Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
As a Rams fan, I’ve spent my fair share of Sundays expressing frustration with players — more often than not with woefully overpowered offensive linemen or wide receivers with the hands of a Ken doll. So it’s a noteworthy occasion when a player comes along that you truly pity for having to endure the lose-fests that have plagued St. Louis’ schedules the past decade.
Steven Jackson was one of those. As is defensive end Chris Long. These players gave/give it their all, never complained, all the while knowing their efforts were being wasted on losing teams.
Sam Bradford was, too.
Now, let me give you a disclaimer: You can only feel so bad for a guy who will make $78 million from his first contract out of college. That said, I will plead my case.
Bradford, who was traded to Philadelphia for Nick Foles on Tuesday, wasn’t deserving of pity in the way Jackson was. Jackson was great year in and year out, but unfortunately for him, he might as well have been playing in the Arena League. I don’t think Bradford won’t be up for Hall of Fame discussions anytime soon — not that Jackson will get there, either.
But I felt bad for Bradford because he showed signs of brilliance that just never took root. He had an encouraging first season, winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and throwing for 3,512 yards to go with 18 touchdowns.
He bettered those numbers in 2012, his last full season and the Rams’ first under Jeff Fisher. But the combination of miserable receiving corps, Swiss cheese O-lines and, above all, back-to-back ACL tears left an indelible smudge of disappointment on his five years in St. Louis.
Bradford wasn’t great, but you also never got the sense he was the team’s biggest problem. The offensive coordinator position was a revolving door during Bradford’s first few years as a Ram, and the guys who were here weren’t making anyone forget about Mike Martz.
Bradford wasn’t the first good player on a bad team, nor is the first player to fail to reach his potential because of severe injury problems.
But for many Rams fans, Bradford’s flop in St. Louis was personal.
When the Rams drafted the Oklahoma grad first overall in 2010, he was hailed as the savior in St. Louis. The Rams had limped to six combined wins the three seasons before and needed someone to turn the franchise around.
I happened to be at Bradford’s introductory press conference, seated right behind Bradford’s parents. I was shadowing late St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell for a school project and got to tag along for the day’s festivities. Sure, I was wearing my Objective Journalist Pants, but inside I was thrilled.
The pain would soon be over. A new era was here.
Instead, the Bradford years were, for many, the Rams’ last chance. When he failed to save a perhaps unsalvagable franchise, many St. Louis sports nuts ditched the team, pouring their efforts into the easier-to-root-for Cardinals and Blues while assuming the Rams would soon be headed back to Los Angeles.
That’s what stung most about the Foles-for-Bradford trade. Though the second ACL injury should have been indication enough, trading Bradford meant the Rams were giving up.
He will not be the hero.
Still, I like the trade. (And I love how exciting Chip Kelly has made this NFL offseason.) I don’t think you could reasonably rely on a guy with Bradford’s history — and contract — to be the team’s No. 1 QB.
And though moving up to draft Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota might have been a smarter move, I’m happy the Rams scored a (somewhat) proven veteran. After all, if this season really is going to be the team’s last in St. Louis, I don’t especially feel like waiting for a young gun to develop while the team packs its bags.
As for Bradford, I must admit I’m scared he will have a breakout season for the Eagles, proving Kelly right and taking Rams fans’ suffering to a level we didn’t know was possible.
But considering the luck Bradford had in St. Louis, I won’t begrudge him for it.
He deserves a chance to shine.