Sam Bradford has already made approximately $US44.2 million in less than four years in the NFL even though the Rams have gone 16-29-1 with him as a starter. But Bradford would have never made that much money if not for a brilliant decision when he was in college.
After injuring his shoulder in the third game of his junior season at Oklahoma, Bradford chose to have season-ending surgery. He then declared himself eligible for the 2010 draft before he even had surgery, and was eventually taken by the Rams with the first pick.
Even though Bradford was taking a risk (teams might be scared away by his injured shoulder), the move proved to be brilliant and fortuitous for two reasons:
The 2010 NFL Draft was absurdly weak in quarterback talent — If a team was looking for a franchise quarterback, Bradford was really the only choice, even if he wasn’t a great option. Check out the names of the next nine quarterbacks taken in the draft: Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy, Mike Kafka, John Skelton, Jonathan Crompton, Rusty Smith, Dan LeFevour, and Tony Pike. Of those, only McCoy and Smith are still in the NFL* and neither of them are starters. If Bradford had returned for his senior year, he would have been in the much-deeper 2011 draft which included Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, and Colin Kaepernick.
The 2010 NFL Draft was the last draft before the 2011 CBA put limits on rookie salaries — Bradford signed an enormous 6-year, $US78 million contract, with $US50 million guaranteed, before he ever played a down in the NFL. A year later, under the new collective bargaining agreement, Cam Newton was the top pick and signed a 4-year, $US22 million contract (all guaranteed). Of course, it would have been even less than that for Bradford who almost certainly would not have been the top pick in 2011. Blaine Gabbert, who was the tenth pick, signed a 4-year, $US12 million contract. Bradford will have made more than $US50 million at the end of his fourth season.
If you go back even further, you can make a case that Bradford made a second brilliant decision, when he chose to skip the 2009 draft and return to Oklahoma for his junior year. That draft was not as deep as 2011, but the first round did include Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Freeman. As the 17th pick of the first round, Freeman signed a 5-year, $US26 million contract and made just $US17.8 million in his first four seasons.
At this point the decision doesn’t look very brilliant for the Rams. But Bradford made himself an enormous amount of money when he took a shot and entered the 2010 draft.
* Jimmy Clausen is currently on the injured reserve list for the Panthers but is expected to be cut once a settlement is reached.
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