Just like the 30 NFL starting quarterbacks not named Russell Wilson or Peyton Manning, St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford probably watched the Super Bowl at home. He might have invited a few friends and relatives to the house, ordered some pizza and wings and enjoyed the show. Now that the season over, Bradford is likely keeping one eye ahead on the strenuous road to recovery and the other over his shoulder. As the 2014 NFL Draft approaches, the STL spotlight is firmly affixed to Bradford as the organization works to determine where it’s headed in the future.
Lately there have been lots of murmurs and whispers about Bradford’s contract situation. As the final QB to cash in on the pre-rookie salary cap era, the former No. 1 overall pick is set to earn $27 million over the next two seasons. While those numbers wouldn’t be outrageous if the Rams were perennial playoff contenders, the price tag seems steep considering Bradford’s career record of 18-30-1 and the team’s nine-year playoff drought.
The Rams’ woes aren’t all Bradford’s fault. Until recently, the front office was worse than an NBA Slam Dunk contest. With a few notable exceptions, the roster was full of average Joes. Recently, however, the Rams penchant for peril has changed. General Manager Les Snead and Co. have deftly navigated through the draft to bring young players with potential superstar talent to St. Louis. In addition to building a stout defense, which takes the pressure off a starting QB, the Rams have invested premium picks on offensive players. If Bradford is ever going to be successful in St. Louis, now is the time.
Fans are getting fed up with excuses and are ready to return to winning football. Bradford’s injury-shortened season gave us mixed results. Statistically, Bradford was on his way to a career year with 1,687 yards through just seven games, alongside 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Record-wise, he was just 3-3, if you discount the game he was injured, including three straight losses following a victory over the Arizona Cardinals to start the season. It seemed like the team was on the road to another ho-hum season, non-playoff bound season.
With Bradford’s guaranteed money being fulfilled, it’s easy to see why some are questioning whether the Rams will dump the QB and his bulky salary and start fresh with the No. 2 and No. 13 selections in this year’s draft. After all, the NFL is a cutthroat business and non-guaranteed money isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Underperforming players with multiyear contracts get cut like NBC sitcoms.
According to coach Jeff Fisher, all the talk is for naught. The coach has consistently affirmed Bradford’s status as the starting QB for 2014, assuming health. Fisher has never wavered in his support for Bradford, but that doesn’t mean Snead won’t look toward the future and draft a potential successor with one of those premium picks, or trade down and select a QB later in the draft. In fact, the Rams would be silly to walk away from the draft without a viable QB.
While backup Kellen Clemons performed admirably after Bradford’s injury, he’s certainly not the team’s long-term option at the QB position. If the team isn’t sold on Austin Davis as a future starter, they need to groom somebody who can be. Bradford is a leg tackle or awkward fall way from landing back on the IR. Yes he deserves a chance to lead the talent built around him. Fans deserve insurance that seven-win seasons, as the team has accumulated in three of the past four years, are not the best we can hope for.
The best-case scenario is for the Rams to draft a talented QB in the first or second round who can sit and learn the first year or two. With an extra first-round pick from Washington from the RG3 deal, now is the perfect time to use an extra pick on a quarterback. Sure, the team has other areas of concern, but time and time again elite quarterbacks have proven that their talent can compensate for shortages in other areas. Don’t believe it? See Kurt Warner’s Super Bowl run in Arizona in his final season.
If Bradford’s ACL is strong enough to help him leap to the next level and help the team become a perennial playoff contender, great. But if not, it’s much better to have a successor in place now. Besides, young and talented backup quarterbacks will always be worth their weight in gold on the trade market. Drafting one now gives the Rams a rare chance at a win/win.
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