The St. Louis Rams, Sam Bradford, and Leadership

Sam Greenwood

For many years, running back Steven Jackson was the undisputed leader of the St. Louis Rams' offense, and the team as a whole. With his departure in the off season, the reins of leadership have been passed to quarterback Sam Bradford. Can Sam Bradford lead the Rams to success, and a Super Bowl appearance? Only time will tell...

Tangibles and intangibles. These are terms an accountant can sink his teeth into. In business, tangibles are things that have a physical existence [land, buildings, equipment, money in the bank]. Intangibles are anything a company owns that doesn't have a physical existence [patents, trademarks, intellectual property, reputation]. Due to the nature and make-up of intangibles, they are more difficult to quantify and value than tangibles. How do these terms apply to the NFL, and specifically quarterbacks?

When evaluating and analyzing NFL quarterbacks, many criteria are considered. Three of the more prominent criteria are: production/statistics, winning, and mechanics. The first two are easily quantifiable. Mechanics are discernible by watching games/film. All three are inherently "tangible". Leadership is a good example of an "intangible" characteristic. Leadership [as it relates to NFL quarterbacks] is not easily definable or quantifiable. Since Steven Jackson left the Rams in free agency, the mantle of leadership has been thrust upon Sam Bradford. As the undisputed leader of the offense, Bradford will now come under even closer scrutiny.

Very few questioned the leadership abilities of Steven Jackson. As Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted:

" It showed itself in many forms, whether it was Jackson running wind sprints with a struggling teammate to encourage him during training camp, getting on a wide receiver because of inconsistencies in his play, or rallying the entire offense in the huddle, or the entire team on the sideline at critical junctures of a game."

And who will ever forget this play against San Francisco in 2012:

In March - after losing Steven Jackson in free agency - Jeff Fisher commented on Sam Bradford's ability to fill the leadership void left by Jackson's departure:

"You know we saw it was coming (last season). Sam really took things over the second half of the season. We’ve got guys who can stand up and take charge and carry the torch. I’m not concerned about that. Sam, I was very impressed with how he handled things."

Samb_medium

Sam Bradford has given the Rams faithful glimpses of his emerging leadership capabilities:

At a training camp press conference, Bradford sounded confident and determined:

Sam Bradford on Rams' 2013 Goal "It's to win the Super Bowl." (via 101espn)

Bradford led the Rams to a fourth-quarter comeback, in the opening game of the season:

RAMS VS CARDINALS 2013 HIGHLIGHTS (via Adrion Godfrey)

Note that Sam Bradford engineered four 4th quarter comebacks in the 2012 season, ranking among the league leaders in this statistical category.

Tavon Austin echoed his sentiments about Sam Bradford's leadership, in an interview with the NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano (link).

Nick Wagoner, of ESPN NFC West, lends insight into Sam Bradford's leadership growth in an August article: "Bradford Embracing Leadership Role" (link).

The Rams front office believes that Sam Bradford represents the future of the Rams, both as it's leader and franchise quarterback. They backed up their position with conviction, offering Bradford a contract extension (link). When asked by NFL.com's Mike Silver about Bradford's future, Kevin Demoff had this to offer:

"We have decided that Sam Bradford is our guy. If they came to us and wanted to do a contract extension right now, we'd do it in a minute."

In this particular case, "we" would mean: Stan Kroenke, Kevin Demoff, Les Snead, and Jeff Fisher. Enough said.

Sambradford_medium_medium

Let's presume, for arguments sake, that the evidence presented above constitutes nothing more than organizational rhetoric. It's always a good idea to look at difficult concepts from many perspectives, to gain additional insight.

Who are the best examples of strong leaders in the NFL that play the quarterback position? Four come to mind, almost instantly: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers. Along with the likes of Steven Jackson, they share a number of characteristics that define their leadership capabilities:

  • Courage
  • Determination
  • Intelligence
  • Confidence
  • Ability
  • Leading and teaching by example
  • Building camaraderie and the concept of team
  • Extra effort. Constantly looking for ways and means to improve and enhance ones game.
  • Offering and giving help to teammates, particularly younger players.
  • Acting the part, and going about things in a manner that inspires others.

Sam Bradford has exhibited all of these characteristics, to varying degrees. He still has much to learn about leadership, and it's fair to say he is still in the developmental stages of becoming a leader in the mold of the above-mentioned players. This can only come with time, experience, and maturity, as evidenced in the accompanying chart:

Player Age Experience
Peyton Manning 37 14
Tom Brady 36 13
Drew Brees 34 12
Aaron Rodgers 30 8
Sam Bradford 25 3
Steven Jackson 30 9

It's really too early to determine whether Sam Bradford can become the quality of leader that Steven Jackson, or the four elite quarterbacks are now. Time, age, and experience will tell. It's only his first year as the leader of the offense. All signs point in a positive direction.

Producing on the field - and winning - are common measures for defining an elite quarterback. They are also closely linked to the leadership discussion, as suggested in "On Quarterback Leadership" (link):

"People say leadership is a lot of different things, but when it comes down to it, it is a really abstract term that has a different meaning to everyone. I think guys want to follow the guy who is going to put them in the endzone."

"Leadership is nothing more mystical than the confidence you inspire in your teammates. And that confidence usually stems from your play on the field."

"This is not to deny the existence of leadership. I think it is probably real. But I also think that we as outsiders have zero chance of figuring out how much it matters within a given team. We focus on results, so we assign winning teams as having good leadership and losing teams as having bad leadership. Wouldn’t it be easier to assume that winning teams simply had better players and coaches?"

Sam Bradford still must prove that he can consistently produce, lead his team to victories, and inspire confidence in his teammates with his play on the field. Bradford has grown significantly since Jeff Fisher became the head coach of the Rams, and will continue to grow [as will the youngest team in the NFL]. He must reach the next level to be considered an exemplary leader, and a top-ten quarterback. Sam Bradford, and this incredibly youthful team, have shown me enough to believe in a bright future ahead.

Time will tell...

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