by Kent Sterling
In every interview I’ve heard St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher give since accepting the job two years ago, he has been asked the same question, “Is Sam Bradford your quarterback?”
There are permutations of that question, like “Is Sam Bradford your long-term answer at quarterback?” or “Do you think Sam Bradford can become an elite quarterback?”, but they all imply the same thing – that Bradford is grossly overpaid, and has not delivered on the promise he had as the top pick of the 2010 NFL Draft.
When Fisher was asked on Mike and Mike Tuesday morning, he was as emphatic as always, “Sam’s doing great with the rehab,” Fisher said. “He’s really excited. He took on a leadership role last year and he’s maintained that and he’s our quarterback, and we’ve said that.
“We talk about extensions with all our players under contract,” Fisher said. “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.”
Why do the Rams continue to insist that Bradford can raise the level of his game to where it justifies his massive cap number?
In 2013, Bradford tore his ACL in the seventh game of the season and that left the rest of the season to journeyman back-up Kellen Clemens. The Rams record with Bradford as QB – 3-4. The Rams record with Clemens – 4-5.
The Rams offense adjusted to Bradford’s absence by running the ball more often and with more success. In games that Bradford started, the Rams gained 100+ yards on the ground one time, against the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars (they are in the process of petitioning the NFL to include “woeful” as part of the franchise’s name). With Clemens under center, they ran for 100+ yard eight times, so crediting Clemens for leading the Rams as Bradford did is spurious.
But over the course of his four-year career, Bradford has never excelled, and when he turns 27 in November, he will enter the prime of his career. He posted the best numbers of his career prior to the injury with a passer rating of 90.9, 14 TDs, and four interceptions, but that career best passer rating still only ranked 11th in the NFL. His QBR, which measures total contribution to the offense, was a sub-par 48.05, ranking him 23rd.
The excuses roll off the tongue by rote for anyone who has spent 15 minutes researching Bradford. He has never had weapons, the offensive line is terrible, and his rotating offensive coordinators over the years have kept him from building any consistency.
As a comparison, in two seasons after being the #1 overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Andrew Luck has led his team to back-to-back 11-5 records with trips to the playoffs. Luck has had the same challenges – different OCs, receivers without a track record of excellence (especially after Reggie Wayne suffered a torn ACL), and an offensive line that makes the Rams group look like the Seven Blocks of Granite.
Rams management continue to sign and draft lineman, receivers, tight ends, and running backs, but none seem to allow Bradford to flourish. Whatever the cause, over the course of his 49 game career, Bradford has managed only ten 100+ passer rating games.
And whatever prompts that Bradford question from the media, Fisher must be tired of answering it.
Bradford is going to cost the Rams over $17 million in 2014, and they have two first round picks, including the #2 overall pick. If the Rams cut Bradford, the dead money hit would be just over $7.2 million spread over 2014 and 2015, so regardless of whether Fisher enjoys the question being asked or not, it is a really good one.
Cutting Bradford or renegotiating his 2014 number down both remain options that might be superior to paying the previously mediocre QB elite money.
Bradford was the last of the #1 overall picks that received a huge initial contract, and the money paid to him has caused the Rams trouble in building elsewhere. Armed with a solid young defense, and a really young offense, drafting a quarterback #2 to replace the overpaid Bradford might be the correct answer the next time Fisher is asked.