However the Eagles did it, and the explanation will come at some point in the near future, the team locked up one of its key defensive players hours before the official start of free agency on Wednesday, agreeing to terms with linebacker Nigel Bradham on a five-year contract and keeping one of Jim Schwartz’s core players who has thrived in this scheme.
Keeping Bradham is a coup for the Eagles given the way he has command of the defense. Bradham played well as a strongside linebacker in 2016, his first year with the team, and then his role expanded last season when Jordan Hicks was injured. Bradham became the MIKE linebacker when the defense played in nickel personnel – two linebackers and a third cornerback – and he called the defensive signals, making sure the front was lined up properly.
It was a role well suited for the rangy Bradham, who tackled extremely well, covered effectively, and was a force against the running game.
“Nigel has been a key component in the defense,” Schwartz said during the season. “He’s a good player who has done his job.”
The significance of keeping Bradham is that the defense retains stability as free agency opens. The Eagles, over the salary cap in the weeks leading to now, are again exercising intelligence as they move money around and create space to keep Bradham and potentially other players on the current roster, along with acquiring talent as the new league year opens at 4 p.m.
We know the Eagles are going to lose familiar faces that we’ve grown to love – punter Donnie Jones retired two weeks ago, tight end Brent Celek was released on Tuesday, and players like tight end Trey Burton and defensive tackle Beau Allen are reportedly headed elsewhere. It’s a raucous time. Keeping a starter like Bradham offers stability.
As it stands now, then, the Eagles only have nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson, considered a starter, as a potential unrestricted free agent on defense when 4 p.m. arrives. They need to replace Jones, a solid and consistent punter. And things, of course, are bound to change with trades and moves to follow.
But think about it: The entire offensive line is back. The entire defensive line is back. Jay Ajayi is the starting running back, with Corey Clement in reserve. LeGarrette Blount is scheduled to be free at 4 p.m. The wide receivers return, but there are reports saying that Torrey Smith will be traded to Carolina, so we’ll know for sure at 4 p.m. if that move becomes official.
All of the starting linebackers are under contract. The Eagles will have more moves coming later today. And they won’t stop addressing the roster, as we understand. This team has high goals for 2018. If you thought winning a Super Bowl would soften the approach, think again.
The Eagles keep pushing.
Now, how they do it with respect to the salary cap and restructuring contracts and moving players, it takes some genius. It requires vision. The Eagles, Howie Roseman has said for years, look at the picture in both a short-term and long-term manner. If there is a way to create some salary cap space for the short term without damaging long-term flexibility, the Eagles will make it work. They’ve been down the road before, and with Roseman and vice president of football administration Jake Rosenberg leading the way, the Eagles are as inventive for the “now” and protective of the “then” as any team in the league.
With Bradham in the fold, and with more news expected at 4 p.m. in form of any trades or free agent agreements, the Eagles are in good shape. But they aren’t finished. The goal is to challenge every position, to keep the roster strong, to have great competition across the board when Training Camp arrives.
Bradham is a big keep, no question about it. How the Eagles did it, and what they intend to do next, we’ll know more at 4 p.m.