorter deal.

The main point is that none of that prior conversation is applicable now. If the Eagles want to sign Bradford to a five-year contract, they can negotiate one that provides a market rate of guaranteed money and then work out terms that make the contract work under the Eagles’ salary cap.

Bear in mind that the top 15 quarterback salaries for 2016, based on salary cap charges, are all at $17 million or above. The salary cap is expected to rise again this season, giving teams more money to spend. If anything, quarterbacks are even more valuable today than they were in the past, so they will continue to command a large percentage of salary-cap space.

That is the climate in which the Eagles must figure out the Bradford issue. As the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, Bradford has made $78 million during his six-year career so far. He has no pressing need to take a below-market contract.

Though it sounds shocking in the context of a conversation on television, $25 million is roughly what the market bears in 2016.

The Eagles have to weigh that outlay against their prospects of finding a better quarterback in free agency or the draft.