NFL: As Bradford’s stock rises, Rams could face complicated decision on top pick
By Bryan Burwell
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS — With only 43 more shopping days remaining before the NFL draft, Rams general manager Billy Devaney and the rest of his personnel entourage have descended on Indianapolis the past few days for the NFL combine with only one purpose in mind: find a way to fix this wretched mess of a franchise in record time.
When you have been looking up from the bottom of the NFL barrel for as long as the Rams have — and when the entire football world is just waiting to see exactly what you will do with the No. 1 overall pick — that puts an extraordinary amount of expectation on a GM’s shoulders. Devaney, a little guy with an oversized competitive streak, privately simmers when he detects even the slightest hint that people look down their noses at his football team and how much disrespect — whether real or imagined — seems to have piled up on this franchise since he arrived here three years ago.
So now the best way to fix all those slights is to nail this draft. From start to finish, this offseason could be his championship season, a make-or-break shopping spree that could transform the pitiful Rams from embarrassing to competitive almost overnight.
“Obviously, everybody knows we have the first pick in the draft coming up,” Devaney said a few days ago when he met the media in Indianapolis. “And I certainly hope this time next year when we get together, we’re not talking about the first pick in the draft. Otherwise (dramatic pause) ... well, I really hope we’re not talking about the first pick in the draft next year.”
The dramatic pause with no words told a story as much as the words Devaney spoke. When his voice trailed off after that “otherwise,” it sounded like a man who understood that the clock is ticking on his football life. “Otherwise” means that who knows what a prospective new owner might think after he has just invested upwards of $700 million on a team only to see it end up as the worst team in the NFL two years running.
In talking to plenty of people around NFL circles in Indy last weekend, everyone agreed on one thing:
Devaney has a huge challenge in front of him — some say it’s the equivalent of stocking an expansion franchise — and he shouldn’t be even remotely close to knowing for sure what the Rams will do with that No. 1 pick.
“If they’ve already made up their minds at this stage of the process, they’re crazy,” said one longtime NFL executive. “It would be like buying a house and not going inside to see what it’s like. You need an inspector to check the pipes, the roof, the electricity.”
Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo have a lot of work to do before they begin to sort out all the possibilities of this massive rebuilding. It’s a complicated process that begins with wading through a ton of game footage on defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, then sorting through even more footage of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford to decide if he truly is a franchise type athlete.
If Bradford checks out as some personnel people believe he will, then it makes for the sort of decision that will either make Devaney and Spagnuolo look remarkably smart or unemployed.
But it is complicated, based largely on the rising regard for Bradford. If he tests out positively through the battery of medical evaluations here and under the examination of independent physicians, then the entire dynamic of the pick changes. As one NFC head coach told me, “I’m a defensive guy all the way, but this is a quarterback-driven league. If Bradford checks out, you almost have to take the quarterback. If he has the stuff to take you to that next level — and you have to do all your homework on that one — then you go for the quarterback every time.”
The NFL rumor mill in Indy was working overtime concerning what the Rams will or should do. There is a school of thought out there that if Bradford doesn’t test out medically, or if they believe he is injury prone, or if they don’t like what they see on his pro day March 25, the Rams will explore trading for a veteran quarterback. According to more than one well-informed source, the Rams have had intense internal conversations with the Philadelphia Eagles about a trade for Pro Bowler Donovan McNabb.
The trading period begins next week, and if they can stockpile a few extra high picks (can they get second-round compensation for Alex Barron?), would they have enough to tempt the Eagles with a high second-round pick to go for McNabb? If so, does that mean they won’t pursue a QB with the first pick?
A lot of questions that won’t be answered any time soon, but pay close attention to every move the Rams make the next few weeks because they could all be connected. If they are stockpiling picks, does it mean they’re preparing to make a big trade? If they are scrutinizing the veteran QBs, does that mean they’re going away from Bradford? Does all this Bradford talk really indicate genuine interest or are they simply sending out false signals to drum up trade value for that No. 1 pick?
“Well, on the days they want to be positive about their life,” said former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, “it’s like, ’Hey, we can’t lose on this decision.”’
But Devaney and his people have to know better than that. They can indeed lose big time on this monumental decision. When you are first in line with the entire draft class at your disposal and you still pick the wrong guy, that is the sort of shopping spree that has disaster written all over it. The Rams have seen way too many disasters lately. It’s time to start compiling draft classes that look like masterpieces.