ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --When the Cardinals signed Stewart Bradley as a free agent from the Eagles in 2011 for a contract that could have paid him $25 million, they counted on him making a smooth transition from Philadelphia's 4-3 alignment, in which he started at middle linebacker, to the Cardinals' 3-4 as an inside linebacker.
It didn't work out as planned; Bradley started just once in two Arizona seasons. By February, he was realistic about his future, and left for his honeymoon in Australia knowing that when he returned, he likely wouldn't have a job.
"It wasn't a surprise," Bradley said, having learned the Cardinals released him while going through customs. "The amount of money I made in those two years and the way things panned out, it was expected."
By last year he was mostly a special teamer, and played only 39 snaps on defense, according to Pro Football Focus -- 19 of which came in the regular-season finale.
Free agency and the draft are about finding the right fit, starting schematically and working from there. Just because Bradley and the Cardinals didn't mesh doesn't mean he won't work out in Denver -- especially since the Broncos allow him to return to the 4-3 with a chance to earn playing time at a position he knows well.
"I think the priority was finding a system where I felt comfortable with the coaches and I wanted to be on a team that was going to be a winning situation," Bradley said. "Being in a 4-3, obviously, it's something in which I've played a majority of my career, so it's a nice thing."
Bradley's arrival makes middle linebacker the most fascinating position battle looming this offseason, as he steps into a scrum for playing time with Nate Irving and Steven Johnson, neither of whom has started in the NFL. It's also possible that Bradley could push Danny Trevathan for playing time as one of the two linebackers when the Broncos go into their nickel package, with Wesley Woodyard manning the other side.
So there's a chance for Bradley to make an impact beyond special teams -- and that sealed the deal. At a minimum, he can provide veteran depth, a valuable commodity for a team that started the regular season with at least one former NFL starter in reserve at each position group on offense and defense: offensive line, wide receiver, running back, quarterback, tight end, defensive line, linebacker and secondary.
"I talked to some other teams," Bradley said. "But overall, this was the best fit."