Sam Bradford has had a rough go of it over the last couple years. He has experienced two ACL tears in as many years, and has missed 25 straight games for the Rams. While his injury history may be alarming to some, it seems as though the Rams are going to stick with him another year and hope the 2010 number one overall pick finally lives up to the title. While Bradford has shown flashes of what he can become, his two “make-or-break seasons” have been pushed back due to injury, this year truly is Bradford’s make-or-break season, injured or not.
Bradford may be the luckiest man on Earth, as the 2010 first overall pick was the last number one with the freedom to sign an unrestricted contract after the draft. This led to a six year $78 million dollar contract. For comparison, Cam Newton, the 2011 number one overall pick, had his deal limited to four years and $22 million under the rookie signing rules in the new CBA . His luck didn’t end there. After tearing his ACL in 2013, Bradford was a cut candidate, but got by without harm to him or his precious contract, giving him another $14 million. Think the luck stops? Nope. Bradford once again tore his ACL forcing him to miss all of 2014, yet still finds himself on the Rams roster. Under any normal circumstances, a player set to make $13 million after missing 25 straight games would be cut, but not Bradford. With the Rams likely out of reach for either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota in the draft, and the next best QBs clearly not NFL ready, Bradford shouldn’t worry about being replaced through the draft. And even if he was, it shouldn’t bother him much as he will have been guaranteed his contract by the time the draft rolls around. Not only are there no QBs in the draft for the Rams to draft, but the QB market in free agency is headlined by Jake Locker. Yikes. While the Rams want Bradford to take a pay cut, he doesn’t have to as the Rams have no other viable options, giving him all the leverage and likely his full $13 million payment. But Bradford’s luck is set to run out after his contract expires this season, unless he can put together a career saving season.
Bradford has not been a terrible player when on the field. In fact, he has played rather well under unusual circumstances with St. Louis, being the QB of garbage Rams’ offenses and multiple offensive coordinator swaps. In 2012, Bradford’s most recent full season, he put up a 59.5% completion percentage, adding 3,702 yards and 21-13 TD to interception ratio. While the completion percentage is rather low, it is still respectable given the team he was handed. After 2012 Bradford entered what now turns out to be the first of three make-or-break seasons. If he didn’t perform it was expected the Rams would cut him and move on. The problem is he did perform, but gave the Rams a bit of a cliffhanger, only making it seven games before leaving the Rams to wonder what could come next in 2014. In that seven game season he had a 60.7% completion percentage, 1,687 yards, and a 14-4 touchdown to interception ratio. These numbers put him on pace for 3,856 yards and a 32-9 touchdown to interception ratio. With those numbers, it is quite clear why the Rams were willing to give him another chance in 2014. While he didn’t play a regular season game in 2014, Bradford still showed what his future can hold. Bradford was raved about in training camp, and showed why with his usual spot-on accuracy (despite the misleading completion percentage), along with what appeared to be a much stronger arm, putting steam on his throws left and right.
While Bradford’s injury history is still a major concern for the season, the promise he has shown and a lack of options leaves him as the clear choice for the Rams in 2015. What does Bradford have to do to make himself the Rams QB in 2016? I would guess three things. First, put up the numbers, a stat line around the neighborhood of a 63% completion percentage, 3,750 yards, and at least 30 touchdowns, throwing at least two touchdowns to every interception. Second, play a full season, seems simple enough, but for Bradford it will be easier said-than-done. Finally, lead the Rams to a winning record, hopefully ending the long history of losing for the Rams. While reaching all three of these goals should guarantee his return, an injury free season with a playoff appearance or big numbers should be enough to bring him back. With all eyes on Bradford, the Rams hope he can finally be the number one pick they expected him to be and lead them back to the playoffs.