The Dallas Cowboys, who extended Tony Romo‘s contract in the offseason, rewarded one of their best overall players. Despite a lack of success late in the season and in the playoffs, Romo has proven he can be a darn good starting quarterback in the NFL. Baltimore signed Joe Flacco to a long-term contract after a surprising Super Bowl run this past season. Meanwhile, both Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan were extended after stellar 2012 seasons.
The signing bonus, guaranteed money and respect these extensions show are prime examples of rewarding a player for both hard work and success on the field.
If this is the case, why are the St. Louis Rams prepared to start negotiations on a contract extension with quarterback Sam Bradford? The fourth-year signal caller has won 15 of 42 career starts in three seasons and has thrown just 45 touchdowns during that span.
While the St. Louis Rams did surprise many with a 7-8-1 record, it was their third consecutive season of under. 500 football. For his part, Bradford posted career highs in yards (3,702), touchdowns (21) and quarterback rating (82.6).
Basic progression seems to suggest that the Rams will challenge for double-digit wins with Bradford tallying over 4,000 yards and 27 or 28 touchdowns. As a whole, those numbers suggest a contract extension would be in order.
You also have to look at Bradford’s remaining contract. He will count a total of $34 million against the cap in 2014 and 2015, which just aren’t sustainable numbers for a team looking to compete in the best division of football. This isn’t an indictment on Bradford, rather it’s one of the primary reason that the old collective bargaining agreement just didn’t work. At this point in his career, Bradford is far from a bust. Heck, he has been a serviceable starting quarterback in three seasons.
As the last rookie quarterback to receive this type of massive contract, Bradford’s performance is placed under the microscope even more. His $23.3 million cap hit this season is just that, a hit the Rams are willing to take. There is no way they’re willing to take on that $34 million in the two seasons that follow unless Bradford ups his game a great deal. Even then, those numbers are out of whack with the natural progression we can expect from Bradford and Co. this year.
A contract extension would lower Bradford’s cap hits in 2014 and 2015, essentially spreading the numbers over the length of the deal. This would enable St. Louis to lock up some of its youngsters who are set to hit the open market in the coming years.
This is all fine and dandy on the surface, but how can St. Louis justify an extension before Bradford has even led the franchise to a .500 record? How can it go to the fan base and indicate that Bradford is the quarterback of the future when he has shown us very little as it relates to being “the guy?”
As much of a public relations disaster as it might be to extend Bradford prior to the season and then see him play more mediocre ball, St. Louis is in a tricky position here. If Bradford excels with new offensive weapons around him, his negotiating power becomes that much stronger. If not, the Rams could be looking at moving in another direction just a few seasons after drafting him No. 1 overall.
Common logic seems to suggest that the Rams should play the 2013 season out. After all, they have already guaranteed that $23 million cap hit in 2013. If Bradford plays out of his mind and leads the Rams to the playoffs, he’ll be well worth that extension. If not, the team can demand a pay cut from the veteran quarterback or threaten him with a move in another direction.
It just makes more sense to let the ’13 season play out under this current deal. Let’s hope, for the Rams’ sake, general manager Les Snead understands this. Otherwise, we could be looking at a crippling long-term contract for a quarterback that has proven very little through three NFL seasons.
Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist at Bleacher Report.
Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of eDraft Sports Radio (which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus. He’s also the news director here at PFC and co-host of Football Debate Central with Ryan Riddle8:00-9:30 every Wednesday.