ULTIMATELY, IT'S up to the Eagles whether Sam Bradford plays here next season, the outcome Chip Kelly indicated he expects. They can franchise their quarterback for 2016, at $20 million or so, if it comes to that. They'd surely prefer that it not come to that, since a longer-term contract could be amortized against the salary cap. If they don't want to pay $20 million, they can let him become a free agent and start over, in Kelly's fourth year.
Talks toward a longer deal for Bradford didn't go anywhere in the preseason, and Wednesday, in Bradford's first media availability since Kelly spoke on Monday about wanting him here going forward, Bradford didn't profess any burning desire to stay.
He didn't say he wanted to leave. But asked a series of questions about his outlook for a future as an Eagle, against a backdrop of teammates talking more and more about Bradford taking the reins of leadership, Bradford could hardly have been more noncommittal.
"I'll get into that in the offseason. I'll think about that in the offseason," Bradford said. He is in the final year of his St. Louis rookie contract, making about $13 million. "I'm not too worried about what's going to happen three or four months down the line. We've got a big game this weekend against Arizona, that's what I want to focus on."
Kelly most assuredly wants to focus on that as well, but Kelly didn't think it detracted from his focus Monday to note that he wouldn't have traded for just one year of Bradford, that he always envisioned Bradford as the long-term starter.
It wouldn't detract from Bradford's focus for him to say he certainly likes it here, would be glad to stay if that is how it works out. Wednesday, we eventually got to the "liking it here" part, after several prompts.
"It's great to hear those things," Bradford said, when asked a second time about Kelly's comments. "But I don't think that really means a whole lot or is going to change the way I approach things. I'm sure I'll pay more attention to that stuff in the offseason."
The dynamic felt kind of like this:
Chip/Eagles: "I love you!"
Sam: "Really? You do? Gosh, that's great. And I . . . think you're very nice, as well. Here's your popcorn. Let's watch the movie now."
Monday's context was Kelly talking about how great quarterbacks all have several years in an offense, something Arizona coach Bruce Arians reiterated Wednesday in a conference call with Philadelphia-area reporters.
Bradford said he would hope to improve, if he were to work in Kelly's offense for multiple years. He didn't say he looked forward to that.
Bradford has been much more effective the second half of the season, though he missed two games with a concussion and a left AC sprain. He said Wednesday he thinks he can be more efficient, be better on third down and in the red zone.
"You look at the really good offenses, they keep themselves on the field on third down, they can score in the red zone," he said.
Asked, now that he's been here a while, if he likes it, how things are going, Bradford said: "Things are great. We've won two games in a row."
But does he really like it - the city, the team?
"I do like it here. Obviously, it's a lot different than anywhere I've ever been before," said Bradford, who played at Oklahoma, then spent five seasons in St. Louis. "But you know what? I really do enjoy it here."
How is it different?
"There are a lot more people here," said Bradford, who is living in Haddonfield, N.J. "They seem to like football a lot more."
Right guard Matt Tobin dresses in the locker stall to the left of Bradford's, feels he has gotten to know Bradford pretty well.
"We talk about deer huntin' all the time," said Tobin, who hails from Iowa. "Share trail camera pictures and all that. Anytime we get something, we show each other."
Does Tobin think Bradford wants to be here, long-term?
"Yeah, I assume so. I think we're all trying to be here long-term," Tobin said. "I don't get anything different (from Bradford). That's the way I would think."
Earlier, Arians noted Bradford's recent improvement and said it wasn't just getting back physical confidence, after back-to-back ACL tears.
"It's not just getting healthy, it's finding your rhythm in that offense," Arians said. "Same thing with Carson (Palmer) here. As you're learning, you're playing slower. As you get a feel for it, the game slows down and your athletic ability can take over. Sam is blessed with a ton of athletic ability. I had him rated as one of the best ever to come out. He just kind of got unlucky with injuries. He looks like he's starting to flourish in that offense."
Bradford's future here might be an even bigger issue for Kelly than for Bradford. If Bradford isn't Kelly's franchise QB, Kelly will have wasted at least three years, and be back at square one.
"You're tied to the hip of your quarterback, no matter where you're a head coach," Arians said. "That relationship and how well that guy plays pretty much (determines) your job. You can have the greatest defense and you can run the football, but if you don't have a quarterback, you're not going to go anywhere."
Arians traded for Palmer right after Arians arrived in 2013. Like Bradford, Palmer struggled for half a season in his new offense, then seemed to find his way. Palmer suffered the second torn ACL of his career last November, derailing the Cards' Super Bowl hopes, but he came back healthy and has led the league's No. 1 offense to an 11-2 record, while compiling the NFL's second-best starting QB passer rating, 107.2.
Though Palmer and Bradford have a lot in common, as former No. 1 overall picks (2003 and 2010) who have changed teams and undergone multiple ACL procedures, they don't really know each other, both said Wednesday. But Palmer said he understands what Bradford is going through, coming from St. Louis to Philadelphia.
"It's a two-, three-year process," Palmer said on a conference call. "I'm in the third year of this system, and I really feel like I'm just starting to get it. I have a long way to go, and I'm excited about next year already, just because of where we are right now.
"But it's hard, man. You've got to take your hat off to Sam. He's come into a completely different style of everything - the run game in the shotgun, different players, different play calls, a totally different tempo . . . and he's really picked it up fast. I think every quarterback in the league would look at it and say he's done a great job in such a short time. But two years would be getting it really fast. I really think it's kind of a three-year thing."
If you don't leave after one year, that is.
On Twitter: @LesBowen