It took Sam Bradford less than a year to establish himself as a true Philadelphia athlete, the mere mention of his name enough to derail any attempt at a rational conversation. This was true long before Wednesday, when the quarterback stunned his bosses by reacting adversely to their decision to trade away a trove of draft picks to select his replacement rather than spending those picks on players that might have helped him and his teammates succeed over the next couple of seasons.
With that in mind, let's start this argument by removing any consideration for Bradford's feelings. They are not inconsequential, but it is understandable if people write them off as such. If you think that he should shut up and accept his fate due to his career earnings-per-victory, I will not attempt to dispute that notion. At least not for a few paragraphs.
Really, it does not matter what you or I think about Bradford, at least not within the context of evaluating last week's trade. What does matter is what the players inside the locker room think, and that's where this thing has the potential to get sticky. So sticky, in fact, that the best thing for the Eagles to do at this point might be to admit their mistake, cut or trade Bradford, and eat the $11.5 million cap hit such a move would require.
Whether or not you think Bradford is a franchise quarterback capable of leading the Eagles to where they want to be, the reality is that his teammates think that. They said it throughout the second half of last season. They said it before the Eagles fired Chip Kelly. They said it after Bradford ended his season with a strong performance against the Giants under interim coach Pat Shurmur. And they said it after the Eagles re-signed Bradford to a contract whose terms indicated that they expect him to be a playoff-caliber starter for at least this season.
That last point is the important one. It is foolish to think that players know best when it comes to personnel decisions, even though the Eagles invoked that rationale when explaining their decision to fire Kelly. Thus, the organization would have little reason to worry had it decided to part ways with Bradford after the 2015 experiment. Problem is, the Eagles did not part ways with Bradford, and when they re-signed him to a two-year deal, they stated that they did so because they believe in his ability, both explicitly and implicitly. Whatever you thought about the short term of the deal, Bradford's teammates did not think that way. Players rarely do. They viewed Bradford as a legitimate starting quarterback, and they viewed themselves as a team with a young nucleus that would only improve with a new scheme and some shrewd drafting.
Forget about Bradford's reaction to the trade. Think instead of the reaction of guys like Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz, Bradford's top two pass-catchers last season and two of his most vocal advocates in the locker room. Think of the reaction of Jason Peters, who has, at most, one or two more chances to win before he seriously contemplates retirement. In opting for North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, the Eagles will be passing on the chance to add a cornerback or an offensive lineman or a running back or a wide receiver who might help the team this season for a quarterback whom they do not expect to contribute for at least another year. In trading away picks in the third and fourth round, they are sacrificing two more chances to do so. And that's before we consider the impact that the 2017 first rounder they traded away might have had on their hopes for next season.
Strictly from the perspective of a competitor who wants to win right now, the trade for Wentz is more than enough to cause the current members of the roster to question the direction of the franchise, the same way Kelly's jettisoning of Desean Jackson, Lesean McCoy and Evan Mathis did.
If you think that workers, particularly Stupid Millennial workers, should not have feelings and opinions about whatever the bossmen choose to do with their capital, that's fine. But workers, even non-Stupid Millenials, are human beings, which means they possess psyches, and there is a vast array of cognitive psychological and neuro-biological research that suggests a human being's psyche has a direct impact on his physical reality. Thus, a company whose success requires optimal physical performance from its employees would be wise to consider, account for, and, gasp, even cater to said employees' psyches, instead of simply pulling them to the side and giving them a firm lecture about something your grand-pappy once said about hard work and the American spirit.
These are the facts: Ertz and Matthews spent a week in Oklahoma with Bradford this offseason. All three have talked at length about the chemistry they have developed over the last year, both on and off the field. All three have talked at length about the talent each one of them feels he sees in the other. All three have talked at length about the excitement they feel about being a part of something that the Eagles can build on. These are all facts, and the psychological realities they betray are not something that can be altered simply by explaining to them that this is America and the only feelings anybody cares about are those of the free market. "One NovaCare: Like it or leave it" is not an optimal management strategy in this particular instance.
There's another, more concerning, angle to consider, and that pertains to the players' relationship with their new, unproven head coach. This isn't about natural human emotions like camaraderie and friendship. This about something that isn't as easy to get over as a broken heart. It's about trust, and I'm pretty sure it was one of the reasons the last guy got run out of town.
Players are like any workers. They do not necessarily want a boss who attends their weddings and asks them about their weekends, even if that is how it sounds when they attempt to explain why they did not connect with the last guy. They want a boss whom they can trust. Chip Kelly lost the trust of a lot of his players. They stopped believing that they could trust the things that he said, or the plays that he called, or the personnel moves that he made. Anybody who has ever engaged in an interpersonal relationship with another human being will tell you that trust is something that is very difficult to restore once it has been breached. Sometimes, it is irreparable.
With regards to everybody besides Bradford, it is hard to imagine that Wednesday's trade represents an irreperable breach of trust on the part of the organization. But the seeds of distrust are planted well ahead of harvest season: keeping Riley Cooper on board, cutting Jackson, trading McCoy and Brandon Boykin, cutting Mathis -- none of them individually sabotaged Kelly's relationship with his players, but each one sowed a little more doubt with regard to his tactics and, by the end, perhaps even his motivations. Looking back, it seems like it should've been a no-brainer for Kelly to cut Cooper. You wonder how Pederson might look back on any decision to keep Bradford around.
I feel compelled to note that I am not in any way comparing Bradford to somebody who drank some beer and said a racial slur. I am comparing the impact his presence could have on the locker room's loyalties, both toward each other and toward their head coach. Clearly, some important members of that locker room think that Bradford already is the kind of quarterback that Pederson, Roseman and Lurie, L.L.C. think Carson Wentz can be. This is clear because they have said it, with conviction. The time for the front office to express its disagreement with that notion would have been before they signed Bradford to a new contract. Even if they did not explicitly say, "We think Sam can take us to where we want to be," you can't fault Ertz and Matthews if they inferred it. Doesn't that necessarily invite some doubt about anything Pederson says moving forward? Do you really think I'm doing a good job, or are you going to turn around and look for some way to upgrade over me?
I admit, that's a bit theoretical. So let's circle back to something more fundamental. Keeping Bradford around only increases the chances that he continues to inspire the loyalty of the troops, which would not only threaten to undermine Pederson, but Wentz as well. Even if everybody becomes fast friends and and the offensive meeting room becomes a bastion of high fives and good-natured hijinks, what happens if Bradford struggles out of the gate? What happens if the first team reps begin to even out in practice? What happens if Wentz replaces Bradford and then Wentz struggles the way rookie quarterbacks often struggle? What if he fails to make a throw that Matthews or Ertz think Bradford would have made? What if they go hang out with Bradford in Oklahoma over the bye week even though Wentz invites them to North Dakota?
There is a reason why philosophers ranging from Abraham Lincoln to the apostle Paul have warned of the dangers of divided loyalties. In attempting to serve two masters, you are by definition neglecting both of a portion of your available resources, and masters with competing interests do not often react positively to such neglect.
This is the kind of stuff that Lurie did not think about when he elected to hand Kelly personnel power while also keeping Roseman in the building. It's the kind of stuff that he clearly did not think about when he okayed the signing of Bradford to a contract extension while also harboring a desire for a young quarterback to call his own. Frankly, it's the kind of stuff that somebody with an open heart does not ignore.
Rational, functional organizations do not operate as the Eagles have over the past few months. Re-signing Bradford and then selling the farm for his replacement is akin to picking a winner in a power struggle and then keeping the loser in the building without any consideration for the detrimental effect the situation can have on the task at hand.