CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The St. Louis Rams' worst fears were confirmed late Sunday night when, according to a source, an MRI revealed quarterback Sam Bradford would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
The immediate implications of the injury could well mean a lost 2013 season in which the Rams will struggle to find wins in their final nine games.
The bigger issue is Bradford's long-term future with the team.
With Bradford’s contract running through the 2015 season and cap hits of $17.61 million and $16.58 million remaining, the Rams don’t necessarily have to make a decision on his future anytime soon, but there’s no doubt this was an important season in determining what his value would be moving forward.
Before Sunday’s season-ending injury, Bradford was piecing together the best season of his four-year career, on pace for career highs in nearly every passing category and playing better in the Rams’ more balanced offensive approach of the past few weeks.
As recently as three weeks ago, reports surfaced the Rams wanted to do a contract extension with Bradford and had decided he was the guy they wanted under center moving forward.
What’s unknown about those reports is whether the Rams were doing what they should be doing and offering public support of Bradford while keeping their options open -- looking at a possible way of reducing his large salary-cap number -- or if they had already truly decided to keep building around Bradford.
At the time, there was a belief that Bradford was the one who didn’t want to talk about an extension because he wanted to bet on himself and attempt to put up big numbers before sitting down to negotiate his next deal.
Bradford appeared to be on his way to having the type of cosmetic season that would do nothing to persuade the Rams to change their mind. Through nearly seven full games, he had 1,687 yards passing, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions for a rating of 90.9, which would be more than eight points better than his previous career best.
Now that Bradford won’t return, he not only misses out on the chance to finish the job and actually post those numbers, but the Rams find themselves in a more precarious perch at the game’s most-important position.
Not having the rest of the season to evaluate Bradford means the Rams head toward a 2014 NFL draft with a fair amount of uncertainty. It’s also a draft in which the Rams hold two first-round picks, and many analysts are already predicting as a quarterback-rich crop.
Many had labeled this a make-or-break season for Bradford and the Rams. The franchise remained steadfast in its support of Bradford, and everyone -- from coach Jeff Fisher to general manager Les Snead -- insisted that wasn’t the case.
In the early hours of Monday morning, the Rams find themselves in the unenviable position of first determining not only when Bradford can return but trying to project how effective he can be after such a serious injury.
Once those determinations are made, the Rams can truly begin to figure out what the future holds not only for Bradford, but for their quarterback position as a whole.