The old adage in the NFL goes, “your team has nothing until they have a franchise quarterback.” In the case of the Cleveland Browns, this is something the organization knows too well—as they have been searching since their return in 1999 for a franchise answer to their quarterback position.
From the first overall pick (Tim Couch) to undrafted free agents (Connor Shaw being the latest), the Browns have sifted through 20-plus starting options in an attempt to find the mythical franchise face for their organization without success. For this reason, it is easy to understand why fans and media members-alike get excited with every “shiny quarterback” option that hits the market.
Over the past month or so, one of the targets of desire for many of the fans out there was St. Louis Rams starting quarterback, Sam Bradford. Coming off another ACL injury which ended his season before it started, Bradford was seemingly a hot commodity this offseason—ultimately ending up in Philadelphia on Tuesday after a blockbuster trade.
Rumored to be a target of the Browns for quite some time, naturally fans were upset with not being able to acquire the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. But when you dive a little deeper, the Browns may have dodged a bullet by not trading for the oft-injured former Oklahoma Sooner.
For starters, let’s look at the price the Philadelphia Eagles paid to acquire Bradford. The team sent starting quarterback Nick Foles (26-years old, third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft), a fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft and a second-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft to the Rams for Bradford and a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
On top of this, the Eagles have the ability to recoup a conditional pick from the Rams in 2016 dependent on snaps. According to ESPN, “The Eagles can also pick up a conditional pick in 2016 based on how many snaps Bradford takes. If Bradford plays less than 50 percent the Eagles will get a 4th-round pick, if he does not play at all it becomes a 3rd-rounder. If Bradford plays more than 50 percent of snaps the Eagles will not receive any additional compensation.”
If Bradford is the Eagles starter for 50 percent of the snaps or more, the Eagles ultimately gave up a young starting QB, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick to bring Bradford to Philly. That is a very large price to pay for a player who has torn his ACL twice in the course of his first five seasons in the league—one the Browns could not have matched without the willingness to give up one of their first-round picks (No. 12 or No. 19) for a player who could have potentially been a one-year rental.
Speaking of one-year rental, that brings us to the second point—Bradford’s contract situation is not exactly ideal for giving up assets to acquire.
One of the last “major guarantees” for a rookie quarterback before the rookie pay scale was enacted, according to Spotrac.com Bradford was scheduled to make $12.9 million for the 2015 season. Following the season, he was set to become a free agent—which herein lies the problem.
Most people were balking at the $12.9 million price tag for this season, but with the Browns not looking to dish out all of their $40-plus million in cap space, that likely would have not been the problem. The problem with Bradford and the Browns was in his future free agent status for the 2016 offseason.
Bradford, who turns 28-years old this season, would have been an extremely difficult player to construct a contract extension for during the season. Coming off another lost year, it is hard for any front office to extend Bradford before seeing what he can do on the field. With a string-cheese ACL in tow, Bradford—more than other players—is literally one wrong knee plant or hit away from being out for yet another season.
So the only thing a logical front office can do with Bradford is to let him play the 2015 season out and see if he gets healthy. At some point, say after 10 games, if he looks like the Bradford of old—you can begin to try and talk about a reasonable contract extension. But what is the motivation for Bradford to sign?
At this point with six games left, Bradford and his agent would more than likely roll the dice on finishing the 2015 season strong—opting to create a major bidding war on the open market. Sure, all fans would hope Bradford gives the team a discount for “taking a chance on him,” but realistically this could be his only chance to cash one more big contract in the league with his injury history.
When—not if—Bradford and his agent take their talents to the open market, a bidding war of epic proportions would absolutely occur. The last time a potential franchise quarterback hit the open market was Drew Brees, and the impact of his signing in New Orleans can be seen across the league. Quarterbacks with the upside of being a franchise guy just do not hit the free agency market, so if Bradford would have—someone, possibly the Browns would have paid.
Someone like the Browns “paying” brings us to the final and ultimate risk with Bradford—his injury history and career numbers.
One season of good health will earn Bradford a massive contract, but it does not hide the major red flags in his career. Dating back to college, injuries have been a problem for him. It started with a shoulder injury at Oklahoma, and carried over to two ACL injuries in the NFL. Though they may be “fluke” in nature, these cannot go unnoticed.
As stated before, Bradford is one future injury away from a team—like the Browns—being on the hook for a major guarantee they would have to give him on the open market after just one season of proving himself. In a game where one massive guaranteed contract can hurt the ability to extend young players to keep them off the free agent market, this would be a major blow to an organization like the Browns that has typically had difficulty on the free agent market anyways.
Aside from the injuries, despite being known as a “high accuracy” QB, Bradford’s numbers tell a different story. In his career, Bradford has completed just 58.6 percent of his passes for 11,065 yards, 59 touchdowns and 38 interceptions. Some point to his lack of playmakers as the reason for his lower accuracy numbers, but ultimately the proof is in the numbers and franchise QBs make the players around them better.
Listen, I get it. Bradford “could have” stayed healthy, re-signed a long-term deal with the team and become the franchise guy we have all have wished for since 1999 when selecting Couch. He may even go to Philadelphia, lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl and you will all be tweeting me a year from now saying, “see what could have been?”
But at the end of the day, the Browns risk outweighed the potential reward for one season of Sam Bradford—and a year from now when he left the Browns at the alter in free agency or ended up getting hurt during the 2015 season, the conversation would still be the same. So instead of wondering what could have been with Bradford, the focus should be on finding a real long-term option—preferably one who will be under his rookie contract.