Nov 16, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray (11) throws the ball to running back Todd Gurley (3) during the fourth quarter against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium. The Tigers won 43-38. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

A Case For The St. Louis Rams Taking A Quarterback In The 1st Round Of The 2014 NFL Draft

 

Thanks the the NFL’s decision to push back the starting date of Draft Day, it seems as though the media has began reaching to new heights in an attempt to fill the front pages with intriguing news and eye-catching storylines. However, with Mock Draft season starting as early as mid-November, meaning that most fans have likely had their fill of “projected” selections. At this point, we all know the St. Louis Rams’ needs, who they might trade with, and who they are “rumored” to be looking at with their first overall selection.

Thanks to some vague comments from unnamed “personnel circles,” the media has magically jumped on a “Johnny Manziel to St. Louis” bandwagon. With the A&M prospect projected to fit somewhere in the Top 10, the Rams would likely have to use their first first round selection, if they wanted to the services of the college phenom. Is that realistic? Doubtful. But, it does bring up an interesting topic.

Those that actually pay attention to the St. Louis have been aware since the end of the regular season that the Rams would likely be targeting a quarterback in the upcoming NFL Draft. Les Snead reinforced that assertion on Monday, confirming that they had been scouting quarterbacks this offseason; just like every other team in the NFL.  Sources more closely tied to the Rams have suggested that St. Louis would likely take a flyer on a quarterback sometime towards the end of Day 2 or early on in Day 3. However, should the Rams consider a quarterback in the opening round?

Depending on your view of Sam Bradford, you likely responded to that question in one of two ways: nauseated (if your a supporter) or elated (if your not). Regardless of your feelings on King Sam, the reality of the situation is that he will be the starter during the 2014 regular season. So, why waste a 1st-rounder on a bench player?

Setting aside grandiose visions of the future in St. Louis, there are some practical reasons for considering a quarterback on Day 1 of the NFL Draft. Thanks to the new 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), selecting a player in the opening round has some “extra perks.” The most important of those amenities has been one of the headlines in the NFL over the last week; the fifth-year option. Under the new drafting guidelines,

The option allows a team to retain a player’s rights for five years rather than four, which is the bonus of selecting a player in the first round. In order to extend the contract, the team must inform the player during the period after the last regular season game of the player’s third contract year and May 3 of the next League Year – Article 7, Section 7, (a), 31

The St. Louis Rams will reportedly exercise that option on Robert Quinn on May 3rd, highlighting the significance of having that built-in extension for key players. But, is having that option worth using a Top 32 pick on a backup? Maybe.

The Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, and Seattle Seahawks are all about to face the consequences of taking a quarterback outside of the opening round. Early offseason rumors suggested that Kirk Cousins, the highly drafted backup in Washington, is displeased with his position on the depth chart and has hinted at wanting to be traded from the organization. Cousins is still locked under contract until 2015, but Washington, at that point, will likely have no way to retaining his services beyond that offseason.

The Seahawks and 49ers are in a completely different situation, but, to some extend, have the same problem. Colin Kaepernick is at the end of his cap-friendly rookie deal, which paid him a mere $5.1 million over four years. Since he was taken outside of the opening round, the 49ers are in a tough position: either a) hand him a long-term extension that could put the salary cap in flux or b) attempt to re-sign him in the 2015 offseason, when he is an unrestricted free agent. Seattle is in the same boat, with Russell Wilson coming up on the end of his contract in 2015, when he will inevitably go from a sub-$1 million per year player to one of the Top 5 highest players in the NFL. The Seahawks do have some time to negotiate and maneuver within the cap to set up space for that massive contract, but having a fifth-year, relatively low-money option on a player of that caliber could be invaluable for roster  “in it’s prime.”

Moreover, both Kirk Cousins and Colin Kaepernick could, if they so chose, put their respective organizations in a tough position, courtesy of the dreaded “hold out.” The benefit of the fifth-year option, at least for the teams, is the contractual language  aimed at preventing players from gaining leverage by simply not showing up to work,

If a team decides to use its fifth-year team option, the player can face substantial fines for refusing to report to camp on time and/or at all. Players can be fined up to $30,000 per day of training camp missed and a fine equal to one week’s regular season (1/17 of P5 Salary) check for any preseason games missed.

Thank you owners for dominating the negotiations when re-working the new CBA.

By taking a quarterback in the opening round, the St. Louis Rams would have essentially locked up a groomable, low-cost backup through the 2018 season. It would also give the Rams a potentially valuable trading piece in the future, as well as provide a high-quality safety net in the event that Sam Bradford does not “prove himself” during the 2014 regular season; or even in 2015, should the Rams not extend his contract.

Moreover, the move would not necessarily cost the Rams a Top 15 pick, depending on how creative they got with their 10 non-1st round picks. If the St. Louis Rams were eyeballing a late-Day 1 or early- to mid-Day 2 prospect, such as Zack Mettenberger, Aaron Murray, Derek Carr, or A.J. McCarron, would it be worth the relatively-small price tag  to move back into the bottom of the first to cement a five-year player?

These will all be questions that the St. Louis Rams will have to answer in the coming weeks. There are plenty of “needs” on the depth chart, including starter-sized holes at guard and safety. However, it may be a wise to take advantage of the “luxury option” attached to 1st-rounders in the new CBA, especially in a draft class that is filled with supremely talented quarterbacks in the Top 45.

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