Thoughts on Eagles and Vikings Trade of Sam Bradford

Following a devastating injury to Teddy Bridgewater the Vikings turned around a traded a 1st and 4th round draft pick to the Eagles for Sam Bradford. It’s an interesting trade. One it reinforces the desperation that teams have for a QB. Secondly the Eagles paid $11 million for Bradford this year and he will never take a snap for the team, essentially paying an extra $11 million for a draft pick. It is, in my opinion, the first trade that starts to really put into focus how much a team truly values a draft pick versus cap room and putting into focus the Eagles unique philosophy regarding contracts and team building. 

I think most would agree that Bradford, at best, has been an average quarterback in the NFL. He’s found himself in a pretty unique situation though from a financial standpoint. He earned pretty much every penny of a $78 million contract he earned by being a first round draft pick. Id argue that most would have considered Bradford a bust, but Bradford’s injury history and various offenses he had to deal with seemed to make a built in excuse that most top draft picks don’t have. Bradford was able to use that to his advantage to sign a two year contract that contained $22 million fully guaranteed upon signing and another $4 million guaranteed for injury.

While some have speculated that this trade indicated that the Vikings are also worried about Bridgewater’s 2017 season, more likely it is a move geared towards short term need. If the Vikings primary concern was 2017 there would have been more options next year for them. They certainly would not have had to give up a 1st round pick for Bradford, who really had no place in Philadelphia the minute they drafted Carson Wentz. A 1st round pick is pretty much an indication that they saw little hope on the horizon with a “passable” player behind center. For a team with some veteran talent and a 30+ year old running back it is understandable.

The Vikings are certainly taking a risk on Bradford. Bradford has only played 16 games twice in a six year career. They will take on $4 million in guaranteed salary in 2017 and another $4 million in injury protected salary. I don’t usually view injury guarantees as worth much but in Bradford’s case I see that as being more worthwhile. To give up a first round pick and potentially $15 million for less than 16 games would be a steep price.

The Eagles really played this situation perfectly.  Once they made the move to trade up in the draft, Bradford’s future was sealed. Bradford demanded a trade. He wanted out. The Eagles said no. They insisted he was an important part of the future. He was there to help the team win this year and then they would see the following season. Bradford returned and the Eagles had to hope this situation presented itself. He would have been sold for pennies on the dollar had they traded him in June. Now they will get back a first round pick, recovering some of the draft capital lost in the Wentz trade.

The Eagles essentially traded $11 million in cash and cap space for a 1st and 4th rounder. Most of that value we would allocate to the first round pick. We had a discussion about this on Football Perspective last year which was very interesting. The concept proposed there was, during free agency, to trade cap and cash via sign and trade agreements.  This is a bit different because the Eagles did not sign Bradford with a deal on the table so there is a bit of a sunk cost aspect to this as well.

If the trade was made right off the bat I’d probably consider this to be a slight overpay. On a four year rookie contract we would probably allocate $2.5 million a year as added cost to the rookie contract. In our look at the true value of a draft pick, most first round picks are underpriced by about $2 million a season. So sight unseen the Eagles would need to get a slightly better than average draft selection to make the financials work out.

But there is more to the trade than just the $11 million. The Eagles were also on the hook for an additional $11 million in salary if he remained on the team, and possibly $15 million if injured. This would all be for a player they really did not want on the team. So The Eagles transferred all of that to the Vikings. In essence its a net 0. The Vikings offset the Eagles initial $11 million cost by providing them $11 million in cap and cash relief plus a 1st round draft pick.  In that respect this is highway robbery by the Eagles.

The trade also indicates why teams should be more flexibile in their contract structures. The Eagles have been incredibly active in free agency and the trade market. They paid Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray $11 million in bonus money last season but guaranteed them millions more in base salary. It was those guarantees that got the deals done. Bradford received $11 million as a signing bonus.  The Eagles turned around and traded those players, trades that would not have been possible had they used large signing bonuses or perhaps appealing enough if they used an all cash strategy. Its a perfect blend of allocation to be able to deal with the moves on your salary cap while also teasing another team with some prepayment on a contract to convice them they are getting a bargain.

The Eagles are brining to light a strategy that more and more teams should follow in the future. Free agency is a risky and expensive gamble. Many times the contracts do not work out. Yet teams still chase the dollars already paid to a player and keep their fingers crossed that the next year will somehow be better than the first. In reality the front office is just counting down the days until they can cut the player and deal with it on the cap. In the interim the team suffers.

The Eagles see these players, financially, as assets. Bonuses and prior salary are sunk costs. Sometimes the deals are a mistake. I think most saw these three players as mistake signings when they happened. The trio will cost the Eagles $19.8 million in dead money over the next two seasons and $33.5 million in cash for a grand total of 30 games played on these new contracts.

These are huge numbers, but the Eagles are admitting the mistakes. Most teams would just continue to chase these contracts. The trades allowed the Eagles to escape an additional $31.5 million in cap and cash charges. That is too often lost when trading. The Eagles owed Bradford another $11 million. They owed Maxwell another $11.5 million. They owed Murray $9 million.

It is entirely realistic to view these trades as the Eagles trading away $33.5 million in cash paid for $31.5 million in cash plus the firepower to draft Carson Wentz and get a 1st round pick in 2017. When you put it in that perspective these are steals for the Eagles. The money saved is more than covering the additional costs of the draft pick as well. What would you, as a fan or front office executive, rather have?  The optimism of Wentz and another 1st rounder or Bradford, Maxwell, and Murray and a 7-9 season filled with complaints about the future of the eagles for the next two seasons?  Most teams opt for the latter and it makes no sense.

The Eagles didnt need to eat an extra penny (unless there was a tweak on the Bradford deal not yet reported) to move these players off the team. They simply convinced those teams they are getting a bargain because they prepaid a portion of the contract. And maybe those teams will be getting a bargain as a bad fit on one team can be a great one on another. It may not work out for them but its giving them a fighting chance to compete rather than rolling over and playing dead for two years. They are turning mistakes into the possibilities and not really costing themselves much in the long term. More teams should be studying what is going on in Philadelphia and being proactive for their future.