The last six months should be a pretty clear reminder of just how much things have changed for the St. Louis Rams. Gone are the days of faulty decision making, bad drafts and interoffice power struggles. Doing a little digging around this afternoon for some other posts, I came across a ghost from the past: Marc Bulger and his ginormous contract extension.
After a pretty good 2006 season, the Rams signed Bulger to a six-year, $62 million deal with $27 million in guaranteed money in July 2007, after he missed the opening meeting for training camp. Bulger was 30, and his deal put him in the same stratosphere as the league's best quarterbacks, or at least best-paid quarterbacks.
Hindsight is always 20-20, but Bulger had been sacked 49 times the season before he re-upped. That 2006 season was also the only time in his career that he played a full 16 games. Of course, you know what happened after that. Bulger declined along with the core building blocks of the Greatest Show on Turf. By 2008, Scott Linehan had replaced him with Trent Green - oh the irony - and Linehan's mid-season replacement, Jim Haslett, replaced Bulger as well before the end of the year, after reinstating him upon taking over. Bulger finally landed on IR to end the year in 2008.
It was fair to wonder if the Rams didn't need a new quarterback after the 2007 season. After 2008, it was painfully obvious that they did. But Bulger's contract tied their hands.
Bulger had a cap value of $11 million in 2009. The team was stuck with him whether they wanted him or not. I can recall no small amount TST readers lobbying for Mark Sanchez or even Joe Flacco in that year's draft, but that would have been impossible. The Rams had the second pick in the 2009 draft, and the old system of rookie contracts would have put a quarterback picked in that spot at an even higher cost than Bulger.
It sort of makes the Jason Smith look even more logical in hindsight. There was no way the team could have that kind of money tied up in two quarterbacks.
The commitment to Bulger forced the team to part ways with the other pricey veteran contracts, including Torry Holt, who could have been a help in 2009, despite clearly being on the downhill side of his career.
What choice the Rams had in 2007 is not clear. Bulger was in the final year of his first contract extension that season, which was a normal time for players to demand an increase. Since this is an exercise in hindsight, it's eay to say that the Rams could have simply called his bluff or even done without given how things turned out that year.
Any contract a team hands out carries a certain amount of risk. Sam Bradford carries a huge salary cap hit, but he is at least a young player sitting on plenty of potential. The Rams deal with Bulger offers a nice lesson in hindsight, something to keep in mind when contract talk comes up again for other players in the future.