It was another good week for Howie Roseman and the Eagles front office, as one of the team's two holdouts from voluntary offseason activities came back to the fold and it didn't cost them a thing.
Quarterback Sam Bradford ended a two-week holdout that really could have been halted after three days, which was the time elapsed between when he left the NovaCare Complex and when the Denver Broncos selected Paxton Lynch late in the first round of the NFL draft. That signaled the failure of the trade strategy Bradford and agent Tom Condon tried to broker, one the Eagles apparently short-circuited by proposing a swap the Broncos found too pricey.
Maybe the 10 days away that followed the draft were just for effect, or so Bradford could save what face was left after the holdout scenario blew up on him like a wad of bubblegum. He certainly has a reason to look for long-term work elsewhere, and perhaps he'll find it when the season gets closer and teams get jittery about their quarterbacks, but the Eagles hold the leverage right now. It was a slightly messy victory, coming at the cost of even the tepid affection held by the public for the starter, but the team will take it.
That's a good thing, because the other holdout isn't going to be as easy or painless to end.
Fletcher Cox, who will move from end to tackle under the new 4-3 defensive alignment of coordinator Jim Schwartz, is perhaps the most talented player on the team. At 25, he is coming into the very prime of his career and would like to be paid accordingly.
The Eagles have him under contract this season on the fifth-year option from his rookie deal, and could potentially use a franchise tag twice to keep him through the 2018 season, but that would require Cox to show up and play. He might do that, but, unlike Bradford, who has both a new contract and viable replacements on the roster, Cox is in a pretty good leverage situation.
The benchmark Cox is probably looking at is the contract of Ndamukong Suh, whose six-year, $114 million deal with Miami included a $25 million signing bonus and $60 million in guarantees. He could command something in that range on the open market, but his market is currently limited to the Eagles. Roseman has said the team will sign Cox and keep him a long time, but getting the thing done is taking a while.
One issue for the Eagles is their salary-cap situation. They don't have much room for the coming season, and are already committed to approximately $165 million for 2017, which is right around where the cap will be. They'll have to shed some salaries eventually and will undoubtedly do so by moving past veterans who still have decent money coming, but little of it guaranteed.
That won't solve everything, though, and while Roseman was able to ditch some of the large contracts handed out by Chip Kelly, he offset those gains with new deals for Bradford, Lane Johnson, Vinny Curry, Zach Ertz, and free agent Brandon Brooks. Those five are owed $122 million in guaranteed money, which is a lot for that group.
How the Cox situation is resolved will tell a lot about where the Eagles will choose to put their resources. The scheme used by Schwartz has largely been end-oriented at the line, and while any coach would love to have someone create havoc in the middle like Cox, the fact that Curry, who has been a third-down platoon guy, got $23 million guaranteed indicates where the emphasis lies.
If the Eagles have decided that modern defense is really just an ends and cornerbacks game, it's possible the Cox negotiations could drag beyond the voluntary portion of the show. Someone will have to play tackle next to Bennie Logan, of course, and the Eagles are pretty thin there, with Beau Allen and free- agent signee Mike Martin as the backups. Still, it's a long way to September, and the team can afford to be patient.
There is a scenario in which the guy whose holdout just ended and the guy whose holdout continues each play a role in both of them getting what they want. After June 1, if the Eagles were to trade Bradford, his $11 million signing bonus would be split over the 2016 and 2017 salary caps, rather than lumped into the 2016 cap.
That would make trading Bradford and the $20 million in base salary ($11 million guaranteed) on his contract a lot more palatable for the Eagles. It would also take some money off the books that could be slid across the table to Fletcher Cox. If you look at where the Eagles can logically find room for Cox's new deal, aside from nickel-and-diming the veterans, Bradford's contract is one of few options.
Trading Bradford would mean the team had decided it doesn't need a starter no one likes playing ahead of a kid everyone loves. And it would allow them to lock up a guy who might merely be the best player on the team.
Bradford's coming back doesn't mean he won't be traded. It just means that he hasn't been yet. Cox's persisting in his holdout doesn't mean he won't get a deal. It just means that he hasn't yet.
The next time those two men walk through the NovaCare doors, they might well be going in opposite directions.