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Sam Bradford gets offseason edge on Kirk Cousins

PHILADELPHIA – Sam Bradford and Kirk Cousins played against each other twice in 2015. Cousins’ Washington Redskins went 2-0 against Bradford’s Philadelphia Eagles.

In 2016, Bradford is 1-0.

The Eagles did not use their franchise or transition tag to keep Bradford under their control for the 2016 season. Washington did place the franchise tag on Cousins.

That means Cousins will earn $19.95 million this year, which certainly seems like a win. As a fourth-round draft pick in 2012, Cousins earned a total of $2.5 million in his first four NFL seasons.

As the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, Bradford earned seven times that amount just for signing his rookie contract with the St. Louis Rams. Over the life of the deal, Bradford was paid $78 million. So he was way ahead of Cousins just by virtue of where each player was drafted.

Cousins, of course, had a similar comparison much closer to home. Robert Griffin III, who was chosen No. 2 overall in the 2012 draft, has earned $21 million over his four seasons. Griffin was the NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2012 but has been on the decline ever since.

In 2015, Cousins overtook Griffin as Washington’s starting quarterback. He beat Bradford and the Eagles twice.

In September, Cousins engineered a 90-yard game-winning drive in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. His touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon gave Washington a 23-20 victory.

Bradford didn’t play badly in that game, completing 15 of 28 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. He did not throw an interception. But Bradford wasn’t able to lead the Eagles to a fourth-quarter first down that would have kept Cousins off the field for that final drive.

In Philadelphia in December, the Eagles had a chance to move into first place in the NFC East with a win against Washington. Bradford completed 37 of 56 passes for 380 yards and one touchdown, but Cousins led Washington to a 38-24 victory and the NFC East title.

By doing so, Cousins did something Bradford has never done: He led his team to the playoffs. That is one reason that Washington felt compelled to use the franchise tag on him. Another is that apparently the team didn’t feel it was making good enough progress on a long-term deal.

Players don’t generally like the franchise tag. The Eagles twice tagged players who were upset enough that the team rescinded the tag. Twice, the players (Jeremiah Trotter and Corey Simon) signed with other teams.

The Eagles worked out a contract with Bradford on Tuesday, just before the deadline for applying the tag. The two-year deal could pay Bradford $36 million, and at least $25 million of that total is guaranteed.

So Bradford gets more guaranteed money than Cousins gets with the franchise tag, along with built-in incentives that can reward Bradford for playoff victories.

On top of that, Bradford gets $11 million right away as a signing bonus. Cousins won’t get anything until he begins receiving game checks in September.

After the 2016 season, Bradford will have banked somewhere between $18 million and $22 million, depending on playoff success. Cousins will bank just under $20 million.

A year from now, Cousins can gain some ground. He could be tagged again, at a salary around $24 million, or he could agree to a long-term deal that pays him significantly more.

Despite Bradford’s extra two seasons of NFL experience, he is only nine months older than Cousins. So there isn’t much significant difference between them in that regard.

Bradford is due a $4 million roster bonus next March. His salary for 2017 is $13 million. Cousins could make more in 2017, but he’s going to have to make a lot more for a lot longer to catch Bradford. By the end of 2017, Bradford will have banked about $115 million in his NFL career.