Most evaluations of the Eagles' new quarterback come with a two-word caveat that seems attached to Sam Bradford's name: if healthy. The qualifier shows both the risk the Eagles absorbed in Tuesday's trade and the potential reward that could come their way.
"When I put the question mark on him, that's it," said former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, an ESPN analyst. "I don't question his talent, his ability, his cerebral ability to lead a football team and run an offense. But he's got to stay healthy."
The Eagles acquired Bradford and a 2015 fifth-round pick for quarterback Nick Foles, a 2016 second-round pick, and a 2015 fourth-round pick. The premium price demonstrated the Eagles' doggedness to acquire Bradford and perhaps an aggressive market for his services.
That aggressiveness might seem misplaced for a five-year veteran who has won only 18 of his 49 starts and has missed most of the last two seasons with two tears to the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Then again, there's also the appeal of his talent. Just five springs ago, Bradford was the unquestioned No. 1 pick despite missing most of his final season at Oklahoma. He was so prolific in his sophomore season with the Sooners, throwing 50 touchdown passes and eight interceptions, that he won the Heisman Trophy over Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow with more than 62 percent of the votes.
When Jaworski and Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians were asked before Friday's Maxwell Football Club awards about their evaluations of Bradford coming out of college, they had the same response: "Loved him."
"I had him as one of the highest-rated quarterbacks I've ever done," Arians said.
What has come after has shown reason for both excitement and concern.
Bradford validated the evaluations when he won the rookie-of-the-year award and helped the Rams improve from 1-15 to 7-9. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur left in 2011 to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns, and Bradford's production declined while he was limited to 10 games because of a high-ankle sprain. He improved in 2012 and part of 2013 before the knee injuries stalled his career.
Bradford's overall statistics are inferior to those of Foles, but the Eagles also considered environmental factors. Bradford played in three offensive systems over four years and only once had a Pro Bowl player on his offense. His most productive receiver was Brandon Gibson.
"The only time we lost to the Rams, Sam was playing," said Arians, 21-11 in two years as the Cardinals coach. "I think he's a great fit [in Philadelphia]. He's very, very comfortable in the shotgun. He's more than ready to bounce back. He's just had bad luck."
Bradford is encouraged about the possibilities in coach Chip Kelly's offense, which also has concepts brought in by Shurmur. The way he discussed those possibilities sounded similar to Mark Sanchez's initial impressions last season, and Sanchez had the best passer rating of his career playing for Kelly.
"The way they set up progressions, the way the ball gets out of your hands, the way they deal with protections, the run game," Bradford said. "From what I've seen, it looks like everything goes through the quarterback - what do you like, how do you see things? And then they're going to tailor it from there. They're never going to put you back there where you have nowhere to go with the football, and then you're standing back there holding onto it for five seconds."
After Tuesday's trade, Jaworski retreated to his office and watched game film from Bradford's 2013 season, the last time Bradford played. Through Week 7, when he was injured, Bradford was having the best season of his career - 14 touchdown passes against four interceptions, a 60.7 completion percentage, and a 90.9 quarterback rating.
"When his game is on, he's got really good movement," Jaworski said. "That functional pocket mobility you have to have, his arm strength is unquestioned."
Yet there were too many times Jaworski saw Bradford on the turf.
"I've got to be honest with you, too: He got beat up," Jaworski said. "And that always concerns me with guys. . . . When you're getting hit physically, it affects you mentally. I want to see how he's able to [respond]. I thought in that '13 season, he was better than before. He just looked a lot more comfortable. He was playing good."
That's what the Eagles seem to be hoping for if they start Bradford after he recovers from knee surgery. Kelly insisted that the only reason Bradford became available was the injury, and the Eagles are buying low on a 27-year-old who was a decorated prospect coming out of college. The risk is the caveat attached to Bradford's name.
"If Sam is healthy," Jaworski said, "this will be a great move by the Eagles."