When to start a rookie quarterback, especially the top overall pick, is always a dilemma. With Sam Bradford, this decision is high-stakes poker because you’re talking about a $50 million player.
You’re not talking about a player at another position who might or might not develop. This is your franchise quarterback, the player you’re banking your success on. So you want to get it right.
The landscape of developing quarterbacks has changed. Before free agency, the mentality was a quarterback could be developed in two to three years, and hopefully he’d be ready when the starter moves on. Now free agency has put a four- or five-year clock on the process. Maybe you don’t start him in the first season, and he gets a little bit of playing time, but he’s ready to go in his second season.
I think the process changed dramatically again with the success of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and to a lesser degree Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez. Now the mentality is with so much money invested in these players, to be good in their second season, they need to play right away. The entire process has been accelerated.
Just think about how much further ahead the Ravens and Falcons are after getting Flacco and Ryan experience, as opposed to just now throwing them into the fray as starters.
For my money, the Rams have to start Bradford. If they thought enough about him to give him $50 million up front and put the future of the organization in his hands as the first pick, how do they not play him?
I don’t care as much about the current state of the Rams. Surround him with better talent and do things on the field — leave the tight ends in, chip with running backs, run two-man routes — to protect him. The Rams might not look good doing it, but his learning curve will be steeper.
Besides, what would you be telling your players if Bradford isn’t the starter? You have to show you’re putting the best players on the field in order to win. They way Bradford has played this preseason, I think it would be sending the wrong message to the team to sit him. The players know how good he is, and they’re out there working, too.
In my opinion, the Rams will be infinitely better on opening day in 2011 for having played Bradford as a rookie.
– Brian Billick