The St. Louis Rams likely know that this season is lost. When Sam Bradford suffered a torn ACL in Sunday's loss to the Carolina Panthers, it did far more than drop the team to 3-4 on the season.
It raised a huge question: Is Bradford the future of the team?
The mixed-bag results of the first seven games offer no clear picture. Prior to the Rams' 35-11 embarrassment of a home loss to the San Francisco 49ers, team officials told NFL Network's Michael Silver that they would invite extension talks with the former No. 1 pick in the draft.
Now whether or not that was lip service then, the story has changed now. Bradford likely will be on track to return next season, but when? And even though he redid his contract in the offseason slightly, Bradford has salary-cap hits of $17.6 million and $16.5 million these next two seasons.
With two first-round picks — theirs and the Washington Redskins' — the opportunity to draft a quarterback most certainly will present itself early in the 2014 NFL draft. This class perhaps could feature as many as six first-round possibilities, and as things stand now the Rams would have two of the first dozen picks in their possession.
But Bradford had rebounded after the 49ers game and strung together 10 good quarters of football. The Rams' offensive identity had changed over that time — from a spread-based attack to a more Jeff Fisher-friendly power game, mixed with a more traditional passing approach. The results were working. His total numbers through parts of seven games — 1,687 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, four interceptions — were surprisingly good.
So what now? The team only has Kellen Clemens on the roster, and he's not part of the Rams' future, at least not as the starter. Do they bring Bradford back at that price and hope he's well? Will it be coupled with a first-round quarterback? And who, lord knows, do they turn to for help now? (We know it will not be Tim Tebow.)
The list of short-term options is familiar, and drab. Matt Leinart, Vince Young, David Carr, Tyler Thigpen and John Skelton are among the quarterbacks who were in camp or on rosters recently, all looking for work. One of them could be a Ram by Monday's end. Or it could be someone else.
That name isn't important. What is vital is the thinking of Fisher and GM Les Snead, and how they start to approach the offseason. Maybe there's a bridge option — say, the Vikings' Christian Ponder, via a cheap trade? — that can prevent the team from having to use a first-rounder on a quarterback, allowing them to help supplement a growingly impressive roster.
The Bradford injury isn't just the story of the Rams' 2013 season, but it most certainly will remain so through February, March, April and May, until the team declares its stance at its most important position.
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