“Pressure pushing down on me, pressing down on you, no man ask for….” so begins Queen’s “Under Pressure”, the Sam Bradford theme song following the Rams the 2013 draft.
Bradford and the Rams surprised many in 2012, posting a 7-8-1 record, which included a win and a tie against the eventual NFC champion San Francisco 49ers. After losing his top two targets to free agency, Bradford probably expected the Rams to bring in at least one new weapon. They did better, hauling in three new tools for him to work with and a big piece of the protection puzzle going forward. Tavon Austin and teammate Stedman Bailey, who replace Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, are a dynamic du0 that put up monster numbers at West Virginia, combining for 228 receptions, 2,911 yards and 37 touchdowns in 2012. Throw in the Rams other offseason acquisition, hybrid tight end Jared Cook, and the Rams have what I consider to be one of the most dynamic and explosive receiving corps in the NFL.
The backfield on the other hand remains a question mark for St. Louis following the departure of the franchise’s all-time leading rusher Steven Jackson. Daryl Richardson performed well during his rookie season, racking up 475 yards on 98 carries, before tiring out down the stretch. Isaiah Pead, who lost the back up role to Richardson in the preseason only had 10 carries in 2012. With Jackson gone, the Rams needed to add a punch to the backfield. Insert Zac Stacy here. While he isn’t exactly SJ39, he is a solid 5th round pick up. Stacy is coming off of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons with 10 or more touchdowns.
And you can’t overlook what the Rams have done to solidify their offensive front in the offseason either. The Rams signed a four-time pro bowl left tackle in Jake Long and picked up a versatile lineman with their 4th round pick in Alabama’s Barrett Jones. The two-time All-American played well at all five positions on the line. To go along with his national championships Jones won the Rimington and William V. Campbell trophies in 2012 and claimed the Wuerffel, Outland, and Jacobs Blocking trophies in 2011. The addition of someone with his skill set is especially important considering the age and health issues that have plagued center Scott Wells. Both Long and Jones will come into the season with some injury concerns but if heathy, the Rams should have one of the strongest offensive fronts in the division.
What does all of this mean for Sam Bradford?
The pressure gauge will be the highest it has ever been for the Rams quarterback. The former Oklahoma Sooner had a new offensive coordinator in each of his first three seasons. That streak ends in 2013 with Brian Schottenheimer returning to the Rams sidelines for his second season in the Fisher regime. You could also argue that St. Louis didn’t have enough weapons around him over the first three years of his career. That is no longer an acceptable excuse in the Gateway City. Jeff Fisher and Les Snead have put together a team that should compete with any team in the NFC West and a roster with enough talent to make a run at the playoffs.
So essentially it is put up, or shut up time for the former Rams playcaller.
The increase in pressure starts with the fact that his salary will increase in each of the next three seasons. Bradford will have a base salary of $9-million in 2013, slightly more than $14-million in 2014 and just under $13-million 2015, the final year of his contract. His total cap hit over the final three years of his deal will be slightly less than $46.8-million; big money for a quarterback who ranked 21st in the NFL last season according to ESPN’s Total Qarterback Rating system. QBR is a statistical measure that incorporates the contexts and details of those throws and what they mean for wins. It’s built from the team level down to the quarterback, where we understand first what each play means to the team, then give credit to the quarterback for what happened on that play based on what he contributed.
Bradford’s 56.1 QBR put him above Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and the New York Jets Mark Sanchez. He completed just under 60% of his passes, for 3,702 yards with a 21 touchdowns; both career highs. Working in the same offensive system for multiple years should mean those numbers improve, however that will likely depend more on his ability to build a rapport with his new receivers. The Rams play caller will also have to become more of a leader in 2013. Without Steven Jackson around, Bradford will have to help lead a roster than has 44 players age 25 or younger.
If he improves his game, becomes a true leader and leads the Rams to the playoffs, Sam Bradford could have a long career in St. Louis. If he doesn’t do that, 2013 could be the beginning of the end of his time in St. Louis.