Eagles free agency reaction: James Bradberry and Boston Scott back in Philadelphia

With the NFL’s trading period underway, Bo Wulf and Zach Berman exchanged emails throughout the day on Tuesday. The transcript is below:

6:48 p.m. ET

Berman: Bo, just like you never jinx a non-hitter by asking questions about the non-hitter, we were tempting fate by wondering what to discuss on what seemed like a slow news day. For morning and afternoon Tuesday, the Eagles were quiet. Then, within three hours, they agreed to make deals with running backs Rashaad Penny and Boston Scott and, most notably, 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’ top free agents — Javon Hargrave, CJ Gardner-Johnson and Bradberry — I thought Bradberry was the least likely to return. I thought the Eagles wouldn’t invest a lot of money in two cornerbacks north of 30, and had assumed Darius Slay would be in Philadelphia next season. It’s obviously a positive for the Eagles to keep Bradberry because he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but how do you see that going in the secondary? And were you surprised, too?


James Bradberry’s return keeps star power alive in Eagles defensive field

I also didn’t think running back would be the first position the Eagles would tackle. They effectively said goodbye to Pro Bowl running back Miles Sanders and now have a line of Penny, Scott and Kenneth Gainwell. We can discuss how this backfield works and dig deeper into the Penny acquisition. But just from the order of operations, I expected running back to be a position they were waiting for the draft and/or second wave of free agency to attack. But I think Penny — if she’s healthy — will be ideal early on with Philadelphia. Hard to argue with 5.7 yards per carry, including over 6.0 yards per carry over the past two seasons. Nick Sirianni values ​​explosive games. Only Nick Chubb has a better 10-plus-yard rush percentage among running backs with at least 100 carries over the past two seasons. Health is a major question mark. If Penny is on the injured list in October and the Eagles rely on a Gainwell-Scott tandem, they can’t act like it’s not on the scouting report. Of course, it is still incomplete. Maybe a rookie is added to the draft or Trey Sermon is showing promise in camp. What is your opinion on the timing of running back moves?

7:36 p.m.

Wolf: From what I thought a week ago, I’m very surprised by Bradberry’s re-signing. We ranked the likelihood of every pending Eagles free agent returning, and you and I ranked him 16th and 15th respectively (flex). But as things started to play out on the first day of trading and Bradberry lingered in the market, it looked like that was more possible. Bradberry told several reporters he passed up slightly more expensive offers elsewhere in order to return to play in Philadelphia. The deal — reportedly three years for $38 million with $20 million guaranteed — seems very reasonable and makes Bradberry just No. 17 on the list of highest-paid cornerbacks by average annual value, according to Over The Cap.

Obviously, how we feel about this deal will very much depend on what happens with the rest of the secondary. The good news is that we should have a resolution on Slay’s future with the team by the time the new league year begins on Wednesday. If they are able to agree on a restructuring of the contract, that would open up over $12 million in cap space. If the Eagles trade Slay, it will only open around $4 million and the return would likely be disappointing. It seems more likely to me that they’ll find a way to unite, but I’ve been wrong before. Like last week.

I admit that my instinct about the Bradberry contract is to cringe at the possibility of paying big bucks to two cornerbacks over 30. I think an early-round cornerback pick is still very much on the table for next month’s draft. The good news is that Bradberry has missed a total of two games over the past six seasons, while Slay has only missed games that didn’t matter during his three years in Philadelphia.

A question for you on the secondary: do you think locking up Bradberry and Slay would allow the team to consider bringing Avonte Maddox to safety full time? It might be easier to find a replacement nickel than one (or two) boot safety.

At running back, NFL Network reports Penny’s contract is one year, $1.35 million, with $600,000 guaranteed and a max value of just over $2 million. Seems like a very reasonable deal for a player who has been very healthy for the past two years but has literally never played a full season. His fit seems ideal. He can play on first and second down and maybe take some of Jalen Hurts’ short-range charge as the team looks to protect their franchise quarterback a bit more. Indications are that he’s reliable in pass protection, which has been a concern for the team all year in 2022, but he’s never had more than nine catches in a season. So we should expect Gainwell to keep his third down role. Like you said, I’m surprised this is the Eagles’ order of operations. I figured they would wait for the running backs market, and the rush to re-sign Scott was odd as well. But now they’ve solved the problem in the short term, which doesn’t stop them at all from drafting a running back in April if one of them lands atop their roster. They make the deal with Penny with their eyes wide open on her medical history.

Do you consider this group of running backs an improvement on last year’s?


Eagles agree terms with Rashaad Penny to supply power

8:19 p.m.

Berman: Wait, let me find my 2020 and 2021 offseason documents. I can copy and paste my Maddox-to-safety missives.

The short answer is yes, that would be something they should consider. However, they 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 nickel replacement than two starting safeties. But I disagree with the premise of the question, even though it’s semantics. I don’t think the Bradberry-Slay combination would force me to consider this decision, as it does not affect Maddox playing in the slot. In fact, the Eagles can look at Bradberry-Slay-Maddox and be sure to have the best line in the NFL. But if the Bradberry contract prevents them from re-signing Gardner-Johnson and they have to find two starting safeties, then it’s worth discussing with Sean Desai. While they may be able to sign Juan Thornhill or Nasir Adderley (or trade for Jeremy Chinn), pair the newcomer with Reed Blankenship, draft a safety in the middle rounds and try to get away with this group while still feeling confident in Maddox’s ability to play in the slot. It’s a fun conversation to have regarding Maddox, but we’ve had it for 3-4 years and they’ve resisted so far.

Avonte Maddox showed his ability to play well as a cornerback and as a safety. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

As for your question about the running back group, that certainly makes sense based on the price. But there’s also a reason they were able to lock Penny up at this rate. Sanders played 17 games last season and made 259 carries. Penny never had more than 119 litters in one season. I like the idea of ​​a Penny-Gainwell combination, but can’t say it’s an upgrade when history suggests it could quickly become a Gainwell-Scott combination. If you told me Penny will play more than 10 games – he hasn’t since 2018 – and can carry the ball 15 times a game, then I can see how that argument could be made. Think about it: Penny carried the ball at least 15 times in six games in her career. He passed for 100 yards in five of those games. By comparison, Sanders has done it 24 times in his career and passed for 100 yards in six of those games. This is not to belittle Sanders, who has been productive for the Eagles. Rather, it’s to show how unsustainable Penny has been throughout her career. But when he carries the ball, he can be dangerous.

I still think the conversation is premature before April. The player who finishes the season with the most runs could still train for the draft.

We will have over a month to discuss the project, however. Let’s get through this week. What happens on Wednesday before the start of the championship year? Are the Eagles keeping one of their other top free agents? I mentioned a few safeties, but who else is out there? And any new or different ideas over the past 24 hours on how the Eagles should attack the defensive tackle position?

8:50 p.m.

Wolf: Guess we’ll get a resolution on the future of Gardner-Johnson one way or another. You mentioned Thornhill and Adderley (and Chinn, who we know the Eagles were interested in in 2020 when they drafted Hurts instead) on safety. If we draw Blankenship to a starting point, which would be aggressive, these two that would make sense are freer security types. Taylor Rapp is more of a security in the box. Adrian Amos brings veteran experience with Desai from their time together in Chicago. Julian Love is young and good friends with Bradberry, but he and Sirianni should work out their differences (I sort of think Sirianni wishes he could tell the story of his conversion alongside him).

I think defensive tackle might be the next step for the Eagles because the market has moved so quickly to position and the team has so many snaps to replace. At this point, Fletcher Cox’s return probably makes the most sense. Matt Ioannidis, a Temple guy for you guys, and Poona Ford, who played with Desai in Seattle last season, are the other two names I’m watching.

Even with both of last year’s starting linebackers signed elsewhere, I’m not sure the Eagles will move quickly to sign a starter alongside Nakobe Dean. Drue Tranquill, formerly of the Chargers, looks like the best guy available under 30, while Lavonte David and Bobby Wagner loom as splashes at a position the Eagles rarely make them.

And then the replacement quarterback is interesting. Now that Gardner Minshew has an idea of ​​his market, he may be ready to go back on a one-year contract to return to free agency next offseason. Maybe the Eagles are looking to a veteran familiar face like Sirianni favorite Jacoby Brissett or Marcus Mariota. Or, in our dreams, they bring Matt Ryan home so I can finally ask him to play you in high school baseball. Make us whole, Howie.

(Top photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

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