Sam Bradford’s current contract situation is this offseason’s most intriguing storyline. The way I see it, there are four different ways that this scenario can play out. The Rams can release Bradford, they can sign him to an extension where he does not take a pay cut, they can sign him to an extension where he does agree to a pay cut, or they can sit still and do nothing at all.
Before I get into the pros and cons associated with each scenario for both the Rams and Bradford, let me lay out some of the facts:
-Bradford’s current contract, which he signed before his rookie year, contains no more guaranteed money.
-Bradford is set to make $14,015,000 in 2014 base salary under this current deal. This deal carries a $17,610,000 2014 cap hit, and the Rams would absorb $7,190,000 in dead money if they cut Bradford right now ($3,595,000 X 2= $7,190,000, where $3,595,000 is the prorated bonus amount for both this year and next)
-Bradford is set to make $12,985,000 in 2015 base salary under his current deal. His 2015 cap figure is $16,580,000, and the Rams would absorb $3,595,000 in dead money if they cut Bradford after the 2014 season.
-Based on projections, the Rams are currently $617,233 under the 2014 cap.
-The Rams must remain under the cap by the start of the league year on March 11th.
-The Rams have both the 2nd overall pick and 13th overall pick in 2014 draft.
-The Rams have the 2nd highest projected Year One Pool (barring any trades, it will cost $9,484,925 in 2014 cap space to sign their 2014 rookie class). However, since the Rams have 9 draft picks and would have to make room for all 9 players if they signed them (meaning cutting players who are currently on their roster), $5,704,925 is the actual amount of cap space required to sign their rookie class.
I wrote the following regarding this situation on December 12, which explains why the Rams are in this position to begin with:
Sam Bradford was the last #1 pick to truly hit the lottery. 2010s #1 overall selection, his 6-year/$78 million contract included $50 million in guaranteed money.
Unfortunately for the NFL Draft’s subsequent top selections, the 2011 CBA included the implementation of rookie wage scale. Both the owners and veteran players had been fed up with unproven rookies making such absurd amounts of money.
Four years into Sam Bradford’s career (his 2013 campaign ended when he tore his ACL in November), and he’s one of many poster children for why a rookie wage scale makes sense. Although injuries, poor offensive-line play and a lack of talented skill position players have all played their role, Bradford remains unproven.
Bradford is still young, has already pocketed over $50 million, and would ostensibly be most concerned with being a starting quarterback. The Rams, who have been bad for a long time (they have not had a winning record since 2003!), have a decent amount of talent stockpiled—the result of picking so high in the draft for such a long time. If Bradford suddenly began performing like the #1 overall pick that he is, the Rams would be true contenders.
So how will St. Louis handle the Bradford situation this offseason? Let’s look at the pros and cons for each side under the four different scenarios:
1) Releasing Bradford
Positives for the Rams: St. Louis would free up $10,420,000 in cap space right away by releasing him—money that could be used in free agency.
Negatives for the Rams: The Rams would not have a QB, and would almost certainly have to draft one with the #2 overall pick in May. St. Louis would also have to eat $7,190,000 in dead money under this scenario.
Positives for Bradford: In a league where solid QB play is a true commodity, Bradford would not be out of work long. Teams that would plausibly be interested in Bradford are MIN, TB, ARI, NYJ, CLE, TEN, JAX, HOU and OAK. If the medical reports on his torn ACL continue to be positive, it’s likely that Bradford would have the upper hand on the starting QB job with whatever team he signed with. He’d also secure some guaranteed money under this scenario.
Negatives for Bradford: Bradford would lose out on his $14,015,000 2014 base salary. Though he would catch on elsewhere, this would mean taking a 2014 pay cut.
2) Extending Bradford (no pay cut)
Positives for the Rams: The Rams would clear up cap space immediately, again meaning they’d be able to become players in free agency.
Negatives for the Rams: This scenario means the Rams would be committing to Bradford as their QB of the future at a huge cost. This could greatly handicap the franchise in the future.
Positives for Bradford: Bradford would not only be the starting QB in the short-term, but he’d be making a ton of (guaranteed) money to assume this role.
Negatives for Bradford: If Bradford were extended without having to take a pay cut, there’d really be no negatives for him. Unless he suddenly turned into Aaron Rodgers, Bradford would win big under this scenario.
3) Extending Bradford (Bradford agrees to pay cut)
Positives for the Rams: The Rams could use both their 1st round picks on accumulating even more talent around Bradford. They’d also clear up cap space in the short term.
Negatives for the Rams: While this scenario could end up working out, it’s far from a sure thing, and St. Louis would still be guaranteeing Bradford future money (an approach that has not worked out well for them in the past). This is somewhat similar to what the Jets did with Mark Sanchez two offseasons ago (though Sanchez didn’t take a pay cut).
Positives for Bradford: Even if Bradford agreed to a pay cut, an extension means that he’d still receive guaranteed money—something he does not have under his current deal. And it’s still possible that he’d make more money (while taking a pay cut to remain in St. Louis) than he would on the open market—a scenario in which he’d have to learn a new system.
Negatives for Bradford: Bradford would make less money than he is currently slated to make. There’d also be the possibility (albeit, a slight one) that he’d outperform this new deal, and end up being underpaid down the line (this would all depend on the terms of the pay cut).
4) Do Nothing:
Positives for the Rams: In contrast to either extension scenario, the lack of any more guaranteed money in Bradford’s contract means the Rams would only be committing to Bradford for 2014 (as a vested veteran with 4 league years, his entire 2014 salary would be guaranteed if he is on the roster Week 1).
Negatives for the Rams: It means the Rams would be paying a huge sum of money in 2014 to an unproven QB (his 2014 cap hit would rank behind only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger).
Positives for Bradford: The Rams’ cost would be Bradford’s fortune; Bradford would make a huge amount of money for 2014.
Negatives for Bradford: If Bradford failed to produce, his large 2015 base salary means the Rams would cut him and his NFL career would be on thin ice. He’d find a suitor in 2015 free agency, but a poor 2014 campaign would dry out his market.Andrew Cohen @ajcohen03 firstname.lastname@example.org