In 2009, Sam Bradford made a gutsy decision to enter the 2010 NFL Draft despite missing most of his junior year with an injury to his shoulder.
That decision made Bradford millions.
It was a move that paid off big time as he was the top pick in the last draft before the NFL put limits on rookie contracts.
Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million contract with the St. Louis Rams. A year later, under the NFL’s new collective-bargaining agreement, Cam Newton was the top pick and signed a four-year, $22 million contract with the Carolina Panthers.
Six years later, Bradford is betting on himself again, and, once again, he is doing it at the perfect time, and it is going to make him millions.
After being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles this past off-season, Bradford is now in the final year of his rookie contract. After some initial discussion of signing a contract extension with the Eagles, Bradford reversed course and decided to play out the final year of his contract and become a free agent after the season, according to Ian Rapoport.
There is some risk involved, as Bradford has a history of injuries, and if he gets hurt again it could cost him on his next contract. But if the gamble pays off, and Bradford stays healthy, he will become a free agent at a time when salaries will be skyrocketing.
After a temporary reduction in salaries at the beginning of the new CBA in 2011, the salary cap has jumped 18.8% in the last three years, reaching $143 million this season. That number will go even higher next year as one source told Pro Football Talk that the 2016 salary cap could reach $160 million.
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But it is more than just a rise in cap space. As Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen of ESPN point out, this next free-agency class is going to cash in thanks in large part to simple supply and demand. Not only is there going to be more money – teams will average $30 million in cap space next summer – there are fewer players to spend the money on as many big-name players have taken long-term extensions in the past year.
“Each time one of these players signs an extension, it’s one fewer player in the free-agent pool this offseason. And with each fewer player, and with the existing cap room that teams are scheduled to have, the ones who do hit the market could hit it big … Players in contract years who perform well this season will be putting themselves in line for major pay raises next season – some of the biggest raises in NFL history.”
Former NFL executive and current ESPN analyst Joe Banner told the pair that the upcoming free agents have a huge advantage.
“Supply and demand is the most out of line in favor of the players it has been in the 20-plus years that I’ve been around the league,” Banner told Schefter and Mortensen. “I’m not sure many realize the gold mine ahead if they are smart [and avoid signing extensions early].”
The Eagles could still place the franchise tag on Bradford for next season to keep him from hitting the free-agent market. But that would require them to pay him somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million next season. That’s certainly possible but is no lock. That is also a worst-case scenario a lot of players wouldn’t mind having.
On the other hand, the upside is enormous. Bradford will be just 28 next year in a league where most teams are still looking for a quarterback to put them over the top, and he still has enough talent and potential that teams will throw a lot of money at him.
If you are the general manager of a team who thinks you are one good quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender, and you suddenly have $35 to $40 million in cap space, would you give Bradford a four-year contract with a near-record average of $21 to $22 million?
General managers have done crazier things.
In 2010, Bradford entered the NFL at the perfect time. Five years later, Bradford is heading towards free agency, and once again he is doing it at the perfect time.