PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — On March 10th, 2015 — approximately two short months after he received complete personnel control — Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly controversially sent Nick Foles, a fourth-round pick, and a 2016 second-round pick to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford and a fifth-rounder.
Bradford, the former No. 1 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, had played in just seven total games in 2013 and 2014 after back-to-back ACL tears. Kelly knew a potential turnaround in Philly, for the now 28-year-old QB, would take some time. He also knew that Bradford’s talent would eventually pay off.READ MORE: Chester County DA Taking Over Investigation Into Ellen Greenberg's Death
“I think it happens with any quarterback,” Kelly told the 94WIP Morning Show on Monday. “This isn’t an easy game where you can go out there and give me a couple reps, let me toss the ball around and then I’m gonna go in and play like an All-Pro quarterback. I think we knew the talent that Sam had, but it takes anybody time to get acclimated. You look at who are the best quarterbacks in the league and look how long they’ve played in their system.
“Aaron Rodgers has got 10 years in, Tom Brady’s got almost 15 years in,” Kelly continued. “Drew Brees, you know look at guys that are playing really well. Andy Dalton is playing really well now for Cincinnati, but he’s in year five. Especially with that position, it takes time.”
So what about Foles, who was 14-4 under Kelly?
“But we also know you can take all the time you want,” Kelly said, “But if the guy doesn’t have the requisite talent then time is not gonna be an answer.”
While Kelly may have understood the patience required with Bradford, Eagles fans did not — especially after his 10-10, 121 yard, three touchdown preseason performance at Lambeau Field.
After his first seven regular season games in Kelly’s offense, Bradford struggled, throwing nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions. More importantly, his team was just 3-4. Then on Novemver 15th, one week after an impressive walk off overtime win in Dallas to get back to .500, Bradford injured his shoulder in the third quarter of an eventual crushing one-point loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Bradford would miss the next two games and the Eagles would go on to lose both contests by an embarrassing combined score of 90-31 with Mark Sanchez at the helm. The Eagles dropped to 4-7 and “fire Chip Kelly” became a popular opinion among talking heads and Twitter timelines in Philadelphia.
In Week 13 — in a near-impossible situation on the road against the New England Patriots — Bradford made his return, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions in a shocking 35-28 Eagles upset on December 6th. On Sunday, back at Lincoln Financial Field, Bradford — despite plenty of dropped passes by a receiving corps that has led the league in that notorious department — had one of his most accurate games as an Eagle leading his team to a 23-20 win over the Bills.READ MORE: Philadelphia Tennis Players React To Serena Williams' Retirement Announcement
All of the sudden, in a suspect NFC East, the 6-7 Eagles control their own destiny when it comes to a division championship.
“We’ve seen him grow on a weekly basis,” Kelly said of his quarterback. “I’ve seen him get better. I think he’s done a really good job at protecting the football. Yeah, I thought he threw the ball outstanding yesterday — we’ve gotta catch it better. But I thought Sam did a great job. He scrambled for a couple — he’s not a guy that we’re gonna have designed quarterback runs for, but he kept a couple — we had a roll out, no one was open. He got forward and got positive yards for us. I think he’s getting better and better each week, which is a positive as we’re in the month of December right now.”
With three crucial regular season games remaining in his first season in Philly, Bradford has transformed from an injury-riddled question mark into the leader of the Eagles’ offense.
In fact, the Eagles are 6-2 in Bradford’s last eight games. Over his last four starts (3-1), Bradford has completed 80 of 123 passes (65.0-percent), for 898 yards, five touchdowns, and one controversial interception, compiling a 96.9 rating.
“I think more than anything, as opposed to changing anything on the field, I think the past couple weeks I have just tried to provide leadership to this group,” Bradford told reporters after beating the Bills. “I don’t think you can let what’s happened in the past affect the way you prepare for a game or alter your style.”
“I think everyone looks to him as a leader,” tight end Zach Ertz said on Sunday. “The past couple of games, he kind of stepped up before the game and delivered an unbelievable message to us. I think he was getting there earlier in the year and now he has kind of established himself as a leader. The value of him to this team is second to none.”
Even the skeptical fans are coming around too, as about 80-percent voted Monday on the 94WIP Mike & Ike Show Radio.com Poll question, that they want Bradford back for at least next season. Kelly does too.
“We’ve always wanted Sam here,” Kelly said. “We wouldn’t have traded for him if we thought he was going to be here for a year.”
Bradford is still hoping this season goes well into January, and maybe even miraculously, February.MORE NEWS: Phillies Slugger Bryce Harper To Remain As DH When He Returns From Broken Thumb
As for Foles? He was benched in St. Louis for Case Keenum after eight games. The Rams are 5-8 and Foles’ numbers — 56.4 completion percentage, 2,052 yards, 7 TDs, 10 INTs, 69.0 QB rating — are far from imposing.