Jeff Fisher's Job in Jeopardy If He Truly Sticks with Sam Bradford
The tragic news that St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford tore his ACL and will be forced to miss the remainder of the season was confirmed on Sunday by Adam Schefter of ESPN. The four-year veteran will now have to begin a long rehabilitation process, as he watches Kellen Clemens take the reins of the team for the rest of 2013.
Rams QB Sam Bradford tore his ACL. He's out for year...— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 21, 2013
I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals right now until I find out what really is going on with him. It makes no sense to rush to a conclusion until we know. We'll get a medical, and then we'll go from there. He was in significant pain on the sideline.
Fisher found out the truth shortly after and delivered an interesting message on Monday through the team's Twitter account:
"He'll be back and he's our quarterback." - Fisher on Sam Bradford— St. Louis Rams (@STLouisRams) October 21, 2013
According to Bleacher Report's Dr. Dave Siebert, the recovery times from these types of injuries are beginning to shorten:
Nowadays, surgical techniques—and, just as importantly, physical therapy science—are advancing at blazing speeds. As such, NFL recovery times are continuing to shorten. A very unscientific survey of recent injuries comes up with an average of about nine to 10 months.
Still, Fisher is taking a serious risk if he truly does intend to keep Bradford solidified as the team's starting quarterback heading into the 2014 season. Taking everything into consideration, Fisher's comment has a strong potential to put his job with the Rams in jeopardy.
This would be the second time that Fisher has now overlooked a severe injury to the quarterback since he took over the head coaching responsibilities for the Rams.
According to KFNS in St. Louis (h/t SportsRadioInterviews.com), back in early 2012, Fisher discounted Bradford's miserable, injury-plagued 2011 campaign in which he clearly regressed from his rookie season:
Well, it was his ability—what he was able to do in college, but also his rookie year. We discounted last year. I didn’t pay much attention to that. There were a lot of difficult things to overcome and a lot of issues, and it made no sense dwelling on it. I think what Sam was able to do here his rookie year in that type of offense is an indication of the potential that he has.
There is no fault in what Fisher did back in 2012. He clearly thought that Bradford could be a better quarterback when surrounding offensive components were upgraded. That may even still be the case; however, there is no discounting a second major injury in four NFL seasons.
The following phrase comes into play here: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Multiple significant injuries to a franchise quarterback so early in his career should raise one giant red flag for the Rams organization.
Another drawback for Bradford that comes along with these injuries is his inability to continue to progress as a quarterback. He has seen some up-and-down years since he was drafted first overall, but he will now be entering his fifth season well behind the learning curve.
NFL teams are developing young quarterbacks at an astonishing pace nowadays. The recent early success of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson are clear indications of such. Bradford, however, is still not up to par with these three second-year quarterbacks:
|Robert Griffin III||2||4,946||28||11||95.2|
The aforementioned stat lines are very telling. Quarterbacks are learning the position and flourishing much faster than ever before. All three second-year players have already surpassed Bradford's career quarterback rating.
An argument could be made for Bradford that he was having a career year in 2013. He was posting some of his best numbers since entering the NFL in 2010:
Bradford has put up some impressive numbers this season. But should Fisher really continue to back the injured quarterback who has only led his offense to rank just 19th in points and 18th in pass yards during his career year in 2013? After all, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Bradford has not been the epitome of efficient this season.
With a negative-0.5 grade on the year, Bradford ranks 17th out of 38 eligible NFL quarterbacks in 2013. Not quite the numbers you would like to see out of a former No. 1 overall selection.
Aside from his shaky injury history and his inability to progress at a steady pace, Bradford's expensive rookie contract must be taken into consideration as well.
Since Bradford was drafted before the rookie wage scale changed in the new collective bargaining agreement, he still holds an overpriced contract. In 2010, Bradford signed a six-year, $78 million deal which is scheduled to pay him over $17.6 million in 2014, according to Spotrac.com.
Bradford will already haunt the Rams with $7.1 million in dead money in 2014; however, if the team decided to cut the injured veteran, it would still save over $10.5 million against the cap next season. With so many needs prevalent on both sides of the ball, that kind of money could afford the Rams to build a young, talented core that could potentially sustain the success of the franchise for years to come.
With these things in mind, it could be concluded that Fisher is resting the fate of this team on the shoulders of the injured Bradford rather than building necessary components for future success. This type of gamble could quickly doom Fisher as the head coach of the Rams if one more unsuccessful year were to take place.
Despite the strong support for Bradford from the front office, there is the possibility that the Rams were only continuing to encourage their starting quarterback on the surface. ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner suggested that they may have been looking elsewhere as well:
What’s unknown about those reports is whether the Rams were doing what they should be doing and offering public support of Bradford while keeping their options open—looking at a possible way of reducing his large salary-cap number—or if they had already truly decided to keep building around Bradford.
This is always the case with this type of scenario. Was Fisher just indulging us with some "coach speak"?
Current indications point toward Fisher sticking with Bradford heading into the 2014 season—a very risky move. This team would have all of the ammo necessary to create more stability going forward if it were to part ways with the injured quarterback.
There is no telling exactly how this situation will play out just yet. However, if Fisher does stick to his guns on this matter, Bradford must show significant improvements once he recovers. If not, the Rams will be looking for a new head coach and quarterback come 2015.
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