The 2015 campaign was a drama-filled mess for the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly remolded the team in his image, traded away key contributors who dared challenge his authority and promptly steered the franchise into a ditch.
Last year's 7-9 season (6-9 with Kelly) led the Eagles to in turn ditch Kelly, replacing the bombastic head coach with the more reserved and no-nonsense Doug Pederson.
Pederson was supposed to bring a return to normalcy, to bring back the days when the Eagles made headlines for their actions on the field and not the sideshow off it. Instead, as teams across the NFL gear up for OTAs and minicamps, Pederson finds himself in damage-control mode, putting out fires instead of implementing his own philosophies.
And while the head coach himself may not be to blame this time, there's no denying that once again much of the damage the Eagles have endured has been self-inflicted. As Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com reported, Pederson spent the Eagles' first day of workouts Tuesday assuring reporters there is no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia—that Sam Bradford is "his guy" in 2016.
"He's my guy," Pederson said. "He's my No. 1 guy. I want him to embrace that."
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Pederson also made a point of talking up his relationship with the 2010 first overall pick. "It's been great," Pederson said. "I have actually talked to Sam since he's been back. I told him my feelings haven't changed."
Of course, it's that part about Bradford being "back" and "feelings not changing" where the problem starts poking through.
It's a problem not many saw coming at the beginning of March, when the Eagles inked Bradford to a two-year, $35 million extension that included $22 million in guarantees. At the time, Philadelphia Executive Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman explained to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that it was an easy call to make:
When you're talking about a quarterback, there is no level that you won't pay for a high performance for a quarterback. In terms of the market and when you look at the options that are there to keep a player from free agency, whether it's a franchise tag or transition tag, one-year deals, from our perspective we wanted to make sure it was more than a one-year deal so that we weren't building our team just for this one year. We're trying to look at it over a period of time as we build this team. So it was very important for us to get a multi-year deal, a deal longer than one year, and this was an area right now where you're in a vacuum. Free agency hasn't started, able to come to a decision and for us, and for us it's about what is best for the Philadelphia Eagles, not necessarily what's best around the league.
A few eyebrows went up in regard to the size of the deal, but hey...quarterbacks, am I right? Teams that don't have one are desperate to get one. Teams that have one will do anything to keep him.
The real problem is the Eagles couldn't figure out which of those categories they fit into.
After bringing in veteran backup Chase Daniel (who played under Pederson in Kansas City), the Eagles shocked the NFL by trading away a package of five draft picks (including two first-rounders) for the rights to the No. 2 overall pick—a pick the team used to draft North Dakota State signal-caller Carson Wentz.
Bradford's change in status from franchise quarterback to placeholder went over about as well with the 28-year-old as one would expect. As ESPN reported, even before the draft (but after the trade), Bradford's agent made it clear he wanted out of Philadelphia:
Sam's only been in the league for six years and he wants to go some place and be there and know that he's going to stay as long as he plays well, and his situation now in Philadelphia is different.
Sam's a competitor, and he wants to go someplace and know he's the man. He just doesn't want to be there holding the place card and then wondering where's he's going to go at the end of the year.
That trade never materialized, and Bradford's mini-holdout ended a week ago after he was roundly criticized by fans and the media alike. As ESPN's Adam Schefter wrote, Bradford was saying all the right things when he showed up for OTAs:
I'm excited to be back on the field today with my teammates and coaches. The business side of football is sometimes a necessary consideration. My attention and efforts are focused on the participation in and preparation for a championship season: I am committed to my teammates and the Eagles organization for nothing less.
Still, if the plan was for Bradford to serve as a mentor for the rookie who will presumably take his job next year, day one of that plan didn't go well, according to Matt Lombardo of NJ.com:
Listen, none of this is meant to defend Bradford's hissy fit. There isn't a player in the NFL with less reason to complain than Bradford, who will have topped $100 million in career earnings at the end of this deal.
He should legally change his name to William H. Bonney after all the robberies he's committed in St. Louis and Philly.
But this mess could have been avoided.
If you believe, as a franchise, that Bradford's "the guy" at quarterback—enough to give him nearly $18 million a season and over $20 million in guarantees—then he's the guy. At least for two more seasons. Bring in Daniel to back Bradford up, add pieces around him, and move on.
If you don't believe Bradford is the guy, then you accelerate the whole moving on part. Sign Daniel as your stopgap starter (is he really that much worse than Bradford?), make the move up, draft Wentz and look to the future.
Pick a direction and stick with it.
What you don't do is get stuck in the middle and pay money to your stopgap starter while simultaneously betting your team's future on an FCS quarterback who has drawn comparisons to Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Alex Smith of the Kansas City Chiefs.
This isn't to say both aren't capable quarterbacks. But that's a lot to give up for Blake Bortles or Alex Smith. And I like Wentz.
The brouhaha may only be getting started. ESPN's Sal Paolantonio remarked on SportsCenter (via Will Brinson of CBS Sports) that Wentz is already turning heads in OTAs, setting up the always fun (for a coaching staff) quarterback controversy:
"It sounds like, just getting the early reviews on the rookie quarterback, that Carson Wentz could force the issue of a quarterback competition being opened up by Doug Pederson," Paolantonio said.
If Wentz does indeed turn out to be more NFL-ready than the Eagles thought, this whole mess will have been even less necessary. Fixing what isn't broken in the truest sense: millions up in smoke for no reason, save Philly's inability to make up its mind.
The impact of this saga is being felt beyond awkward QB meetings. Defensive lineman Fletcher Cox was a no-show for voluntary workouts (again), and Pederson admitted to Lombardo that despite numerous attempts, he's yet to even speak to his best pass-rusher:
The reasons for Cox's absence are financial. Heading into the final season of his rookie contract, Cox, who has emerged as the Eagles' best defensive player, wants a paycheck more commensurate with his performance than the $7.8 million he will make in 2016.
The problem is that with about $5.5 million in cap space, per Over the Cap, the Eagles aren't in a position to give Cox a new deal if they wanted to—partly because they have well over $30 million in cap space tied up in their quarterback quagmire.
As if that wasn't enough, running back Darren Sproles was also a no-show, reportedly (per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com) because the Eagles considered trading the scatback supreme during this year's draft:
According to Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pederson moved quickly to squash the notion the Eagles were interested in dealing Sproles.
Now, by the time Week 1 rolls around, this may be old news. Pederson told reporters Tuesday he fully expects Sproles to be at mandatory workouts next month.
New contract or not, Cox's cold shoulder toward his new head coach is going to thaw sooner rather than later, lest it get awfully expensive for the 25-year-old. Many players threaten to hold out. Few actually follow through on that threat.
As to that quarterback dilemma? That may drag well into the summer, Pederson's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.
At any rate, that isn't the point. The point is that rather than talking about Pederson's new offense, we're talking about Bradford's bruised ego. Instead of discussing Cox's impact in Jim Schwartz's new 4-3 defense, we're wondering when Cox might show up.
In short, the 2016 season that was supposed to be different hasn't started out much differently at all.
And that doesn't bode well for Pederson's first year at the helm.
Gary Davenport is an NFL analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.