Instant reaction to the news of the Rams' loss of quarterback Sam Bradford to a season-ending knee injury. Many words to follow. Please pardon my typos...
Honest, I don't believe in curses.
But the Rams and Bradford are really, really, testing me on that.
On a human level, this is sad news for Bradford and the Rams. He worked hard to make it back from suffering the torn knee ligaments that took him down for the final nine games in 2013. He was looking good bigger, stronger and accurate in training camp. Through no fault of his own, Bradford just can't stay healthy. Going back to his final season at Oklahoma, Bradford's career has frequently been derailed by injuries.
The Rams have invested so much money and time in Bradford, but to no avail. And no rewards. If this indeed is the end of his Rams' career, Bradford will finish with an 18-30-1 record. This is an unfortunate example of having the wrong quarterback at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Bradford's shaky durability was a substantial setback to his career. But he also played for a team that never surrounded him with strong support or astute coaching on offense. Not that Bradford would have emerged as an elite quarterback; because of his injuries we'll never know. But that's also true of Bradford's performance. We'll never know.
Drafted No. 1 overall in 2010, Bradford never became a transformative quarterback. So it wouldn't be wrong to say that many, including me, overestimated his talent and potential.
But if you want to be fair about this, we'll never know what Bradford could have been at his peak, and installed in a more favorable set of circumstances. Bradford was drafted by a terrible organization that had to rebuild. He never had a true No. 1 receiver at the other end of his throws. He ran an offense that was slowed by a constant shuffle of personnel. And he worked for three offensive coordinators in St. Louis.
Bradford failed to play to the level of expectations that were set after his arrival and solid rookie campaign of 2010. He never distinguished himself at the position.
The Rams failed Bradford, too. It was a star-crossed relationship. Just when it seemed that Bradford was posed to take advantage of coach Jeff Fisher's rebuilding program ... this. Another crash.
And unless the Rams want to go through this again with Bradford and why would they? it's time time for the organization to move on and start making plans to secure a QB for the future.
BRADFORD BITS ...
On to the particulars let's dive in:
Does this ruin the Rams' season? Well, that depends on your perspective. If you believe that Bradford was ready to deliver a break-out season, then yes, this is a severe blow. But objectively speaking, isn't it a reach to presume greatness from Bradford in 2015. Improvement? Yes. He had a 14 to 4 touchdown/interception ratio last year before falling, and performed well after the Rams junked an unworkable offense following an embarrassing home loss to San Francisco last Sept. 26. If training camp and exhibition games mean anything, it appeared that Bradford was in position to benefit from the addition of WR Kenny Britt and the development of WR Kenny Britt.
But to declare that their season is trashed well, I'm not going to go that far. And I'm certainly not going to give the Rams a built-in, easy excuse if they have a mediocre or poor season. The Rams went 4-5 in games started by Kellen Clemens in wake of Bradford's injury last year. During Bradford's first four seasons (2010-13) in St. Louis, the team won 36.7 percent of his starts. When Bradford didn't start, the Rams won 33.3 percent of the time. Does that represent a significant difference? No, it doesn't. But it's also not that simple.
Sure, I believe the Rams would have a better and more capable offense with Bradford in place in 2014. I can't help but think back to Bradford's winning record against NFC West teams (5-2-1) since Fisher took over as head coach. Yes, a big part of that could be attributed to the Rams' defense and we shouldn't underestimate that. But Bradford stepped up and made some big plays in those NFC West games. Clemens didn't do that against division rivals last season. He was awful in NFC West throwdowns last season with two touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 55.2 passer rating. But Clemens also started impressive wins over Indianapolis, New Orleans and Chicago. If the Rams can run the ball with authority and play a swarming, harassing, turnover-forcing caliber of defense, they can bang and hang with anyone. But it's sensible to conclude that the challenge of winning NFC West games is more daunting now. And that's no small consideration.
In Shaun Hill, the Rams have a calm and experienced veteran QB who is 13-13 as an NFL starter in his career. He's a capable quarterback. I don't know what others expect from a No. 2 quarterback. I'm not sure why anyone would expect to see a star-quality QB waiting in the No. 2 hole. How many No. 2s really fit that billing? Hill is solid. I don't intend for this to come across as faint praise, but the Rams could be in much worse shape. If Hill stays healthy, he can play respectably. Hill's history tells us that.
Will the Rams shop for another veteran QB to team with Hill? It makes sense in theory, but getting it done is a different matter. Three reasons: (1) the Rams are tight on the salary cap and don't have much room to accommodate a nice chunk of salary; (2) there doesn't appear to be much of a market on available quarterbacks; (3) teams inclined to trade a QB know the Rams are in an awful spot, lack leverage and can demand an inflated price in a trade.
I've seen some NFL pundit types suggest that the Eagles may be willing to part with Mark Sanchez, and that the Patriots may try to move backup QB Ryan Mallett. Sanchez does have a history good and bad with Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer from their NY Jets days. But the shared experience basically got both of them run out of town. Eagles coach Chip Kelly is said to like Sanchez, so what's his price for a Sanchez trade? Mallett has been in the league for three seasons, and has attempted four regular-season passes so what is he, exactly? The Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo this year to groom him as the next-in-line QB to Tom Brady. What does that say about Mallett? Besides, the Patriots may end up cutting Mallett, anyway. I've seen Redskins' backup Kirk Cousins nominated as a possibility for the Rams but given Robert Griffin III's knee fragility, why would the Redskins part with Cousins? Makes no sense. Perhaps a potentially appealing QB would slip through on the waiver wire. Really, all of this speculation is a waste of time at the moment. We have to wait and see if a QB pops up that makes sense for the Rams.
I've already seen some folks including media members compare this to 1999, when the Rams lost starting QB Trent Green in the third preseason game, plugged in Kurt Warner, and shocked the world by going 13-3 and winning the Super Bowl. Please. It was a fairy-tale ride in 1999. Warner was truly special, and no one knew that at the time. But it also helped to have Marshall Faulk in the backfield, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt at wide receiver, and Orlando Pace at left tackle. Faulk already is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Warner will be voted into the Hall of Fame. Pace will be voted into the Hall of Fame. Bruce and Holt have a chance to be voted into the Hall of Fame. Do you see any future Hall of Famers in the Rams' 2014 offensive huddle?
Moreover, Bradford was never as good a career-peak Trent Green. And while I respect Shaun Hill, I think it's safe to say that his upside doesn't match the upside that Warner possessed in 1999. We didn't know what to expect from Warner because he'd never really played in the NFL in a game that mattered. Hill, 34, has been in the league for eight seasons. (This one will be his ninth.) And Hill has played in 37 regular-season games so at least there's a basis for knowing what to expect from him.
And say what you want about Mike Martz's ups and downs as the head coach, but in 1999 Martz was a brilliant offensive coordinator. The offense he put together in 1999 was extraordinary. Mad Mike maximized all of that talent with creative, masterful game plans and wicked play calling. I don't believe anyone has said those things about Schottenheimer. I'm not trying to be a narrative-killer here OK, maybe I am. But seriously. While it's human nature to look for a positive spin, it's also ludicrous to compare this cast to the '99 group that featured Faulk, Pace, Warner, Bruce, Holt and Martz. This doesn't mean the 2014 Rams will be lousy offensively in 2014. But it's a disservice to link the '14 Rams to the storied Greatest Show offense that's the only offense in NFL history to scored 500 or more points for three consecutive seasons, 1999 through 2001.
Unlike many fans, I won't slam Bradford based on the money he's made here. As we've written many times, Bradford cashed in under the old NFL system for rookie compensation. Had he been in the draft in 2011 instead of 2010, the Rams wouldn't have paid Bradford a guaranteed $50 million. Not even close. But in the old system, any team that drafted a QB first overall was going to have to pay up with enormous guarantees and it didn't matter if the QB was a star or a stiff. That's why NFL owners insisted on a new rookie-compensation scale in the current collective bargaining agreement. It's not as if Bradford swiped the money by being lazy, undedicated, unmotivated. Do you really think Bradford wanted to lose? Do you really think that he wanted to throw to pedestrian receivers? Do you really think he wanted to get physically ripped apart by defenses?
Now, then: if you want to question the Rams' judgment to stick with Bradford after a 2013 season wrecked by the knee injury, well, that's an entirely different subject. The Rams brought Bradford back for 2014 at a salary-cap figure of $17.61 million. Management and coach Fisher remained unwavering and unshaken despite Bradford's obvious injury history that shouldn't have been ignored. (And yes, I wrote about that earlier this year more than once.) From a financial standpoint, the organization had a chance to cut its losses after 2013 but opted to go forward with Sam. The Rams were willing to take that gamble. Sadly, it blew up.
I don't say that to pile on. I sincerely wish this would have worked out for the QB and the team. But it's just the undeniable and unavoidable truth to state that the Rams' gamble blew up. I'm sorry that it did. I had confidence in a healthy Bradford doing some good things in 2014. Positive factors were lining up. But I had little confidence that Bradford would stay healthy.
Bradford has a $16.58 million cap hit for 2015. Pragmatically, I can't imagine why the Rams would want to stay the course and pump another $16 million-plus into the Bradford project. Here's why
If you include Bradford's final season at Oklahoma, his first four NFL seasons, and the 16 games Bradford will miss in 2014, it adds up to 89 potential starts for him. Of those 89 games, Bradford started only 52. Repeat: 52 starts in 89 games. So that's 37 starts missed to injury over six years (2009 through 2014.)
And to put a fine-point on it, Bradford in 2011 started five games on a bad ankle that greatly limited his mobility and balance to plant and throw. Bradford shouldn't have been playing; he took a beating out there for no good reason. Including those five games in '11, I have no hesitation in offering the math that Bradford has been a physically viable starter for only 47 of 89 games over his last six seasons of football. Knowing that, how could the Rams possibly commit another $16 million plus to Bradford in 2015?
As I wrote multiple times before the 2014 NFL Draft, it was my opinion that the Rams needed to take a QB early because of Bradford's injury pattern. It seemed like an obvious and logical move; if Bradford got hurt again, at least the Rams would have had a young QB in line to develop for 2015. But the Rams didn't go for a QB until the sixth round, taking Garrett Gilbert at No. 214 overall. So now the Rams are stuck in QB limbo. Unless the Rams really believe Gilbert or Austin Davis is their long-term future, if the organization moves away from Bradford in 2015, they don't have a young starter in place to lead them over the next several seasons or longer. Taking a QB wasn't a priority for the Rams in 2014 and it should have been. You'd have to think that drafting a QB would become a large priority for the Rams in 2015. But they put logic aside in the 2014 draft, and I suppose it's possible for the Rams to do it again. Also ... hypothetically speaking, suppose the Rams finish with six, seven, eight or nine wins? That won't put them near the top of the draft to choose among the most coveted quarterbacks.
It's a tough weekend for the Rams, Sam B. and their fans.
Thanks for reading ...