Eagles free-agency reaction: James Bradberry, Boston Scott returning to Philly

With the NFL’s negotiation period underway, 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 were tempting fate by wondering what to discuss on what appeared to be a slow news day. For the morning and into the afternoon Tuesday, the Eagles were quiet. Then within a three-hour span, they agreed to 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, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Bradberry — I thought Bradberry was the least likely to return. I figured the Eagles wouldn’t invest significant money in two cornerbacks north of 30, and my presumption had been that Darius Slay would be in Philadelphia next season. This is 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 this shaking out in the secondary? And were you surprised, too?


James Bradberry’s return keeps star power in Eagles’ defensive backfield

I also didn’t think running back would be the first position the Eagles addressed. They effectively said farewell to Pro Bowl running back Miles Sanders and now have a trio of Penny, Scott and Kenneth Gainwell. We can discuss how that backfield will function and go in-depth on the Penny acquisition. But simply from the order of operations, I expected running back to be a position at which they waited until the draft and/or the second wave of free agency to attack. But I think Penny — if healthy — will be an ideal early-down fit with Philadelphia. Hard to argue with 5.7 yards per carry, including over 6.0 yards per carry for the past two seasons. Nick Sirianni values explosive plays. Only Nick Chubb has a better percentage of rushes of 10-plus yards among running backs with at least 100 carries during the past two seasons. Health is a major question mark. If Penny is on the injured list in October and the Eagles are relying on a Gainwell-Scott tandem, they can’t act as if this wasn’t in the scouting report. Of course, it’s still incomplete. Perhaps a rookie is added in the draft or Trey Sermon shows promise in camp. What’s your take on the timing of the running back moves?

7:36 p.m.

Wulf: Based on what I thought a week ago, I’m very surprised by the Bradberry re-signing. We ranked the likelihood of each pending Eagles free agent returning, and you and I ranked him 16th and 15th, respectively (flex). But as things began to play out on the first day of negotiations and Bradberry lingered on the market, it seemed like this was more possible. Bradberry told multiple 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 only 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 depend a lot on what happens with the rest of the secondary. The good news is we should have a resolution on Slay’s future with the team by the time the new league year starts on Wednesday. If they’re able to agree on a contract restructure, it would open up over $12 million of cap space. If the Eagles trade Slay, it will open up only about $4 million and the return would probably be underwhelming. It seems likeliest to me that they’ll find a way to come together, but I’ve been wrong before. Like last week.

I’ll acknowledge my instinct about the Bradberry contract is to wince at the possibility of paying a lot of money to two cornerbacks over the age of 30. I think an early-round cornerback pick is still very much on the table for the draft next month. The good news is 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.

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

At running back, NFL Network reports Penny’s deal is for one year, $1.35 million, with $600,000 guaranteed and a max value of just over $2 million. That seems like a very reasonable deal for a player who has been really good when healthy over 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 perhaps take some of the short-yardage load off Jalen Hurts as the team looks to protect its franchise quarterback a little more. Indications are he’s reliable in pass protection, which was a yearlong concern for the team in 2022, but he’s never had more than nine catches in a season. So we should expect Gainwell to maintain his third-down role. As you said, I’m surprised this was the Eagles’ order of operations. I figured they would wait out the running back market, and the rush to re-sign Scott was odd, too. But now they’ve solved the position in a short-term way that doesn’t preclude them at all from drafting a running back in April if one lands atop their board. They’re entering the deal with Penny with eyes wide open about his health history.

Do you view this running back group as an upgrade over last year’s?


Eagles agree to terms with Rashaad Penny to provide power running

8:19 p.m.

Berman: Hold on, let me find my documents from the 2020 and 2021 offseasons. I can copy and paste my Maddox-to-safety missives.

The short answer is yes, that would be something they should consider. They’ve been resistant to that change, though. Then again, this is also an organization that had Jalen Mills at cornerback for four years before deciding to play him at safety in Year 5. We’ve seen Maddox at safety, we know he can play well there, and you’re correct — it’s easier to find a replacement at nickel than two starting safeties. But I disagree with the premise of the question, even if it’s semantics. I don’t think the Bradberry-Slay combination would compel me to consider that move, because they don’t affect Maddox playing in the slot. In fact, the Eagles can look at Bradberry-Slay-Maddox and feel confident they have the best trio in the NFL. But if the Bradberry contract inhibits them from re-signing Gardner-Johnson and they need to find two starting safeties, then it’s worth discussing with Sean Desai. Although maybe they could 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 by with that group while 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 been resistant to this point.

Avonte Maddox has shown the ability to play well as a slot cornerback and as a safety. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

As to your question about the running back group, it definitely makes sense based on price. But there’s also a reason they were able to lock Penny in at that rate. Sanders played 17 games last season and had 259 carries. Penny has never had more than 119 carries in a season. I like the idea of a Penny-Gainwell combination, but I 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 per game, then I can see how that argument could be made. Think about this: Penny has carried the ball at least 15 times in six games in his career. He’s topped 100 yards in five of those games. By comparison, Sanders did it 24 times in his career and topped 100 yards in six of those games. This is not to belittle Sanders, who was productive for the Eagles. Rather, it’s to show how Penny has not been durable 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 finishes the season with the most carries might still be training for the draft.

We’ll have a month-plus to discuss the draft, though. Let’s get through this week. What happens on Wednesday before the league year begins? Do the Eagles keep any of their other top free agents? I mentioned some safeties, but who else is on the market? And any new or different ideas in the last 24 hours about how the Eagles should attack the defensive tackle position?

8:50 p.m.

Wulf: I figure we’ll have a resolution on Gardner-Johnson’s future one way or the other. You mentioned Thornhill and Adderley (and Chinn, in whom we know the Eagles were interested back in 2020 when they drafted Hurts instead) at safety. If we’re penciling in Blankenship to a starting spot, which would be aggressive, those two that would make sense are more free safety types. Taylor Rapp is more of an in-the-box safety. Adrian Amos brings veteran experience with Desai from their time together in Chicago. Julian Love is young and great friends with Bradberry, but he and Sirianni would have to hash out their differences (I kind of think Sirianni would love to be able to tell the story of converting him to his side).

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

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 where the Eagles rarely make them.

And then the backup quarterback is interesting. Now that Gardner Minshew has gotten a sense of his market, maybe he’s willing to return on a one-year deal to reenter free agency next offseason. Maybe the Eagles look to a veteran familiar face such as Jacoby Brissett, a Sirianni favorite, or Marcus Mariota. Or, in our dreams, they bring Matt Ryan home so I can finally ask him about playing against you in high school baseball. Make us whole, Howie.

(Top photo: Rey Del Rio / Getty Images)

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