On January 3, 2010, at a desultory, three-quarter-filled Edward Jones Dome, which resulted in the third consecutive home television blackout in St. Louis, the young, nameless Rams played their season finale against the San Francisco 49ers without self-pity. They even led at halftime, 3-0, and trailed by only 7-6 in the fourth quarter, before falling 28-6, thankfully, mind you, for the greater good of the franchise.
The game that signaled just how dated now the Greatest Show on Turf, in which Rams quarterbacks – one by the name of Keith Null – managed 22 net yards passing and Isaac Bruce received the largest ovation because of his ceremonial start for the Niners, secured the top pick in the draft for St. Louis.
Only once, usually, does a regime pocket such offseason gold without consequence, and so, rich with hope, Billy Devaney and Steve Spagnuolo immediately began plotting the strategy. By this point, the candidates for No. 1 had already materialized. Everyone knew how dominant Ndamukong Suh, the beast in the middle of the Nebraska defensive line and perhaps surest thing of all the prospects. Two Sooners, including the second-best defensive player, also a tackle, Gerald McCoy, seemed almost as surely Warren Sapp, and Trent Williams, the seriously-athletic blind side and bland side tackle for Sam Bradford, deemed consideration, as well as Oklahoma State offensive tackle Russell Okung.
But the clear aim of this offseason for the Rams was finding a quarterback to replace Marc Bulger, whether through the draft or free agency, and preferably The One. That’s what he’s called nowadays in the league, and the romantic sense applies if you want to hug that trophy. Even Spagnuolo, a coach who reveres the bedrock principles of this game, however five-wide-less boring, defense and running the football, and is the one responsible for grounding the Patriots’ super offense in 2007, deems quarterback the first get in a franchise makeover.
“It’s a quarterback league,” he said.
Enter the crop of 2010: Bradford, Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame, and Colt McCoy of Texas.
“We really had to look at those quarterbacks way early, before free agency,” Spagnuolo said. “We had to decide whether any of them could be a franchise quarterback. If we decided they couldn’t, we probably would have been more aggressive in free agency.”
The Rams had plenty of options. Jake Delhomme, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman, Charlie Whitehurst were all available at some point.
“At the time, we liked both Bradford and Clausen, with Colt hanging in there,” Spagnuolo said. “So we didn’t have to necessarily jump out and get a quarterback. The deeper we got into the process, the more it seemed like Sam could be a viable option.”
Check back soon for Part 3