The Eagles will begin preparing for their Sept. 6 season opener against the Atlanta Falcons this weekend, and linebacker Nigel Bradham won't be with his teammates. The first Super Bowl banner at Lincoln Financial Field will fly on Thursday night. Bradham, one of the key players in the Super Bowl run, won't be there to see it.
Bradham started his one-week suspension on Friday. It stems from a July 2016 arrest for allegedly assaulting a hotel employee in Miami. (Bradham accepted a deferred prosecution program.) He is not allowed to participate in team activities, visit the team facility, or attend the game. He won't count against the Eagles' 53-man roster, either. Bradham is eligible to return on Sept. 7.
"It's not what I want to do, obviously," Bradham said. "I'm ready to get past it. That's it."
Bradham said he will spend the next week working out on his own. He did not know if he will stay in Philadelphia or return to Florida.
"It's unfortunate, number one," Pederson said. "He understands. But the message is, 'Hey, he's got to stay focused and he's got to stay ready.' He's got to continue to work out for the next seven, eight days, whatever it is, and when he comes back, he's ready to go."
Bradham's absence will be a big loss for the Eagles, and could be a factor in the game. He was one of the team's most valuable defensive players last season, and it's impossible to re-watch the Eagles' postseason victory over Atlanta and not notice Bradham.
He played every defensive snaps and finished with four tackles (including two for losses) and one sack. The sack forced the Falcons to punt while they were driving into Eagles territory in the third quarter. He also applied the pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on the game's decisive play at the goal line in the fourth quarter. Falcons running back Devonta Freeman entered that game averaging 4.4 yards per carry; Bradham helped lead a run defense that limited Freeman to only 7 yards on 10 carries.
His effort came while wearing the defensive headset and playing a different role in the Eagles' nickel defense because Jordan Hicks was injured. Hicks is back this year, and the Eagles were going to benefit having Bradham and Hicks on the field together. That will need to wait one week.
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"Of course it's going to be hard to watch it," Bradham said. "It's going to be difficult. It's a lot going into this game. Obviously, I'm not going to be there."
The only benefit to the suspension is that the Eagles knew about it in June. That meant they could prepare for his absence as opposed to Bradham getting hurt leading up to the game and the Eagles being forced to adjust. In fact, whenever defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was asked about the competition to replace Mychal Kendricks at weak-side linebacker this summer, Schwartz mentioned how the Eagles needed to prepare different combinations because they'll be without Bradham Week 1, too.
"We have a lot of different personnel packages," Schwartz said. "What skill set fits best in short yardage, what skill set fits best in third down, what one fits best in all these different things?"
Pederson said after the preseason finale that the Eagles have not settled on Bradham's replacement, although Pederson has been purposefully coy about all injury and lineup questions this summer. (Pederson has treated Carson Wentz's status like it's his ATM code.) It didn't take much investigating to notice that Hicks, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and Nate Gerry were the three linebackers other than Bradham that the Eagles held out of the final preseason game.
Grugier-Hill and Gerry are expected to be the two linebackers with Hicks. Grugier-Hill started as the weak-side linebacker in the third preseason game, which was the last time the starters played. However, the Eagles spend most of the game in the nickel formation with only two linebackers, and they spent most of the Super Bowl (and more than 30 percent of the Falcons playoff game) with three safeties and one linebacker on the field. So it's true that there won't necessarily be a one-for-one swap for Bradham in the lineup.
"I think the guys we have are going to excel, they're going to make plays," Bradham said. "Kamu, Nate, the other guys we'll rotate around to complete that role. …I play multiple positions, it's been everyone."
The Eagles also experimented with playing Hicks as outside linebacker at times during training camp and Joe Walker at middle linebacker. Schwartz attributed it to cross-training Hicks in case the Eagles ever needed to adjust.
Whoever is out there likely won't be of Bradham's caliber. That's why it was Bradham who signed a five-year, $40-million deal during the offseason. Bradham will be back after the Falcons game to pick up his place in the defense, but the Eagles will miss Bradham while he is forced to watch his teammates on television instead of being next to them on the field.
"I don't know, man," Bradham said of how he'll react. "We'll find out Thursday."