Typically, this Monday morning would be filled with our “quick thoughts” on the game from the previous week. However, in light of the mismanagement of the game by the officiating crew that led to “gimme” first downs, took points off the board, and climaxed with the ejection of one of the Rams top defensive players, we felt is made more sense to address the “elephant in the room.” Obviously, the biggest news story of the day will be the loss of Sam Bradford, the St. Louis Rams franchise quarterback, who was well on his way to 30+ passing touchdowns and the best statistical performance of his relatively young career. The Rams coaching staff made an interesting personnel decision this offseason, electing to maintain only one “backup” quarterback, and allotting that “extra” spot on the roster to one of the handful of UDFA making a splash during the preseason. Now, with “worst case scenario” mode in full swing, the Rams will be forced to make a key decision at quarterback. In reality, there are three main choices the coaching staff and front office can make. We’ll talk about each…
1. Stick with what you have
The easiest route the St. Louis Rams could follow is to simply sticking with Kellen Clemens and bringing back Austin Davis to fill the No.2 spot on the depth chart. This particular option has it’s benefits, namely that it would essentially cost the Rams little-to-no money, and would likely be an easy transition for the players and coaches. However, it was made painfully evident during the preseason that Clemens is not a long-term or short-term answer at signal caller for the Rams, and was likely maintained in a “player-coach” role knowing that Austin Davis would easily clear waivers and be available at the dial of the phone. Clemens is popular in the locker room, and is certainly more apt to take shots down the field to his playmakers, like Chris Givens and Tavon Austin. However, the one saving grace for this stagnant Rams offense has been their overall lack of turnovers, which has kept most of the games relatively close heading into the 4th quarter. Clemens is a mistake waiting to happen in the interception department.
If the St. Louis Rams coaching staff is looking for a low-price, low-maintenance choice that will could likely drag the St. Louis Rams to somewhere in the 5-11 to 8-8 record range on the season, then sticking with Clemens makes perfect sense.
2. Scrape the bottom of the free agent barrel
Thanks to the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills, most, if not all, the competent backups have already been signed up to participate in their quarterback juggling act. Knowing that, the St. Louis Rams will have to take their pick of about three dozen quarterbacks still unsigned in the NFL. We have separated them into four tiers:
“Who?” Quarterbacks: Matt Blanchard (CHI), Matt Brown (GB), Alex Carder (DET), B.J. Coleman (GB), Dayne Crist (BAL), seth Doege (ATL), Nathan Enderle (SD), Caleb Hanie (BAL), Chandler Harnish (IND), Mike Hermann (SD), Tim Jenkins (STL), Mike Kafka (JAX), G.J. Kinne (PHI), Nathan Stanley (BAL), Caleb TerBush (AZ), Adam Weber (TB), Dalton Williams (DAL), and John Wilson (PIT)
“Meh” Quarterbacks: Charlie Batch (PIT), David Carr (NYG), Austin Davis (STL), Trent Edwards (CHI), Jordan Palmer (CHI), Jordan Rodgers (JAX), Nick Stephens (DAL), and Tyler Thigpen (BUF)
“Ok, maybe” Quarterbacks: Dennis Dixon (PHI), Graham Harrell (GB), Matt Leinart (BUF), John Skelton (SF), and Pat White (WAS)
“Big name” Quarterbacks: JaMarcus Russell (OAK), Tim Tebow (NE), and Vince Young (GB)
These tiers essentially just rank quarterbacks by playing time and name recognition, which likely go hand-in-hand, save for a handful of younger siblings whose older brothers have made it big in the NFL. Any quarterback in the latter two tiers would likely be on-par, or slightly better, than Kellen Clemens, aside from the fact that they have not played a meaningful NFL snap this season and do not know the St. Louis playbook or the personnel. If the Rams wanted to salvage some wins, and maybe puts some butts in the seats on gameday, they might spring for someone like Matt Leinart or Pat White, who were all dominant players at one time or another at the highest level of college football. If they really wanted to make a splash, as hinted towards yesterday, they could keep St. Louis in the headlines by signing any of the three players listed in the last tier. Tim Tebow has already be “linked” to the Rams, but it is significantly more likely the Rams will look towards a player in the middle tiers for help.
3. Who wants to make a deal?
The last, and least likely, of all the options would be for the St. Louis Rams to dangle some of their (likely top-of-the-round) draft picks in front of some teams willing to deal away a quarterback. The “prize” of the trade market might be Minnesota Vikings‘ quarterback, Christian Ponder, who was recently forced in the backseat in favor of Josh Freeman. Just last week, reports began to surface that Ponder was “pondering” the thought of opening up to a trade. There is no doubt that the still-young quarterback would likely be very open to joining a club in St. Louis, where he would be 1) handed the starting job, without fear of losing it, 2) have an, arguable, Top 10 pass blocking offense line, and 3) have more offensive weapons than he ever dreamed of having in Minnesota. Unlike Alex Smith, who demanded the Kansas City Chiefs‘ 2013 and 2014 2nd-rounder (assuming the finished above .500 this season), Ponder would likely fetch no higher than a single, upper mid-round pick, or some combination comparable to a 5th- and 7th-rounder. That might be a high price for Les Snead, who has been stingy with his hoarded draft picks since coming to St. Louis. Can you really put a price on having a top-tier backup to Bradford when he returns though?
Obviously, the St. Louis Rams could opt to trade for any number of backups around the league, with plenty of teams hungry for more picks in the heavily-stacked, upcoming 2014 NFL Draft class. The Rams may even have some “valuable” pieces to move, assuming that they aren’t holding onto hope that Isaiah Pead will rise from the ashes. This choice is the least likely of the three to happen, but Les Snead and Jeff Fisher have both shown they aren’t afraid to make “big moves,” if necessary. This could certainly be one of those moments.