By Peter Gleason
Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford is set to become a free agent at season’s end, and while many in the lame-ass media like Jillian Mele are already of the opinion the Eagles should move on, it’s not as if finding a franchise quarterback is easy.
Not only that, the organization gave up a second-round pick in the trade that plucked Bradford away from the St. Louis Rams, so the Eagles owe it to themselves to make sure they know what they have.
Plus, Bradford’s last three games — including last Sunday’s stunning 35-28 victory over the New England Patriots — have been pick-free and Bradford, who just returned from a concussion and left shoulder injury, has shown he has the ability to competently run Chip Kelly’s offense.
Way better than the turnover machine Mark Sanchez, whom Mele and Eliot Shorr-Parks assured us would not be a drop-off from Bradford when he had to fill in!
How did that turn out?
Bradford 2015 numbers in 10 games are:
2,417 yards, 63.5 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns, 10 interceptions for a passer rating of 83.5.
But statistics are useless without context.
To begin with, Bradford had to learn a new offense while coming off of back-to-back season-ending ACL surgeries. He wasn’t able to participate fully in practices until training camp opened, and didn’t get much work in the preseason. By the time Week 1 rolled around, nearly two calendar years had elapsed since Bradford played in a meaningful NFL game.
Anybody could tell Bradford wasn’t fully ingrained in the offense or the speed of the game. Or that he didn’t fully trust his surgically repaired knee.
Bradford struggled mightily for most of the past two games. However, since about Week 3 on, he’s actually played fairly well, and was only improving before going down with an injury.
If you go game-by-game, only Bradford’s three-interception performance against the New York Giants was awful. Two others look bad from a statistical standpoint. Yet if Darren Sproles catches a would-be 78-yard wheel against the Jets, Bradford’s yards per catch and rating spike from 4.2 and 73.2 to 7.0 and 99.7—a quality line against a tough D. And if the Eagles don’t drop eight balls against the Carolina Panthers, he probably completes a heck of a lot better than 56.5 percent of passes for 4.5 yards per attempt, too.
It just goes to show how heavily influenced Bradford’s numbers have been by the talent around him. In his last seven starts, the Eagles had 22 dropped passes, according to Pro Football Focus, while in all three of the team’s last three losses with Bradford, he was sacked at least four times—likely no coincidence.
Bradford’s receivers fail to get separation and have been unreliable. The protection has been inconsistent, and the ground attack hasn’t always been there to keep the pressure off. The offensive issues as a whole constantly have the Eagles backed up in difficult third-and-longs.
No quarterback would thrive under these circumstances, yet in Bradford’s final two starts, he was showing signs of progress. Against the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, the sixth-year veteran completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 531 yards—a hearty 8.7 average—with two touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s good for a rating of 109.3.
Just from looking at Bradford, you can tell he’s got a better command of the offense. He has more poise in the pocket. He’s making better decisions with the football. He trusts his knee again.
Bradford is beginning to exhibit some of the signs that made him the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2010. The Eagles need to see if he can continue to develop.
Much like Sanchez, Bradford has had a penchant for throwing interceptions this season with nine already. However, unlike Sanchez, historically that hasn’t been an issue for Bradford, so it’s reasonable to assume it could stop.
Including playoffs, Bradford has also played in 21 fewer NFL games than Sanchez, and never in an offense even with as much talent as the Eagles, which is saying something. He deserves a shot to retake the reins.
No doubt, Bradford will get the opportunity just as soon as he’s ready. The Eagles know how important of a decision they have to make, and need all the tape on Bradford they can get before making it. If the 2015 season is about nothing else for this organization, it’s about that.