For those of you who thought quarterback Sam Bradford had possibly played his last down as a member of the St. Louis Rams, think again. On Tuesday, head coach Jeff Fisher made it clear on ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike (subscription required) that Bradford is the team’s starting quarterback and is “doing great” in his recovery from a torn ACL.
Here’s what Fisher told Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic about Bradford’s current contract status:
We talk about extensions with all our players under contract. Whether or not we do so with him, I don't know where all this came from, but Sam’s our quarterback. He's going to be under center.
Fisher felt the need to make a public statement after Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports said the Rams “have absolutely no intention” of extending Bradford’s contract. La Canfora later backtracked and edited his original post. The updated version of the article now says this: “The Rams are open to an extension for QB Sam Bradford, who is due $27M over the next two years.”
Contract extension or not, the Rams have more cause than ever to consider moving on from Bradford. Why? Because he’s coming off of a serious knee injury, his win-loss record is 18-30-1 and he was Pro Football Focus’ (subscription required) 20th-best quarterback in 2013.
Not to mention, his career numbers are the definition of mediocrity. In 49 regular-season starts, Bradford has amassed 59 touchdown passes, 38 interceptions, a 58.6 percent completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 79.3.
Based on the aforementioned numbers, it’s safe to say Bradford hasn’t lived up to expectations. When a quarterback is drafted No. 1 overall, they are expected to lead their respective team to the promise land. Unfortunately for the Rams, St. Louis hasn’t sniffed the promise land with No. 8 under center.
In four year’s time, the Rams have one second-place finish, one third-place finish and two last-place finishes in the NFC West. Moreover, St. Louis’ best season, amid Bradford’s tenure, came in 2012. Coach Fisher’s club finished the season with a 7-8-1 record.
What gives? Why haven’t the Rams been annual contenders in the ever so talented NFC West? It all circles back to Bradford. Pundits from around the league have spoken, and quite a few believe he is holding the team back in more ways than one.
Louis Riddick, former NFL scout and pro personnel director, told Nick Wagoner of ESPN that “Bradford doesn’t look comfortable under center, lacks urgency in his drops and footwork and doesn’t have the feet or awareness to negotiate the pocket and find openings to deliver the ball.”
Riddick’s criticism didn’t stop there. Here’s another excerpt from Wagoner’s article:
Quite honestly, I’ve never been one that’s really seen franchise difference-making, put-the-team-on-my-back type of ability. I’m just not sold on him [Bradford] being a franchise quarterback, regardless of all the other things going on around him that aren’t necessarily helping him.
Bradford’s inability to put the team on his back seems to be the one thing that continuously turns experts off. Here’s what ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson pointed out after the Rams' Week 4 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday Night Football, via Wagoner of ESPN:
Enough is enough. Good quarterbacks elevate those around them and overcome a hardship or two. He was awful against the Niners, and even when his surroundings were optimal, he missed open guys and was far too reactive to pressure, whether it was truly present or not. This has become a recurring issue and now, I finally have my doubts.
It’s hard to disagree with the statements made by Riddick and Williamson. Over the course of Bradford’s four-year career, he has always been viewed as a big, strong-armed signal-caller who lacked the ability to consistently deliver a strike under pressure and elevate the play of those around him.
However, Bradford’s on-the-field limitations are only a part of the problem. The other part of the problem is his ridiculously structured rookie contract.
Based on the fact he was drafted in 2010, under the old collective bargaining agreement, Bradford carries a hefty cap number in 2014 and 2015. According to Over the Cap, his cap number in 2014 is $17.61 million and $16.58 million in 2015.
Nonetheless, all of Bradford’s bonus money has already been paid out to him. This, in turn, means 2014 is the first year where the team could move on from him without any repercussions. If the Rams flat out cut him in 2014, they would save $10.42 million. If they waited a year and did it in 2015, they would save $12.985 million.
That’s a huge chunk of change that could be used to sign key players in free agency. Shoot, St. Louis could even use it to re-sign impending free agents like Rodger Saffold in 2014 and Robert Quinn in 2015.
Clearly, the causes to move on from Bradford are as clear as day.
No matter how much faith Coach Fisher and general manager Les Snead have in Bradford, you know they are feverishly evaluating draft prospects at the quarterback position. With five top-100 picks, odds are the Rams would use one of those five picks on a top-tier quarterback if the right scenario presented itself.
St. Louis can’t afford to go into another season with Kellen Clemens as its No. 2 quarterback. At some point, the Rams will have to draft an adequate backup who has the potential to develop into a starter. It never hurts to have a Plan B when your Plan A is Bradford.
Having a fallback option would also give the organization freedom and a chance to win if Bradford was sidelined with an injury or benched because of poor play. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee the Heisman Trophy winner will ever be the same after the gruesome knee injury he suffered versus the Carolina Panthers.