In the aftermath of the Super Bowl just a couple of weeks ago the Patriots and Eagles are now trying to play catch up with the preparation for the NFL Combine and Draft. One of the areas that the Patriots have to improve on is the linebacker position. As we’ve noted on here several times, they need to get more speed and athleticism at the position.
There are two ways to address this, free agency or the draft. In the end, they may opt for both. Free agency is definitely the more expensive of the two but the answer may have been on the field facing them in the Super Bowl if everything falls their way. One player that should be on the Patriots radar is the Eagles’, Nigel Bradham.
Bradham is still just 28, and athletic enough to play from sideline to sideline. He led the Eagles in tackles the past two years. He’s quickly becoming the Eagles’ best coverage linebacker, something that Jordan Hicks currently boasts. But he already is the team’s best tackler, and he’s as sure as can be in that aspect.
Once Hicks went down with an injury, Bradham took over the play calling for the defense wearing the green dot for the defense, a leadership, and trust factor that would play well with Bill Belichick. In Jim Schwartz’s defense, like the Patriots, they played with mainly two linebackers and more often than not opting for a slot corner. Bradham played the strong side in the Eagles’ defense and would no doubt do the same here.
Schwartz spoke highly of Bradham before the Super Bowl. “ He’s done a really good job handling all that communication, and it’s been fairly seamless, “ Schwartz said. .” I think that it’s really a credit to him is how he’s able to do that. He’s been able to play a couple different positions. He’s been multi-dimensional.”
Bradham has been durable, not missing any games due to injury with the Eagles, he was rested with other starters in the season finale. But he’s solid and is a workhorse. He played in 100 percent of the snaps in every playoff game and in 11 regular season games. His stat-line for his career is 428 tackles, including 25 for losses; 6.5 sacks, two interceptions, 5 forced fumbles. He’s got good size at 6’2, 245-pounds and as we mentioned above, can play sideline to sideline.
How Bradham Fits in New England’s Defense: He’d function much like he already does in Philadelphia. He’d be a strong-side linebacker in the Patriots sub-package look. He wouldn’t be asked to be the signal caller since he’s new and could just concentrate on making plays. He’d be a nice upgrade over the up and down Elandon Roberts in both the running and passing games.
His presence would allow the Patriots to mix and match Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower between on the weakside or lining up as edge rushers at defensive end. The Patriots could dictate their looks depending upon the mismatches that the could see. It would immediately bring the depth up at linebacker as they’d have Bradham, Hightower, Van Noy and Marquis Flowers as their top four linebackers with two having the ability to rotate into the defensive line.
Bradham does everything very well and is a smart respected teammate. He did have a couple of off-field incidents a few years ago but was cleared in both of those. He’s been a good citizen in the Philadelphia and there’ve been no issues.
What Would it Take to Sign Him? When Looking at linebackers who aren’t edge rushers, to nail down a player of Bradham’s caliber would take probably between $5-5.5 million dollars. While that won’t break the bank, it is a tidy sum for a team without a ton of cap space right now. The Patriots (right now) have $13.14 million dollars in cap space. With some creative work on the salary cap, the Patriots could clear up to about $30 million.
So is it doable from a Patriots perspective? Yes. He’d be an immediate upgrade in the running game and in coverage. He’s a fiery, physical player who flies from sideline to sideline. In the last two seasons, he’s produced 190 tackles, 13 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 3 sacks, and an Interception.
What about the Eagles? Philadelphia would love to bring him back. They love his athleticism, his smarts and attitude on the field. The issue with the Eagles is money. Normally Philadelphia under Howie Roseman likes to carry over about $20 million in the salary cap. But this season is the exception. Right now, the Eagles are almost $9 million dollars over the cap as it stands.
Hicks is coming back from an injury and they’re already on the hook for $7.6 million to Mychal Kendricks. Can they afford to bring him back? Not just yet. They’ll be forced to do some creative work to not only get under the cap but to sign their players, Bradham is one of their priority free agents.
Who knows, Bradham may try to pull a reverse move similar to what Chris Long and LeGarrette Blount did a year ago by going to the Super Bowl with New England and then leaving in free agency with Philadelphia.
He would be a welcomed, big addition to the Patriots defense. But the price will have to right for both the team and the player. If 2017 was any indication, the market for linebackers won’t be too high. The Bills Preston Brown signed with Washington for just $2.3 million dollar base salary with incentives built in. Bradham should go higher than that but we’ll have to see how high. Of course, there is always the wildcard of another team swooping in and giving Bradham a big-money contract. That what makes this time of year so interesting. Bradham will have some interesting decisions to make this spring.