After an electrifying offseason, 2013 was supposed to be the St. Louis Rams’ year. Their offense was starting to take shape because of recent acquisitions, and their defense was a young, talented group that showed real promise toward the end of the 2012 season.
But as we know, things rarely go as planned in the NFL.
St. Louis stumbled out of the gates at 1-3, and it looks like it will be crawling to the finish line due in large part to franchise quarterback Sam Bradford’s knee injury.
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Bradford tore his ACL on Sunday. This, in turn, means he will go on injured reserve in the near future and eight-year veteran Kellen Clemens will be the team’s starting quarterback versus the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8.
What a blow. Despite the slow start to their season, the Rams had won two of their last three contests. Moreover, Bradford was on pace to have a career year. If he would have played all 16 games and maintained his current pace, he would have finished the season with 3,856 yards passing, 32 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.
So, what does this devastating jolt to St. Louis mean for its season? Unluckily, it means Bradford’s loss ends the Rams' playoff hopes as Wild Card contenders.
Shoot, they may not even win another contest over the course of the final nine games of the season.
From here on out, the schedule doesn’t get any easier. Over half of their remaining opponents have a winning record. Not to mention this team could easily lose its next five games in a row. The Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers are all top-notch teams.
With Clemens under center, it will be hard for the Rams to stay competitive week in and week out, which is why they would be better off looking for help on the open market. As it stands right now, the free-agent quarterback market is depleted, but there are a few players who could help head coach Jeff Fisher’s club in a pinch.
Second-year signal-caller Austin Davis from Southern Mississippi seems like a likely option considering he was on the Rams roster last year and this preseason. Matt Leinart, David Carr and John Skelton could all prove to be options as well. It all depends on which route the organization wants to take.
Do the Rams want to start a younger player who could potentially develop, or do they want to start a veteran who could win the team a couple of games down the stretch? That is the million-dollar question right now. Based on the onslaught of early reports about Leinart, I would guess the Rams are either going to sign him or Davis.
However, neither player is a long-term solution to St. Louis’ quarterback woes.
If we take a moment to look ahead to 2014, the franchise will have a decision to make on Bradford’s future. With two first-round picks in next year’s draft, Fisher and general manager Les Snead will have plenty of options to choose from.
If Bradford is healthy heading into 2014, will they pin their hopes to him, or will they use one of their two Day 1 selections on a rookie? With this coming year’s quarterback class regarded as one of the best in recent memory, there’s no question the Rams front office will do their due diligence on prospects like Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel and Tajh Boyd.
With the Jacksonville Jaguars in the lead for the Bridgewater sweepstakes, it appears the Rams' most realistic options will be Mariota, Manziel and Boyd. Nonetheless, two of those three players aren’t guaranteed targets either.
Mariota and Manziel are underclassmen who could both return to their respective universities in 2014. Whether drafting a quarterback next year makes sense at this moment in time is beside the point. Fisher and Snead won’t know much of anything until Bradford has his surgery next month.
When his surgery is performed, the doctor who does the operation will be able to take an extensive look at whether Bradford’s injury is as expected or worse. A lot of what the Rams do will also depend on how quickly he recovers from major knee reconstruction.
There are so many variables—we can only speculate on St. Louis’ quarterback situation going forward. Yet it is safe to say the team will take a quarterback in the draft next year at some point. It may not necessarily be a first-rounder, but the organization can’t continue to pin its hopes on Clemens as its No. 2.
Having a competent backup in place behind your franchise quarterback is incredibly important in the NFL. Injuries happen week after week at an alarming rate, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Unfortunately for the Rams, they are more sorry than safe right now.