Albert Pujols is a St Louis legend. He's a once-in-a-generation player that catapulted the Cardinals back into relevancy after a lackluster showing in the '90s. In his 11 season with the Cardinals, he was a perennial MVP candidate and led the team to 10 winning seasons, 7 playoff appearances, 3 pennants, and 2 championships. He was everything you wanted in a franchise cornerstone
In short, he was everything Sam Bradford was supposed to be.
When Bradford was selected atop the 2010 NFL Draft, he was expected to become that franchise cornerstone. He was supposed to lead the Rams out of Purgatory and into NFL relevancy again. As the final #1 pick in the old CBA, Bradford got a monster contract that he was never able to live up to. But that contract could now be a blessing in disguise for the Rams.
Pujols Leaves in Free Agency
When Pujols left for LA, the Cardinals doubled down on players under contract. The used the financial flexibility gained in Pujols' departure to extend ace pitcher Adam Wainwright and All-World Catcher Yadier Molina. In addition to those moves, the brought in Carlos Beltran on a modest contract and gave young studs (at the time) Allen Craig and Jason Motte team-friendly contracts.
Most of the contracts played out well for the Redbirds. Beltran was rejuvenated, Yadi turned into an MVP candidate in his own right and Waino has retained his status as one of the best pitchers in the game. While Craig and Motte are no longer with the team, each proved their value before departing.
The Cardinals parlayed this good fortune into continued success. In the 3 seasons since Pujols walked, they have been in the playoffs every season, won 2 division titles, and a pennant in 2013 - ultimately losing to the Red Sox in the World Series. Bottom line, the Cardinals know how to run a franchise and the Rams could learn a thing or two from them.
As noted earlier, Bradford was the last beneficiary of a broken rookie wage scale. It's not his fault, nor is it the Rams. It was the product of a broken system. There are plenty of reasons that Bradford failed in St Louis, but that's not what I'm here to write about. The question I pose is simple: Can the Rams parlay this financial flexibility into sustained success?
The primary difference between the Cardinals and Rams situation is that the Rams created more flexibility by releasing Jake Long and Scott Wells. This makes a direct comparison difficult, but the core of the situation remains the same. Snisher does not have the best track record with fiscal responsibility and now had a ton of flexibility. What did they do with it?
They spent $3M on Akeem Ayers and $4.75M on Nick Fairley. In addition to those two acquisitions, they gave Lance Kendricks a $4M raise and Kenny Britt a $3M raise. It remains to be seen whether they bring back Joe Barksdale or bring in another OL with the remaining flexibility. In short, they provided further reinforcements for the defense and retained two important cogs on offense.
The wild card here is the length of the signings. Three of the four signings mentioned above are for either 1 or 2 years, meaning that the Rams retain long term flexibility. This is important because the talented core of players that Snisher has been assembling - and new QB Nick Foles - is going to start hitting Free Agency after the 2015 season. Being able to retain the best of that talent - like the Cardinals did - is going to be pivotal to sustained success.
While severe differences in production - and that's putting it lightly - are there, both Pujols and Bradford refused to take team friendly deals and were either not retained or shipped off. Again, the comparison isn't perfect, but the Rams have an amazing opportunity to catapult themselves into contention with the right moves.
Snead and Fisher have shown the ability to acquire talent, so they don't have to worry about that part of the equation. But if they want to emulate their cross-town cohorts, they would be wise to use the flexibility to invest in their youthful core that is rapidly approaching Free Agency.
Even though his tenure in St Louis was a disappointment, Sam Bradford and his monster contract may still be what pulls the Rams into contention. Albeit much more indirect than the Rams hoped for in 2010.