Congratulations, You’re Hired. Now I’d Like You to Meet Your Replacement.

In the fall of 2014, about 250 Walt Disney IT employees were given their pink slips. Their jobs were being given to an outsourcing firm based in India or immigrants in the US on temporary visas. This type of thing happens all time, but over the months to follow, these employees were expected to train their replacements. Disney spin-meisters tried to position the layoffs as “reorganization,” but to fly a new employee in from thousands of miles away to be trained by the very person they’d be replacing could only be justified by either saving money, gaining talent, or both. Psychologically speaking, what effect does this have on a person? I can only imagine the humiliation of the trainer mixed with the awkwardness of the replacement into some nasty workplace cocktail not fitting even a 21st birthday shot.

Photo from philly.com

Photo from philly.com

Yeah, this is still a sports column.

The job title of “Active Starting NFL Quarterback” is one that only 32 men on planet Earth can put on their resume. Most of these guys have worked their entire lives to get to this point. They’ve made tremendous sacrifices to keep a singular dream alive. Oh, and they’re as competitive as Emilio Estevez’s rival, Hawks’ hockey coach, Jack Reilly (It’s not worth winning if you can’t win big!). This is a far cry from an IT professional. Nothing against IT peeps, but there are 32 of them that work for my company alone. Not for nothing, but if you wanted to be an IT professional, you could probably make that dream come true, no matter your size, age, or gender.  What am I getting at here? What happens when you’re a starting NFL quarterback, you hold a job that 1 of every 218,750,000 earthlings currently have, and your boss drafts your replacement? Not some “flier in the fourth round” draft pick, but the legitimate future of your organization? Moreover, what if your team sacrificed future draft considerations to obtain your successor?  What message are you receiving?

The Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in this very precarious situation with QB Sam Bradford. Bradford signed a two year “prove yourself” contract during his prime with the expectation that he was betting on himself, that if he performed to high caliber, a larger long term deal with Philadelphia was in the cards. Later, the Eagles were presented with an opportunity to move from the 13th pick overall to number 2. With an opportunity to grab a franchise quarterback that can be as elusive as a golden snitch in a rainstorm, Eagles GM Howie Roseman couldn’t resist. Looking back, this situation is more unique than I would have initially thought. Most quarterbacks selected in the first round of drafts in this era come into the league highlytouted and are the starting quarterback for week one, or they study for a while under an aging, “writing’s on the wall” guy. Think Harrison Ford in any role we love Harrison Ford for.

Sam Bradford is as pedigree as it gets. He’s won a Heisman Trophy, been a former number one overall draft pick, and won the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award in his first season with theSt. Louis Rams. Not only does Bradford come to the table with all of that promise, he brings more excuses than an Enterprise full of Tribbles for his lack of success, or at least his supporters do. He has dealt with two torn ACLs in back-to-back seasons, two teams (Rams and Eagles) with no offensive line or weapons, an insane megalomaniacal genius head coach in Chip Kelly, and learning new system in Philadelphia that refused to let him work under center or even audible out of any of the five plays in Kelly’s playbook. 

Bradford’s initial reaction to learning the Eagles were drafting Carson Wentz seems like a human one. He felt angry and betrayed. He felt that the organization that signed him didn’t believe in him. The fans’ reaction only echoed that sentiment throughout the Delaware Valley. Sam Bradford left Philadelphia to go home to Oklahoma, announced he was opting out of voluntary organized team activities, and through his agent, demanded a trade. Immediately, Bradford was characterized as a weak player afraid of competition, a baby, a “skirt,” a millionaire who got rich off of a game he never had to battle for.

Photo from FOXSports.com

Photo from FOXSports.com

The issue is that Bradford isn’t stupid, or at least not as stupid as football fans want him to be. Now Eagle fans are mad because Bradford won’t play on the rearranged chess board that management has set up. What did they want? Did they want Sam to say, “Excellent! I’ve always wanted to help a young player reach levels I was never able to obtain myself?” Get real, Bradford is in his prime as an NFL QB. Being relegated to the role normally occupied by a washed up veteran would seal his fate for future deals. Conversely, if he took the tact of “This is my job, I’d like to see someone come and take it from me,” he’d be characterized as not being a team player, unwilling to help the future player the fan base is salivating to see. He’s also not dumb enough to think he’ll be back next year. No matter how well he performs this year, anything short of taking the team to the Superbowl and the Eagles have to change, they’ve invested too much.

This is absurd, he’s stuck between an rock and a fan base. Let’s examine Bradford’s options upon hearing about the trade.

  • Be a team player: coach up Wentz, lose your job after 8-10 games, get released next season and hope to catch on somewhere else probably compromising your value in the process.
  • Go hyper alpha: Try to keep your job at all cost, try to boost your numbers so when you’re released at the end of the year you can hang your hat on your last season’s performance. 
  • Demand a trade on the basis that you don’t want to be a placeholder. You signed a short term deal so you can prove yourself, so why not do that in a city where you can maintain continuity? Oh and maybe hook up with the Superbowl champion defense of the Broncos? In this scenario, you aren’t a doormat and you aren’t a jerk.

Of course hindsight being what it is, it’s easy to pick a better course of action than what was taken, but why is Bradford Public Enemy Number One? Isn’t it possible that the Eagles were acting in their best interest and so was Bradford? If Eagle fans think he’s screwing up the roadmap for Carson Wentz, wouldn’t the fault lie a little more with Howie Roseman for not accounting for Bradford’s human reaction? As much as Roseman has undone much of Chip Kelly’s damage in Philadelphia, maybe the most important lesson was left unlearned. Players are human beings, they aren’t game pieces that are positioned on a chess board, this isn’t fantasy football (thank you Asante Samuel), they don’t always follow marching orders to walk off a cliff, and they rarely play for laundry as much as fans blindly cheer for it.