Marc Bulger got his big break with the St. Louis Rams in 2002 when he took over for an injured Kurt Warner. The West Virginia product did an admirable job trying to pick up the aging and ailing pieces of the GSOT, until front office negligence and a serious case of battered quarterback syndrome caught up with him.
Warner's backup had a breakout season in 2006, just in time to get a six-year, $65 million contract extension with $27 million guaranteed.
Now the Rams are openly talking about a contract extension for Sam Bradford, despite more shaky play that's got everyone wondering if he will ever reach his potential. It's worth looking back at recent history to see about lessons for the future.
This is Bulger's career from his Big Break up to the season before his breakout.
The Rams went to the playoffs twice during that stretch, but they only topped .500 once, in 2003 with a 12-4 record. Still effective for the team during that stretch were the usual cast of GSOT characters: Holt, Bruce, Faulk and then Jackson starting in 2004. Bulger definitely had a good supporting cast around him, but injuries and a woeful defense made it impossible for the Rams to recapture the recent past. Oh, and let's not forget about the organizational instability with Mike Martz, Jay Zygmunt and everyone else in the front office engaging in political struggles.
2006 was going to be different. There was a new head coach, a bright young offensive coordinator from Minnesota, Scott Linehan.
It was a career season any way you slice it. No coincidence that Steven Jackson also had a career season in 2006, rushing for more than 1,500 yards and catching 90 passes for more than 800. The offense also had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
But a beat up offensive line (not to mention a porous defense) was too much for the Rams to overcome. Bulger got sacked 49 times, and he was never the same player.
That was it. The Rams went downhill fast. Bulger kept getting sacked over and over again, pounding any hope out of him. He played out three more years of his contract extension, throwing off his back foot and never looking like the guy who topped 4,000 yards in 2006. Finally, he was dumped after the Rams picked Bradford first overall in 2010.
So what are the lessons for the Rams' current quarterback situation? Simple ones. Things that other NFL teams have learned over and over again when they re-sign a signal caller to a big money extension.
Protect your investment - The Rams didn't do that with Bulger, and it showed in his rapid decline. They finally gave Bradford the protection he needed this season, signing Jake Long. Unfortunately, the early returns are not promising. Bradford's been sacked 11 times in two games, reverting to his bad habits of awkward throws and going for the easy check down.
Before it's too late - This is the big question for Bradford and the Rams. Will over at Rams Herd took an in-depth look at Bradford and battered quarterback syndrome. It's taken it's toll. But is the damage too engrained to reverse?
Think before you sign - Bradford's signed through 2015 now, at a pretty high cost. However, the cap should go up significantly in 2015, thanks to the new TV deals, reducing the burden of his cap hit. The cap should go up in 2014 too. His rookie deal is burdensome, but perhaps less so than adding another three years onto that commitment.
Have a backup plan - Bulger was there waiting in the wings to take over for Warner. He got his chance and took advantage of it because the Rams had a team in place that would help him succeed. Right now, there is no backup plan for Sam Bradford. Kellen Clemens is not a long-term solution.
Whether the Rams extend Bradford or not, they need to find a viable alternative, a long-term alternative, if this battered QB syndrome proves to be irreversible. Hopefully, it's not too late for Bradford, who we all want to see succeed. Too late or not, the Rams need a guy waiting in the wings for his big break.
Starting on Tuesday, October 8, Golf Channel will be bringing you the latest season of their Big Break program, and this season is going to feature former National Football League stars. One of those stars is going to be St Louis Ram's own Marc Bulger. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the show, here's a description of the program from Golf Channel's website: BIG BREAK NFL from Puerto Rico will feature an all-star cast comprised of several of the series' most captivating and polarizing personalities returning for a second chance at kick starting their professional golf careers. Two past BIG BREAK competitors - one male and one female, will join one NFL legend to form three-person teams. The series will feature a new format twist to BIG BREAK - teams will win or lose as teams. On the line will be $50,000 to the winning NFL legend's designated charity, along with 2014 PGA TOUR and LPGA Tour tournament exemptions, cash and other prizes for the BIG BREAK competitors.