One of my favorite stories in Rams lore was in a week nine loss against the Lions during the 1999 Super Bowl season.
The loss was nothing special, one of three on the season, but Kurt Warner’s story from that day echoes in my head as this St. Louis team experiences a changing of the guard.
Following a touchdown pass, Warner said Marshall Faulk walked up to him on the bench and circled his heart with his hands, a ceremonial passing of the torch.
“He was kind of handing the reins over and saying ‘you’re our guy’,” Warner said in the NFL Network “America’s Game” episode on the ’99 Rams.
Just this offseason, gone is the longest tenured Ram and unquestioned soul of the team, Steven Jackson. Gone is the resilient security blanket of Danny Amendola.
The reins have been handed over.
What’s left is a group of youngsters and a few marshals to keep them in check, including Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and most importantly, Sam Bradford.
Bradford has been criticized for his leadership style, quiet and reserved, but there’s no doubt that it is his time to assume the mantle just as Warner did so many moons ago.
He has been an enigma this far into his career, everything from the best number one quarterback prospect since Troy Aikman to a bum that fans wanted gone faster than you can say “RG3.”
But now he has a left tackle and a right tackle. He has a two talented tight ends. He has one big receiver with a ton of potential and another who proved as a rookie he could burn defenses with the best of them. Most of all, he has the same offensive system for consecutive years for the first time in his career.
So, now the excuses are up and the time has come for him to move forward as the leader of the Rams.
One step in the right direction would be for the Rams to spend a first round pick on West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin. Austin won’t ever be confused with a prototypical franchise receiver, but he’s the exact kind of receiver that can change a franchise.
Austin had a ridiculous 1,932 yards from scrimmage last season and 15 touchdowns, a player that can completely reinvent his offensive scheme and the schemes of defenses trying to contain him.
Free agent signee Jared Cook will provide similar returns, a player that can become the Jimmy Graham of St. Louis by burning linebackers and plowing through safeties and corners.
The point of all of this is it’s time to quit coddling Bradford. He’s faced his fair share of adversity, but for him to truly ascend to the level of franchise quarterback, he needs people like Cook and Austin around him.
He needs to have options all over the field and more importantly, options that will force him out of the comfort zone created by the presence of Jackson and Amendola.
It’s tough to see those guys go, but sometimes the best addition is subtraction, especially when it forces the most important man in Rams park to elevate his game.
Bradford will never get a circle of the heart from Marshall Faulk and he’ll probably never have the weapons Warner had at his disposal.
But, it’s time for him to take over and lead the charge of St. Louis into a new, innovative age of football.