When the Eagles’ bus departed for North Jersey last Wednesday, Nigel Bradham wasn’t on board. The team didn’t know why the linebacker was missing or where he was.
Bradham wasn’t scheduled to play against the New York Jets the next day, according to coach Doug Pederson, but he was expected to work out before the preseason finale. The coaches were livid when they realized he was absent and had considered him AWOL, according to sources close to the situation.
When someone from the team finally contacted Bradham, he told them he was sick. The team still offered to send a car to Philadelphia to pick him up and drive him north. But Bradham declined because he said he didn’t want to make the 1 1/2-hour drive with an upset stomach.
“Initially, the plan was for me to come up, but I obviously wasn’t playing,” Bradham said Wednesday during an interview with The Inquirer. “I was just going to do a little workout, a little running, stuff I’ve been doing. I wasn’t going to be playing in the game or anything. I was just under the weather, so I decided to stay home.”
The Eagles, though, received no prior indication from Bradham that he wasn’t feeling well. There was speculation that he had flown down to his hometown Miami, and a team official checked flight reservations, a source said. There was no record of Bradham departing Wednesday or Thursday.
He had attended meetings and the walk-through earlier Wednesday. But he said when he got home that day, during a break before team buses were to leave for a Newark, N.J., hotel from the practice facility, he started to feel ill.
“I felt I had nausea,” Bradham said. “I threw up and I was in the bathroom a couple times. Nothing out of the ordinary, like a little bug, or a stomach virus. … But they probably wanted me to still come up.”
Bradham said that he needed to communicate better to the Eagles. He had been limited at practice all summer as he recovered from foot surgery. But he has been on target to play in the season opener on Sunday, and like the other injured players with short-term timetables, he was slated to work out before the Jets game.
“It was a miscommunication. … By the time I told them I was sick they were probably looking for me,” Bradham said. “I should have let them know I was sick when I was sick.”
Pederson declined to say why his linebacker wasn’t at MetLife Stadium last Thursday night.
“Nigel and I have spoken,” Pederson said. “We’ve handled it. It’s an internal issue. We’re in a good place and I’ll leave it at that.”
Bradham said he showed up at the NovaCare Complex on Friday morning and took medicine for his sickness. He said that after resting he felt better by mid-afternoon and flew to Miami that evening. Eagles veterans were given the three-day weekend off and many players fly home during the extended break.
“Obviously, there was a hurricane coming,” Bradham said. “So I had to get my spot and stuff and wanted to make sure my family was right.”
Pederson said Monday that Bradham was at practice. Reporters were not permitted to attend the session. The linebacker wasn’t in the locker room during the 45 minutes of allotted time to the media afterward.
After Tuesday’s day off, the Eagles held their first full practice of the week Wednesday and Bradham was listed as a full participant. Even though he was walking with a clear limp in the locker room, he said that he expects to play Sunday. There was a time during his rehab, though, when he said he didn’t think that would be possible.
“It was my first time ever having that experience. To have something where at one point I couldn’t even put any pressure on my foot, be on the scooter, it was different,” Bradham said. “It was a grind.”
Bradham suffered the injury in the playoff loss to the Saints in January and had surgery shortly after to reattach ligaments in his big toe. In November, he broke his thumb in three places and played through the injury. He had surgery the next day and hasn’t missed a game to injury in three seasons with the Eagles.
The Eagles have been short at linebacker for most of the summer. They lost starter Kamu Grugier-Hill to a torn MCL in late July. With Bradham and Gruger-Hill sidelined, Nate Gerry and Zach Brown have been the primary linebackers.
The Eagles kept six linebackers after cuts on Saturday, with L.J. Fort and undrafted rookie T.J. Edwards as the last two, even though the decreasing usage of linebackers in today’s NFL now have some teams keeping only four.
Brown and Fort were signed as free agents this offseason after linebacker Jordan Hicks signed with the Cardinals in March for four years at $34 million, with $20 million guaranteed. Bradham, as he has done in Hicks’ previous absences, is expected to call plays on defense and play multiple spots.
“It’s going to be something of everything,” he said.
He has become the Eagles’ most indispensable linebacker. After spending his first four seasons with the Bills, Bradham signed a with the Eagles in 2016 for two years and $7 million. He had played a season in Buffalo with Jim Schwartz and the now-Eagles defensive coordinator advocated his signing.
Before he even played a game, however, Bradham was involved in two off-the-field incidents. He was arrested that July for allegedly assaulting a hotel employee who had been setting up a beach umbrella for his group.
Bradham initially pleaded his innocence after he was charged with a felony, but he eventually accepted a deferred prosecution program, and the case was closed in January 2018. The NFL suspended him for the first game of last season as a result.
In Oct. 2016, Bradham was charged with a second-degree misdemeanor when he brought a loaded gun through security at Miami International Airport. The charge was eventually dropped.
“You do dumbass things, pretty soon, you’re going to be labeled as a dumbass,” Schwartz said after the incident.
On the field, Bradham made few mistakes and has been the Eagles’ most reliable and consistent linebacker. He was rewarded for his play with a five-year, $40 million contract in 2018, although only $8 million was guaranteed. He had also seemingly stayed out of trouble away from football.
But last week’s incident will come with repercussions. Bradham was asked if he had been punished.