The St Louis Rams have been an embarrassing football team for nearly a decade, ever since the end of the “Greatest Show on Turf” days the Rams franchise has struggled. The franchise has struggled at every level; from ownership issues, to front office in fighting, to the parade of first time head coaches that were in over their head, this franchise has largely been the laughing-stock of the NFL. Sam Bradford was selected with the first overall choice in the 2010 NFL Draft, and has been a polarizing figure among St Louis Rams fans and media pundits alike. For Rams fans it seems either you believe Bradford is an immensely talented quarterback destined to lead the team back to relevance, or you believe he was an over rated player coming out of Oklahoma University and should be considered a draft bust. There has been no shortage of excuses used to defend Bradford over the past 3 years, but the simple excuses don’t do justice to the situation that Bradford inherited and has been expected to excel in. Make no mistake, Bradford’s situation has improved dramatically since his rookie season and if his performance doesn’t improve the Rams may need to move on. This may or may not be a “make or break” year for the young signal caller, but here is a fairly comprehensive list of the reasons behind the Heisman Trophy winners fairly pedestrian professional career so far.
Ownership/Front Office. Ever since the St. Louis Rams won Superbowl XXXIV the franchise has been in a steady state of decline. I know what you are thinking, don’t you mean ever since they lost Superbowl XXXVI? While losing to the New England Patriots in one of the greatest upsets in NFL history was a devastating blow, the end truly began after the Rams won the Lombardi Trophy. The retirement of Dick Vermeil after the Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans is what I consider to be the beginning of the end for what could have been a great Rams dynasty. The Rams may have been even more talented during the 2000-2002 seasons, but the switch from Dick Vermeil to Mike Martz made them a worse football team. The trio of Jay Zygmunt, John Shaw and Mike Martz created a toxic environment in the Rams front office characterized by poor drafts and public feuds. When Georgia Frontiere passed away in early 2008 the Rams were already well into their tailspin.
Coaching. While the transition from Vermeil to Martz hasn’t directly impacted Bradford, the aftermath has certainly impacted his career. After the Rams fired Martz following the 2006 season the parade of first time head coaches started with Scott Linehan. From 2007 until Bradford was drafted in 2010 the Rams were coached by Linehan, Jim Haslett on an interim basis, and Steve Spagnuolo who was Bradford’s head coach during his first two seasons. In the three seasons prior to Bradford’s arrival in St. Louis the Rams inexperienced head coaches accumulated a paltry 6 wins, yes their record was 6-42 under the Linehan-Haslett-Spagnuolo regime. In Bradford’s first season he managed to take a team that went 1-15 the year prior under Spagnuolo to a 7-9 record and one game away from a division title. Bradford’s rookie performance helped to earn Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur the job as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately for Bradford the new offensive coordinator brought in to replace Shurmur was Josh McDaniels whose offense was completely different from the one employed by the Rams in his rookie season. Picking up the new and incredibly complex offensive system that McDaniels wanted to run was another big hurdle for Bradford, not to mention that the Rams roster just wasn’t well suited for McDaniels’ system. Then there was the high ankle sprain that Bradford sustained in the final minutes of the game against the Green Bay Packers, an injury that essentially derailed his sophomore season. That injury in the final moments of a game that the Rams had no chance to win is the perfect symbol for how the Spagnuolo regime was in way over its head.
Draft Position/Rookie Wage Scale. Sam Bradford just happens to be the last #1 overall draft choice under the old rookie wage scale. For his personal finances that happened to be a stroke of good luck, for his reputation around the league though it may be just the opposite. Being given such a ridiculous amount of money to be the quarterback of the future for the Rams has put a huge spotlight on Sam. Bradford is constantly compared to other young quarterbacks in terms of production versus salary, which quite frankly puts him at an obvious disadvantage. When you factor in Bradford’s relatively high salary and the meager offensive talent that he has had to work with since entering the NFL it isn’t exactly giving him a fair shake. The comparisons for Bradford became even tougher when the Rams decided to trade away the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, a pick that was used by the Washington Redskins on dynamic QB Robert Griffin III. Bradford and Griffin will now forever be linked, and with the impressive rookie season that RGIII had the pressure is definitely on for Bradford to produce at a high level. Of course the Rams were choosing Bradford and the huge amount of draft capital the Redskins traded away, and not just picking Bradford over RGIII, still many in the media will continue to question the decision until Bradford realizes his potential.
Team Talent. The only player that the Rams have drafted over the last decade to make the Pro Bowl is Steven Jackson. The Rams not only drafted poorly prior to Bradford’s arrival, but they also made very poor moves in free agency (I’m looking at you Drew Bennett). The Rams had been nearly devoid of talent for the better part of the last decade, just ask the franchise’s all time rushing leader Steven Jackson. Since Bradford arrived in 2010 his top receivers have been Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Brandon Lloyd, and Chris Givens who was a rookie in 2012 and yet still managed to have the most receiving yards in a single season during Bradfords first three seasons. While I am a big fan of Amendola he was rarely available at full strength, and I believe Chris Givens has a bright future for the Rams but no rookie WR should be your first option. Then there is the offensive line, which has not only been one of the least talented offensive lines in the NFL but also on of the most injured units during Bradford’s tenure.
Summary. Bradford came into the NFL in 2010 inheriting perhaps the worst situation of any rookie QB in NFL history. While Bradford has largely underwhelmed, the extreme circumstances that he has been asked to perform under should at the very least merit a little compassion. The situation has changed however, the Rams now have a very stable ownership situation, a veteran head coach that is one of the best in the NFL, and a roster that is stocked with young talent thanks to the draft savvy of Les Snead and Jeff Fisher. Bradford is finally entering an NFL offseason program with the same offensive coordinator and QB coach, a multitude of explosive offensive weapons, and a talented offensive line. I am a big Bradford fan and I would love nothing more than to say that I see big, big things for him in 2013. The one reason I am nervous about the upcoming season is the lack of experienced playmakers for Bradford. The Rams roster is flush with potential at nearly every position, but there are very few proven playmakers on the roster. The development of young players such as Brian Quick, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey will be crucial to the Rams offense and Sam Bradford’s ability to showcase his impressive skill set in 2013. This may not be a make or break season for Bradford, but if he doesn’t take another large step forward this season it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Snead and Fisher draft a QB with one of their two first round picks in 2014. So what do you think, is Bradford a victim of circumstance or an over rated and over payed player who will never live up to expectations? Thanks for reading and as always, Go Rams!!!