The Sam Bradford Conundrum

Photograph by: Streeter Lecka , Getty Images

Bradford’s injury. Photograph by: Streeter Lecka , Getty Images

Life’s biggest questions; is there life after death? What is the point of our existence? Is time travel really possible? Is Sam Bradford ever going to be the ‘elite’ quarterback the St Louis Rams hoped he’d be when they took him as the first overall pick in the 2010 draft?

There’s no question that Bradford has all the tools to be a top quarterback in this league. He’s an accurate passer with a deceptively strong arm and he’s far more mobile than he’s given credit for. He also has the necessary intangibles required, taking on the team’s leadership role since the Rams parted ways with legendary running back Steven Jackson in the 2013 offseason. There is no doubt that this is now Sam’s team. So why are there questions arising about the Rams taking a new direction in the off-season and ending their relative short-lived relationship with Bradford?

One of the main criticisms that Sam’s doubters use against him is the bumper contract he currently has. Through no fault of his own, Bradford finds himself earning the biggest NFL rookie contract ever, taking home $78m with $50m guaranteed over six-years. The Rams could decide to cut their losses on this expensive experiment and draft a new rookie quarterback with a more manageable contract under the new CBA rules and use the cap space to strengthen other areas of the roster. The most likely scenario is that Bradford restructures, similar to what Matthew Stafford did in Detroit in the 2013 offseason, to help the team achieve their long-term aims.  Head Coach Jeff Fisher has always strongly stated that Bradford was one of the main reasons he chose the Rams job and he is committed to stick with him as the franchise quarterback. Sometimes you have to overpay to have talent in the quarterback position, just look at the Flacco situation in Baltimore. Sure, they won the Super-Bowl last year with him under centre, but he sure isn’t justifying the bumper contract he was awarded with so far. Some NFL stars just luck out with the way circumstances fall for them, and Bradford just happens to have benefited due to the year he was drafted.

Bradford has also struggled with injuries since entering the league four years ago. It’s easy to forget that when Bradford entered the NFL in his rookie year, he was extremely impressive and broke numerous records and earned plaudits around the league. Expectations were high entering his second year but standing behind one of the most porous offensive lines in the league and the continual punishment he took on a regular basis eventually took its toll. Bradford missed six games with a high ankle sprain, and suffered the effects of it in a number of the games he did start. His confidence in his protection was also evident and it was a season to forget for Rams fans as they fell to 2-14 and landed the opportunity to draft RG3, who was coveted by many quarterback-hungry teams. Fast forward two years and Bradford is once again dealing with a serious injury; this time a season-ending ACL tear suffered against the Carolina Panthers in Week 7. When the Rams come to the 2014 off-season and look back at Bradford’s body of work, they will see two full seasons where the Rams were competitive behind him, and two injury-ravaged campaigns that can’t be judged with any conviction. In short, Bradford is still relatively inexperienced in terms of game-time compared to many NFL quarterbacks, and these things take time.

Bradford’s apologists also defend their man by pointing at the lack of talent surrounding Bradford and it must be said, the Rams roster is only just starting to resemble an NFL-calibre team. Holding the record for the worst 5-year record in NFL history from 2006-2011 and a roster that has been razed to the ground with the vast majority of those players now out of the league, shows just how bad the talent around Bradford has been. It’s easy to say that he should be able to elevate those around him, such as Rodgers does in Green Bay, but who knows if Bradford wasn’t doing this and making awful offensive weapons look bad (that’s still making them better). This NFL season has shown that for all the talent of the quarterback, if there’s no help on the field, it’s going to be a struggle. Tom Brady in New England has looked woeful at times when not getting any help from his receivers and Matty Ice in Atlanta has looked hapless since losing his wide receiver corps after being touted as a top-5 talent last year. The 2013 offensive roster has been the strongest that Bradford has had the opportunity to play with and he posted his best figures as a result, passing for 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions before he succumbed to injury. Admittedly, he had a couple of off games, notably against Dallas, but these things happen. It can’t be denied that he has improved and was getting stronger as the season continued. This could be said for the team in general. The first 10 games have seen different elements of the team reach new heights while others stunk the joint out only for the roles to be reversed the next week. Consistency is difficult for a young team to attain, but Rams fans are starting to see the benefit of experience in the last few weeks. I think it’s easy to say that the majority of Rams fans could easily envisage wins against the Seahawks and Titans if Sam was under centre (no disrespect to Clemens, who has been surprisingly serviceable since coming in).

But will Bradford ever become ‘elite’? I think ‘elite’ is a hard term to categorise in terms of quarterbacks. The top four of Rodgers, Manning, Brees and Brady are in a class of their own admittedly, but they’ve all had their critics at some point in their career. So who else fits into this category? A few have been mentioned to have been in at some point. Big Ben, Eli, even Flacco last year. Yet still, these players are constantly scrutinised. But sometimes, it’s not so much about being ‘elite’, it’s about being a good quarterback and getting hot at the right time, something Bradford is certainly capable of doing even if he doesn’t reach the highest heights and is ever considered elite.

So what direction do the Rams go in the 2014 draft? Some fans are suggesting that the Rams package their two first-rounder’s and go after Bridgewater as the number one overall pick and trade Bradford. I seriously cannot see this idea even being entertained at Rams HQ. High first round picks are worth their weight in gold and the Rams can strengthen with two quality players that can send them over the top in their pursuit to reach the play-offs and beyond. They may even trade one of the picks down and try to get a few more top-level players as is the customary ways of Snead. Just look at the players that have been attained from the RG3 trade; Brockers, Jenkins and Ogletree will be the bedrock of this stellar defence for years to come.

Assuming all goes well with his surgery and rehab (which the front office will know about by the time the draft comes around), it is safe to assume that Bradford will be the Rams franchise quarterback for the foreseeable future and a situation will be created around him to take the Rams back to the glory days of the Greatest Show on Turf.

@johnnyrogers

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