In what might have been the worst moment of his professional life, Eagles cornerback James Bradberry stood taller than anyone.
Bradberry was called for a cheesy holding call on a third-and-8 with 1:48 remaining in a tied Super Bowl. The call handed the Chiefs a new set of downs at the Eagles’ 11-yard line — and the championship.
After a run and two kneel-downs, Harrison Butker kicked a 27-yard field goal and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, 38-35.
Bradberry’s hold on Chiefs receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was the only holding call made all game.
- “It was a holding,” Bradberry said in the disappointed Eagles’ locker room in Glendale, Arizona. “I tugged his jersey. I was hoping they would let it slide.”
Bradberry was praised for his honesty and willingness to accept responsibility. He made no excuses. There was no whining —from Bradberry, his Eagles teammates or coaches.
He honorably stood up when others might have hid in the locker room and refused to talk about the call. Imagine the pain he felt at that moment when an entire season of football was gone and he was a central figure in the game’s most controversial play.
Playing for a tough and unforgiving fan base that could have crucified him, Bradberry instead earned their respect. Philly fans are famously rough — unfairly, sometimes — but they respect effort, hustle and honesty.
Eagles fans knew the official could have/should have kept the flag in his pocket. In the heat of the moment, the penalty was called and the Eagles’ fate was sealed.
LOST IN FREE AGENCY
Fans believed that would be the final time they would see Bradberry in an Eagles uniform. He was a free agent, coming off an outstanding season that earned him second-team All-Pro.
Bradberry said he wanted to get paid; he deserved to get paid. Life goes on. Loyalty among professional athletes sometimes only goes as far as the latest deposit slip.
The belief was that Bradberry’s salary expectations were too rich for the Eagles’ checkbook. This acceptance flowed through the bloodstream of Eagles’ fans. They didn’t like it, but they accepted that Bradberry would be elsewhere in 2023.
Then, everything changed on Tuesday.
LESS MONEY TO STAY
Bradberry, a stand-up guy, agreed to a three-year deal with the Eagles, according to ESPN. That was a little surprising because Bradberry said he wouldn’t “play for cheap” and Eagles are facing a monster contract extension for quarterback Jalen Hurts and an unfavorable salary cap.
The next news you heard wasn’t a little surprising. It was a lot surprising.
Bradberry told CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson he turned down more money to remain with the Eagles.
- “I went back because of the familiarity with the coaching staff, because I love the city and playing for the Eagles,” Anderson quoted Bradberry on Twitter. “They also gave me a deal around what I was looking for.”
Bradberry’s deal is for $38 million with $20 million fully guaranteed — hardly “for cheap”. With incentives, the deal could be worth up to $44 million. But according to Spotrac, Bradberry’s $12.6 million salary in 2023 ranks 15th among cornerbacks.
It’s refreshing to hear an athlete of Bradberry’s stature make a decision of loyalty and lifestyle over the bottom line.
IT’S A BIG DEAL
Playing for less money is not a minor deal. Pro athletes make enormous amounts of money — bags that the general public envies.
But the money is what the marketplace has set. Teams pay the going rate. There is negotiation — some players at the same position are valued more than others. There is haggling. If a player wants to play for a certain team, and the team wants him, an agreement usually happens.
Team owners aren’t just giving money away.
What doesn’t normally happen is a player taking less money that what is being offered.
Bradberry remaining with the Eagles means a ton on the field but it also soothes the psyche of a team and fan base losing players to free agency.
By Wednesday — the first day of free agency — the Eagles reportedly had lost four defensive starters and back-up offensive tackle Andre Dillard. That’s an enormous defensive talent drain for a team targeting a return to the Super Bowl.
The Eagles lost both linebackers — T.J. Edwards (Bears) and Kyzir White (Cardinals), safety Marcus Epps (Raiders) and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (49ers). As strong as the Eagles’ defense was last season — it ranked second in the NFL — it might be difficult to maintain that excellence.
There is free agency and next month’s draft to recoup talent. There are backup players — looking at you Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean, who are no longer rookies — who are expected to grow into productive starting roles.
And there’s James Bradberry, a stand-up guy who everyone thought was out the door when in reality he was just settling in.