Written by Garrett Catalana – @GarrettCatalana
Two days that have not been forgotten by any St. Louis Rams fan are October 20, 2013 and August 23, 2014. These two unfortunate days were the two times that former #1 overall pick and 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford tore his ACL. One happened in a key Week 7 game at the Panthers and the other occurred in a meaningless Week 3 preseason game at the Browns. The first tear happened after a late hit with an awkward landing on the sideline and the second tear happened on a play where Bradford was barely touched. There is no more of an empty feeling in sports that when your franchise quarterback gets seriously injured. It’s essentially the one position in sports that cannot be replaced. Rams fans had that horrible feeling for two straight seasons. The second tear in Cleveland would be the last that Rams fans would see Sam Bradford in a St. Louis Rams uniform because on March 10, 2015, Bradford was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
There were so many mixed emotions on how to react to the news that Sam Bradford had been traded to the Eagles for me personally. I have followed and loved the Rams for as long as I can remember, starting with the Greatest Show on Turf Rams, led by Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, and other great players culminating with a Super Bowl victory in 2000. The last ten years, however, have been extremely painful to watch, which includes the worst five-year stretch in NFL history with the Rams having a Win-Loss record of 15-65. The light at the end of the tunnel was the selection of Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford with the first pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. Many viewed (including me) that Bradford was going to have a really rough time in his rookie season with a Rams team that had just won one game the previous season. With extremely limited talent (excluding Pro-Bowler Steven Jackson), Bradford had a pretty good rookie season where he was one win away from getting the Rams into the playoffs (lost Week 17 at the Seahawks). The team finished the year 7-9 as Bradford took home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Things were really looking up in St. Louis. But things really backfired the next season.
The Rams first lost their offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur (now Eagles OC) to the Cleveland Browns. The Rams responded by hiring former-Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels. McDaniels ran a complex, 5-step drop offense that was extremely different than what Shurmur ran in 2010. Bradford was dealt a second blow when the NFL lockout occurred that summer, forcing him to wait to a long time in order to comprehend a new, complex offensive system. The Rams started the season 0-4 and Bradford suffered a high ankle strain in Week 6 at Green Bay that limited his ability for the rest of the season, making spot starts the rest of the year.
The day after the 2011 season ended, both head coach Steve Spagnuolo and GM Billy Devaney were fired. The team lacked talent and direction in a horrible season where they finished a dismal 2-14. Jeff Fisher was hired as coach and Les Snead was hired as the general manager. The first move that Snead made was to trade the 2nd overall pick to the Washington Redskins for what ended up becoming a tremendous haul for the Rams, but these young draft picks would need time to develop. Bradford was healthy for all 16 games and had a decent season (6-9-1), knowing the team had limited offensive talent yet again (his top targets were Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Austin Pettis, and an older Steven Jackson).
The Rams came right out and said in the preseason that they wanted to throw the ball a lot, letting Steven Jackson walk in free agency after the season, and move the pace. That worked out horribly for the first four games of the season, as the team went 1-3 and were outscored 121-69. Coach Fisher then changed up the philosophy of the offense, putting a heavy emphasis on running the football, taking time off the clock, and using play action. This worked out to Bradford’s benefit because the Rams won the first two games with the new philosophy by double digits. In Week 5 at home vs. the Jaguars, Bradford went 19 of 34 passing for 222 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. The Rams won 34-20 with the team running the ball 31 times. The next week at Houston, Bradford barely had to throw the ball. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 117 yards but threw for 3 more touchdowns and no interceptions. The Rams won off their defense and special teams, destroying the Texans 38-13. Bradford had managed those two games, making the throws when he had to and throwing touchdowns and not making mistakes. The Rams were back at .500 with a record of 3-3, back in the playoff race. Things were looking up for the Rams. Once again, things backfired.
Week 7, the Rams were facing the eventual AFC-South champions Panthers in Carolina. Things got off to a rough start when Bradford threw a pick-6 to Captain Munnerlyn on the first play of the game giving the Panthers a quick 7-0 lead. Things never got on track for the Rams, including a touchdown to Tavon Austin on a beautiful long ball that was called back on a penalty. They had a chance late in the game down 30-15 with just under 6 minutes left in the game. Rams were driving in Carolina territory when Bradford scrambled and ran for the sidelines, then this happened:
Bradford tore his ACL and was done for the year. The team was demoralized. The offense had trouble getting on track the rest of the season with Kellen Clemens at QB, finished the year 7-9.
In the 2014 offseason, the Rams decided not to take a young, developmental QB in the draft and they didn’t sign an adequate replacement for the injured Bradford. Instead, they signed veteran Shaun Hill to be strictly the backup QB. The Rams brass stuck with Bradford as their quarterback knowing that he didn’t have to carry the team as much as he did his first four seasons because of the talent they had acquired over the last few seasons. Explosive receiver Tavon Austin was back, Stedman Bailey and Brian Quick were developing, the team had signed big targets Jared Cook and Kenny Britt, and there was running back depth (Zac Stacy, Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham). Bradford had to do what he had done in those two games the previous season: don’t make mistakes, manage the game, throw touchdowns, and let the defense win the game. The talent of the team was finally matching up with Bradford’s talent. Things were looking up for the Rams. Then things fell apart.
2014 Preseason Week 3 in Cleveland, this happens:
He tore it again. Bradford was now out another year. This would be the last snap Bradford ever took as a Ram. The team had big ups and downs with Shaun Hill and Austin Davis under center, going 6-10 in 2014.
This offseason, Bradford was heading into the last season of his massive rookie contract he had signed in 2010. He was owed a lot of money and the Rams wanted him to restructure the last year of the deal. He refused so Bradford was traded to Philadelphia. The Sam Bradford Era was over in St. Louis.
I can now also say that I am a lifelong Eagles fan as well. I have been going to Eagles games as long as I can remember. My grandfather became a season ticket holder way back when the Eagles played at Franklin Field in the ‘60s. I have been to many of the memorable games in Eagles history of the past 15 years, such as the 2004 NFC championship game against the Falcons, the 4th-and-26th game, the LeSean McCoy snow game against the Lions, and the Thanksgiving drumming of the Cardinals in 2008. I am from South Jersey and go to school in Philadelphia, so I know how much people in the region care about the Eagles. So that’s why I had such mixed emotions about Sam Bradford leaving St. Louis. He went from one favorite team to my other favorite team. So coming from someone who watches the Rams & Eagles every week, I can say that Sam Bradford can be a Pro Bowl quarterback with the Eagles. That is, “if he stays healthy.” This is a phrase that every Rams fan has come to hate to say in the past three years.
I really didn’t want to see Bradford get traded away from St. Louis. It was like a prophecy unfulfilled. Bradford’s overall health and the overall team talent never matched up at the same time. When Bradford was healthy, the team had minimal talent and a bad defense. When Bradford had been hurt in the last two seasons, the Rams have had a great defense and some weapons on offense. It’s sad as a Rams fan that I never saw the two parts match up. You saw his ability when he was dragging an awful Rams team to within one game of the playoffs in 2010 and you wish that you saw that in 2014 and 2015 with the talent that Fisher & Snead have accumulated in recent seasons. I know the team wanted to keep him but I understood that Bradford wouldn’t restructure his contract so they traded him away for a quarterback who was tremendous in 2013 and bad in 2014. From the Rams perspective, they don’t “need” 2013 Foles, they need a solid QB that can make plays, performs well with play action, and can stay healthy. With the Eagles, it’s the same situation. They need Bradford to make quick decisions, get the ball to his weapons, and ultimately stay healthy. If he gets hurt, Mark Sanchez is capable to run the offense with the weapons that Chip Kelly has acquired.
Bradford can be the quarterback that only throws the ball 16 times like he did Week 6 of 2013 against the Texans. He has good running backs (Murray, Mathews, Sproles), big receivers (Matthews, Cooper, Ertz), quick receivers (Huff, Agholor), and a good offensive line to work with. It’s the most offensive talent that Bradford has ever had in his NFL career. Talent is not the question with Bradford, its health. If he’s healthy, Bradford can win the Eagles the NFC East, especially in Chip Kelly’s QB-friendly system.
Bradford is not without his faults however. My personal nickname for him is “Captain Checkdown,” because he threw a lot of check downs to running backs for minimal gains during his Rams career. Within the context of the offense, Bradford didn’t take many deep shots early in his career because he had lackluster talent on the outside and offensive lines that didn’t give him the time to throw it that far. He compensated by checking down, getting yards, and avoiding sacks. In the past three seasons, Bradford never took any chances by throwing deep. He didn’t wait around in the pocket for receivers to get open, he would throw it away early or check it down way too soon in the progressions. This is something Chip Kelly can hopefully work with him. Bradford is also prone to some really bad mistakes when he is pressured causing interceptions or fumbles. Heck, sometimes he just took the sack rather than attempting to scramble away. I do think, however, this is all correctable stuff with a talented offense and a system that fits with his abilities.
Accuracy and pure throwing ability has never been the question with Bradford. He has completed some incredible throws during his career both in the pocket and on the move. He has completed passes on the sidelines, over the middle, and deep. It’s why he was the #1 overall pick in the draft. He can make every type of throw but he needs the talent to make the play work. I believe the Eagles do have that type of talent that Bradford can take his game to the next level. It’s something I wished I would have seen in St. Louis and seen Marcus Mariota in Philadelphia, but I’m glad that I can see Bradford attempt to get his career back on track with my hometown Eagles. I really hope that he succeeds and leads the Eagles back to the playoffs in 2015. Everything just depends on my least favorite four-word phrase: “If he stays healthy.” As long as he stays healthy, I will proudly be wearing this tee shirt to the Eagles home opener September 20th against the Dallas Cowboys in support of my old Rams quarterback and new Eagles quarterback:
Good luck Sam, Rams Nation & Eagles Nation wishes you well.