St. Louis Rams: Is Sam Bradford Under Pressure to Perform This Year?

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistMay 29, 2012

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 12:  Sam Bradford #8 of the St. Louis Rams before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field December 12, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Jay Drowns/Getty Images)
Jay Drowns/Getty Images

Sam Bradford recently made a very slight adjustment to his contract with the St. Louis Rams. Bradford is entering the third year of his rookie deal. That deal lasts six seasons and guarantees Bradford $50 million, a sum that was a record at the time of signing.

As the first overall player taken in the 2010 NFL draft, Bradford is the leader of the last class of pre-rookie cap prospects.

That is somewhat of a burden for Bradford, as he has so far struggled to repay the Rams for various reasons. As a rookie, he looked phenomenal on the field. Bradford carried a team to within one game of a division title before capitulating in the final game of the season in Seattle.

Bradford is entering his third season, but only played 10 games last year because of multiple injury issues. Much like last year was for Matthew Stafford, the other most significant No. 1 pick on a massive contract, this year is a vital one for Bradford's long-term prospects.

He undoubtedly has a lot of talent, but durability was a question mark for Bradford coming out of college. At Oklahoma, he missed essentially all of his final season because of a shoulder injury. With the Rams last year, Bradford's issues could be blamed on the offensive line, which failed to consistently protect him. This year is a lot different however.

The Rams have built an offense to protect Bradford even if they didn't actually upgrade the offensive line significantly.

Just like Stafford did, Bradford has to establish himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL as quickly as possible. It's a lot to ask of him to replicate Stafford's statistical achievements, considering the state of the respective offenses, but his impact on his franchise can be on a similar level.

Despite changing head coaches this year, the Rams passed up the opportunity to draft Robert Griffin III in the NFL draft. Griffin III is arguably a better prospect than Bradford was coming out of college, and his contract hit would have been minuscule compared to Bradford's.

With Andy Dalton and Cam Newton already outplaying their rookie deals and Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker all being much cheaper risks than past first-round quarterbacks, Bradford's comparisons in the league right now could show him up. Oftentimes, new coaching regimes prefer to bring in a new face at the quarterback position. Jeff Fisher didn't do that, and by going out on such a limb not to move on from Bradford, he has shown a huge amount of faith in the 24-year-old, but also put a huge amount of pressure on him.

Bradford has done essentially nothing in the NFL. He has definitely done nothing to justify his rookie contract anyway. The fact that there is a lot less risk in the first round these days hurts Bradford, as it will be easier for the Rams to replace him if they need to.

General manager Les Snead did not draft Bradford. Jeff Fisher did not make him his guy. Both were landed with Bradford. If the Rams' struggles continue over the next few years, Snead and Fisher will be held responsible as the big decision-makers at the franchise.

Snead and Fisher are making good moves in St. Louis. The Rams shouldn't struggle over the coming years as their roster develops and improves. Even though they are not the best team in the division, Bradford is, easily, the most talented quarterback in the NFC West.

With the best quarterback in the division on their roster, the Rams should be expecting to compete every year in the NFC West. As the plethora of elite quarterbacks in the NFL are constantly proving, this is an offensive league. In fact, even more than that, this is a passing league. Bradford should be able to impact games to a much greater degree than Alex Smith, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson or Matt Flynn.

Five of the eight divisions in the NFL were won by a team with the best quarterback in that division last year. Bradford did enough as a rookie to buy him some time, so there won't be hell to pay if he's not elite this year. However, he has to show a lot this year.

Newton and Dalton raised the bar for young quarterbacks last year, while the position is seeing a movement towards youth across the league entering this year. Bradford's injury issues in his second year saw him fall behind in his development; he won't be afforded too much more time to establish himself as an NFL star.

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