Words only mean so much when it comes to the NFL Draft, not to mention job security in the league. However, it's been an article of faith among St. Louis Rams fans that when Jeff Fisher and Les Snead say quarterback Sam Bradford is their guy, they mean it.
Public endorsements aren't always a kiss of death. The Rams brass is pretty clearly committed to Sam Bradford for 2014, but what's with all this news about the team looking for quarterbacks in the draft? As Jim Thomas noted again on Monday in the Post-Dispatch, the Rams are "strongly considering" a quarterback in the draft. That much has been clear for awhile now, underscored by how much research they're doing on the young signal callers.
So what, if anything, can we glean from this? Let's take a look at some of the most obvious inferences one could make and gauge the likelihood.
Bradford is the starter for 2014
Likelihood: Most certainly. Duh. This is Snead's remark about not taking a player at No. 2 that won't play this year.
Reasoning: The Rams had the chance to cut Bradford and save a bunch in cap space. They didn't. Two keys here. First, who are they going to replace Bradford with for 2014? That's less likely with a rookie under center, and there were no free agents who could do that. Second, they've ramped up expectations to the point that uncertainty at QB is more of a threat to winning than staying with Bradford in an offense built around the running back.
Competition will push Bradford
Likelihood: It depends. The list of rookies the Rams are looking at aren't guys who would start right away. Thomas' report makes it pretty clear that they want someone who would hold the clipboard for 2014.
Reasoning: If they really are bent on competition for the fifth-year starter, Shaun Hill is right on the level for a 2014 QB competition, especially in a run-first offense where the QB's role is minimized. Drafting a signal caller isn't about a QB competition for 2014. It's about what the Rams after this coming season.
Drafting a QB is an insurance plan for 2014
Likelihood: Sort of.
Reasoning: This goes back to the idea that the Rams want a rookie QB to be the understudy this year. If Bradford can't play to start the season or struggles, which wouldn't be unusual given the natural of his injury, the rookie would be the backup to Hill, and probably a backup with a much higher ceiling that Austin Davis.
No Bradford contract extension is coming
Likelihood: We're onto something now.
Reasoning: From Bradford's perspective, a contract extension right now could lock him in at a rate that's not consistent with what he thinks he deserves. He's got two years left on his contract that makes him one of the highest paid QBs in the NFL, why change that now when you've got a third season in the same offense and the chance to justify a bigger asking price?
The Rams have made contradictory messages about a contract extension. Fisher's last missive was that Bradford's contract situation was no different than any other player on the team under contract. An extension now puts the Rams in a committed QB relationship for the next three years or so. They're interest in drafting a QB makes it sound like they're not ready for a long-term relationship, at least until they can finally get a better sense of who they're settling down with. Now's a good time to remind you that Fisher and Snead didn't draft Sam Bradford, and the coach's talking point about the QB being a reason he chose St. Louis in 2012 is past its expiration date.
The Rams will have a new starting QB in 2015
Likelihood: I'm willing to bet that they will, but we'll get a real good sense of the odds once we see which QB they select in the draft, if any.
Reasoning: Carrying the betting analogy a little further, this is a good hedge for the Rams. If Bradford does come back in 2014 and play lights out football, the kind he's not managed to do very often, they've got him under contract for one more year with a chance to hammer out an extension. They could even use the franchise tag in 2016, if they need to.
But that seems unlikely. Adrian Peterson's miraculous ACL recovery aside, quarterbacks have struggled to get back to pre-injury levels the season after ACL surgery. RGIII, Tom Brady, Donovan McNabb, and Carson Palmer all struggled in their first games back from the injury, relative to their performance from the year prior. The one exception seems to be Philip Rivers in 2008.
Furthermore, there's really nothing in the first four seasons of Bradford's career to suggest that he's going to take a giant step forward. His completion percentage ranks among the five worst active QBs. His yards per attempt is a dismal 6.4. Systems and complementary players aside, you just have to look back at Bradford's career and ask when, if ever, he's really had that moment where he stood out and looked like a guy who can carry a franchise.
Listen, I know that last paragraph is going to incite a slew of angry comments, but the odds just aren't in Bradford's favor, which is all the more reason to watch what the Rams do in this draft VERY closely.
If they use a late-round pick on a guy like Taji Boyd or Garrett Gilbert, it's more likely that they envision Bradford back for 2015. A day two pick for Derek Carr or Zach Mettenberger or Aaron Murray, means the Fisher and Snead have probably found "their" quarterback for the future (it's an entirely different matter whether or not the guy they draft works out, and given their commitment to Brian Schottenheimer, I'm dubious).