The Philadelphia Eagles face a conundrum: Who should take the lion’s share of snaps under center?
Five months ago, this was hardly a conversation worth having. Sam Bradford, the incumbent starting quarterback, had just been given a two-year deal worth $36 million, with $26 million guaranteed. However, the Eagles decided to not only take a quarterback in the subsequent draft, but traded up to do so, sending five picks to move up six spots to take North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick. Additionally, in March, the franchise tossed Chase Daniel a three-year deal worth $21 million, allowing the 29-year-old to follow incoming Coach Doug Pederson to the City of Brotherly Love.
With Bradford, Wentz and Daniel under contract, Pederson did his best to squash the dilemma, telling NFL.com “You’ve got to get through four (preseason) games and a lot of preseason. But going into Sept. 11, Sam’s the guy. I’ll stick with that. Chase is our number two, and Carson is our number three.”
He’s making the right decision, too: Bradford should start the year for Philadelphia.
While his first year with the Eagles was mostly tepid, failing to fully develop under Chip Kelly’s system, Bradford was also throwing to the worst receiving corps in the league in dropped passes — a league-leading 7.9 percent of throws, according to Pro Football Focus — and an offensive line that received a minus-36.6 combined cumulative pass-protection grade (0.0 is considered average). The Eagles went 7-9 and, according to Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System, which measures a team’s overall quality relative to average, were the second-worst Eagles team of the past 16 years.
Bradford, though, was above league average in a number of metrics: His passing grade of 81.5 ranked No. 11 among quarterbacks last season, and his pure passing grade of 80.9 ranked No. 10. He threw for more yards and touchdowns through Week 2 (560, two) than Daniel has accounted for in his career (464, one). Furthermore, his completion percentage of 65 was not only a personal best; it was the best single-season mark in franchise history.
The reasons for starting him over Wentz and Daniel are obvious: He has drastically more experience as an NFL quarterback, has adapted to a number of unique offensive ecosystems and is far more polished than his competition.
Pederson’s offense is considerably intricate, with 10-12 words, in a very specific order, often orchestrating the play calls. It’s takes a cerebral quarterback to run it. And, if you haven’t noticed Bradford’s history of injuries, which makes him appear to be the oldest 28-year-old to ever play in the NFL, the guy clearly isn’t cashing checks because of his athleticism or remarkable speed.
“There is a lot of freedom,” Bradford said of Pederson’s system. “Obviously, with that freedom, there comes a lot of responsibility. You’re in charge of getting into the right play and getting out of a bad play. You’re responsible for everything out there.”
Like his predecessor Andy Reid, Pederson is likely to employ a mostly balanced offensive attack. Kansas City’s offense, which was run by Pederson, was averse to taking shots down the field, which fits Bradford’s skill set perfectly; Bradford ranked 29th of 35 qualifying quarterbacks last season in total passing attempts of 20-plus yards, and has thrown down the field on just 9.9 percent of his passes since entering the league.
The offense will also appear sluggish in terms of tempo compared to last season.
“Last year with Chip, playing at the tempo we did, it was hard to really (have freedom),” Bradford said. “I think there’s benefits to each, but it is nice knowing that when you get to the line of scrimmage, if you realize ‘Hey, this is a bad play against this coverage,’ I have the ability to get us into something better.”
As Eliot Shorr-Parks noted, last season the Eagles offense played nearly two more games than the Chiefs offense did in terms of plays, and ran a play 7.84 seconds quicker than Kansas City. This is better suited for Bradford, who operates best when he can diagnose coverage and make his reads — something that will take Wentz a while to learn, and something that Daniel has very little experience doing.
While Bradford isn’t the flashiest option for Philadelphia entering this season, he’s clearly the one Pederson wants under center, and certainly the one best suited to start the year as the primary quarterback.