During the NFL’s negotiation phase, Bo Wulf and Zach Berman exchanged emails throughout Tuesday. The transcript is below:
6:48 p.m. ET
Berman: Bo, just like you never jinx a no-hitter by asking about the no-hitter, we tempted fate by wondering what to cover on what seemed like a slow news day. For Tuesday morning and afternoon, the Eagles were quiet. Then, within three hours, they agreed deals with running backs Rashaad Penny and Boston Scott, and most importantly, brought back All-Pro cornerback James Bradberry. They also lost linebacker Kyzir White, who will follow Jonathan Gannon to Arizona.
So the big news here is Bradberry. Of the Eagles’ best free agents — Javon Hargrave, CJ Gardner-Johnson and Bradberry — I figured Bradberry was the least likely to return. I figured the Eagles wouldn’t put a lot of money into two cornerbacks north of 30, and my guess was that Darius Slay would be playing in Philadelphia next season. Of course, it’s positive for the Eagles to keep Bradberry because he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but how do you view that in secondary? And were you surprised too?
The return of James Bradberry keeps the star power in the Eagles’ defensive backfield
I also didn’t think running back would be the first position the Eagles would address. They effectively said goodbye to Pro Bowl running back Miles Sanders and now have a trio of Penny, Scott and Kenneth Gainwell. We can discuss how this backfield will work and deep dive into the Penny acquisition. But simply based on the order of operations I expected running back would be a position where they would wait until the draft and/or second free hand wave to attack. But I think Penny – if she’s healthy – will be ideal for Philadelphia. Difficult to contest at 5.7 yards per carry, including over 6.0 yards per carry over the past two seasons. Nick Sirianni likes explosive plays. Only Nick Chubb has had a better percentage of 10+ yard rushes among running backs with at least 100 carries over the past two seasons. Health is a big question mark. If Penny is on the October injury list and the Eagles are banking on a Gainwell-Scott tandem, they can’t pretend it’s not on the scouting report. Of course it’s still incomplete. Maybe a rookie will get into the draft or Trey Sermon is showing promise at camp. How do you rate the timing of the running back moves?
Wulf: Based on what I thought a week ago, I’m very surprised by the Bradberry signing. We rated each upcoming Eagles free agent’s likelihood of a return, and you and I ranked them 16th and 15th, respectively (flex). But as things started to unfold on the first day of negotiations and Bradberry lingered in the market, that seemed more likely. Bradberry told several reporters He turned down slightly more expensive offers elsewhere to play in Philadelphia again. The deal — reportedly three years for $38 million with $20 million guaranteed — seems very reasonable, making Bradberry only No. 17 on Over The Cap’s list of highest-paid cornerbacks by average annual value.
Obviously, our take on this deal depends a lot on what happens to the rest of the secondary. The good news is that we should have a resolution on Slay’s future with the team by the start of the new league year on Wednesday. If they can agree on a contract reorganization, it would open up over $12 million in cap space. If the Eagles trade Slay, only about $4 million will be released, and the return probably wouldn’t be great. It seems most likely to me that they will find a way to get together, but I’ve been wrong before. Like last week.
I’ll admit my instinct when it comes to the Bradberry contract is to wince at the possibility of paying two cornerbacks over 30 years big. I think an early-round cornerback pick is still on the table for the next draft month. The good news is that Bradberry has missed two games in total over the past six seasons, while Slay has only missed games that didn’t matter in his three years at Philadelphia.
A question for you on the secondary, do you think locking up Bradberry and Slay would allow the team to keep Avonte Maddox safe full-time? It might be easier to find a spare nickel than a starting fuse (or two).
At the running back, NFL Network reports that Penny’s deal is for one year, $1.35 million, with $600,000 guaranteed and a peak value of just over $2 million. That seems like a very reasonable deal for a player who has been really good for the past two years when healthy but has literally never played a full season. Its fit seems ideal. He can play first and second and maybe take some of the load off Jalen Hurts at close range as the team tries to protect their franchise quarterback a little more. Signs are that he’s reliable at pass protection, which has been a concern for the team for years in 2022, but he’s never had more than nine catches in a season. So we should expect Gainwell to keep his third-place finisher role. As you said, I’m surprised that was the Eagles’ order of operations. I figured they were waiting out the running back market and the rush to re-sign Scott was weird too. But now they’ve released the position on short notice, which doesn’t stop them at all from drafting a running back in April if one lands on their board. You enter into the deal with Penny with your eyes wide open about his medical history.
Do you consider this running back group an upgrade from last year?
Eagles reach agreements with Rashaad Penny to provide power running
Berman: Wait, let me find my documents from the 2020 and 2021 off-seasons. I can copy and paste my security notifications from Maddox.
The short answer is yes, they should consider it. However, they have resisted this change. Then again, this is also an organization that had Jalen Mills as a cornerback for four years before deciding to play him safe in Year 5. We’ve seen Maddox safe, we know he can play well there and you’re right – it’s easier to find a replacement at Nickel than two starting saves. But I disagree with the premise of the question, even if it’s about semantics. I don’t think the Bradberry Slay combo would force me to consider this move as they don’t affect Maddox when playing in the slot. In fact, the Eagles can look to Bradberry-Slay-Maddox and be confident they have the best trio in the NFL. But if the Bradberry deal prevents them from re-signing Gardner-Johnson and they need to find two starting safeties, then Sean Desai is worth discussing. Although they could perhaps sign (or trade for Jeremy Chinn) Juan Thornhill or Nasir Adderley, pair the newcomer with Reed Blankenship, set up a safety in the middle rounds and try to get along with this group while relying on Maddox’s ability to get in the group to play slot. It’s a fun conversation about Maddox, but we’ve been having it for 3-4 years and they’ve been fighting up to this point.
As for your question about the running back group, it definitely makes sense given the price. But there’s also a reason they were able to lock up Penny at this rate. Sanders played 17 games last season and had 259 carries. Penny has never had more than 119 carries in a single season. I like the idea of a penny-gainwell combo, but can’t say it’s an upgrade when history suggests it could quickly become a gainwell-scott combo. If you told me that Penny will play 10+ games – he hasn’t since 2018 – and can carry the ball 15 times per game, then I can see how that argument could be made. Think about it: Penny has carried the ball at least 15 times in six games in his career. He has surpassed 100 yards in five of those games. For comparison, Sanders has made it 24 times in his career, surpassing 100 yards in six of those games. This is not to detract from Sanders, who has been productive for the Eagles. Rather, it’s meant to show that Penny wasn’t tenable throughout his career. But when he carries the ball, he can be dangerous.
I still think the conversation is premature before April. The player who ends the season with the most carries may still be drafting.
However, we will have a month plus time to discuss the draft. Let’s get through this week. What happens on the Wednesday before the start of the league year? Are The Eagles Keeping Any Of Their Other Top Free Agents? I mentioned some collateral, but who else is out there? And any new or different ideas in the last 24 hours for how the Eagles should attack defensive tackle position?
Wulf: I guess we’ll have a fix for Gardner-Johnson’s future one way or the other. You mentioned Thornhill and Adderley (and Chinn, which we know the Eagles were interested in back in 2020 when they drafted Hurts instead) in safety. If we put Blankenship on an aggressive starting point, the two that would make sense are more like free security types. Taylor Rapp is more of an in-the-box security. Adrian Amos brings years of experience with Desai from their time together in Chicago. Julian Love is young and good friends with Bradberry, but he and Sirianni need to work out their differences (I think Sirianni would love to tell the story of how she got him on his side).
I think defensive tackle could be the Eagles’ next move because the market has been moving so quickly at the position and the team has so many snaps to replace. This is where Fletcher Cox’s return probably makes the most sense. Matt Ioannidis, a Temple type to you, and Poona Ford, who played with Desai in Seattle last season, are the other two names I’m watching.
Even though both of last year’s starting linebackers were signed elsewhere, I’m not sure the Eagles will move quickly to sign a starter alongside Nakobe Dean. Drue Tranquill, ex-Chargers, looks like the best under-30 guy available, while Lavonte David and Bobby Wagner appear as splashes in a position the Eagles rarely do.
And then the backup quarterback is interesting. Now that Gardner Minshew has a feel for his market, he may be ready to sign a one-year deal to return to free agency next offseason. Maybe the Eagles are looking at a familiar face like Jacoby Brissett, a Sirianni favorite, or Marcus Mariota. Or they bring Matt Ryan home in our dreams so I can finally ask him to play you at high school baseball. Make us well, Howie.
(Top Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)