The starting quarterbacks in the Eagles-Cardinals game on Sunday both own a Heisman Trophy, heard their names called as the No. 1 overall pick, and twice needed to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
If Eagles fans are looking for a model for Sam Bradford's career, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer could be a good place to start. The 13-year veteran has been traded one more time than Bradford, but he has the Cardinals at 11-2 and has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season. The 35-year-old has amassed 4,003 yards with 31 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, and he's in discussion for MVP.
"Obviously I've watched him," Bradford said. "He's been a great player for a long time. I think it's been pretty cool to see someone like him come back from the ACL and have the success he's had and prove that it can be done, regardless of what people say or think."
The difference with their knee injuries is the time between the surgeries. Palmer tore the ligament in his left knee in January 2006, and then again in November 2014. Bradford's knee injuries came in November 2013 and August 2014, so Bradford's repairs came in a more concentrated period of time.
That prompted the Eagles to go slowly with Bradford during the offseason. He was not a full participant during the spring, he did not play the first preseason game, and his work was limited during the rest of the exhibition season.
Palmer took seven-on-sevens during organized team activities, participated in minicamp, and spent the summer without any restrictions, even though his injury occurred after Bradford's.
"He was hell-bent on going through minicamp," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "I didn't want him to. But he was going to get in that huddle with his teammates. I threatened anyone who got near him. They would get cut on the spot. No rookies were allowed to be in there when he was in there."
Arians did not doubt that Palmer could recover from the second knee injury. Palmer had been his quarterback for the previous two seasons, and Arians trusted his intuition.
"The look in his eye every day in his rehab, watching him progress so quickly, it was amazing," Arians said. "The grit and determination that he attacked that with, while he was working on his arm and his knee, he was studying film constantly. He watched every throw he made in a year and half, criticized himself, wanted to know more about where the ball should have gone."
Palmer said returning in the spring was "huge" for him so his footwork, timing, and fundamentals could be ready for training camp. Bradford said more reps during the summer could have been beneficial, but the Eagles' plan allowed him to ensure that he was fully recovered after the two injuries in less than a year. A quick recovery would not have been worth it if he reinjured the knee, Bradford said.
It also helped Palmer that he did not need to learn a new system during his recovery. This is his third year with Arians, and Palmer said he's "just starting to get it." He is already excited about next season based on the way he has played this year. Bradford needed to recover from the knee injury and learn Chip Kelly's system at the same time.
"You have to take your hat off to Sam," Palmer said. "He's come into a completely different style - run game, in the shotgun, different players, different play call, totally different tempo . . . and he's really picked it up fast. I think any quarterback in the league would look at it and say he's done a great job in such a short time."
There's a lot of respect for Bradford in the Cardinals facility. When Bradford came out of Oklahoma, Arians rated him "as one of the best ever to come out." Arians said Bradford "just got unlucky with injuries" and is beginning to flourish in Philadelphia.
Kelly said Monday that the Eagles want Bradford beyond this season. The free-agent-to-be has declined to speak about his contract and his future.
"I'll get into that in the offseason," Bradford said. "I'm not too worried about what's going to happen three or four months down the line. We have a big game against Arizona this weekend. . . . It's great to hear [Kelly's endorsement], but I don't think that means a whole lot and it's not going to change how I approach things. I'm sure I'll pay more attention to that in the offseason."
When asked how he likes Philadelphia, Bradford answered that he enjoys it here, and that it's different from anywhere else he's been.
"A lot more people here, and they seem to like football a lot more here," Bradford said.
The risk with Bradford was mostly the injury history, but his ACL remained intact. Palmer is an example of how a player can flourish after two knee surgeries, although he's doing it on his third team. The Eagles want to keep Bradford with his second.
"[Palmer's] been a couple places, he's had success, and he's probably playing the best ball of his career," Bradford said. "It proves that it can be done."