Sam Bradford's ongoing contract negotiations leave a lot to chance, but they do assure us of one thing: after the requisite A.J. Feeley limbo period is over, the Rams, for the first time in a while, will not have a starting quarterback who belongs on this list.
Before Bradford — modern historians like to use "Before the Common Era", but I'm a traditionalist — the Rams have preferred quarterbacks who've made their name with the club. Some of it's luck, some of it's the nature of being the St. Louis Rams, and some of it comes from having their most success under Mike Martz, who is convinced he can make anybody who is willing to spend six months learning routes throw for 4,000 yards.
Whatever the reason, here they are, five quarterbacks whose first $50 million came some time after they had begun playing professional football.
5. Chris Miller (1995)
It's tough being the guy who moves with an unsuccessful team to a new city. If you're Chris Miller, 30 years old, with an astonishing history of concussions, you can be reasonably certain that the team will not be theming any areas in its new stadium around you. You can be reasonably certain that there's only one box of replica jerseys with your number on the back in the warehouse.
Miller, in his last full season before the concussions brought him down for good, had a basically representative 7-9 season, although he dragged that first year St. Louis squad to a 7-6 record when he was actually under center. Mark Rypien, starting the first of two non-consecutive stints as a Rams backup, took the other three losses to close out the team's completely unassuming St. Louis debut.
It wasn't all bad for Miller, of course—he was party to a 23-year-old Isaac Bruce's absurd 1,781 yard sophomore season, in which he came down with just under half of the team's receiving yards. (I will—well, I'll give you an Internet high-five, to be redeemed at a later date, if you can name the guy who finished second on that team with 458 yards and four touchdowns.
4. Marc Bulger (2002 or 2009)
Bulger's short debut season, in which he began his career with a 14-21, three-touchdown effort and at one point threw for 453 yards, was, though I may regret it in retrospect, the moment at which I was most impressed with Mike Martz. Not the championship offenses, not Kurt Warner—when Kurt Warner went down and he just waved at the end of the bench and brought somebody else in who performed exactly like Kurt Warner was when I became a little afraid of the Rams' erstwhile mad scientist.
Bulger's career hasn't progressed as illustriously as that start might have portended, though he's just about due for his Kurt Warner-style late-career comeback, if Martz is even more diabolical than I thought, but you'll find few more impressive careers that begin by being drafted in the sixth round, getting cut twice over the course of your rookie season, and filling in for Jamie Martin (an honorable mention!)
3. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Nov. 25, 2005)
OK, maybe this is the moment at which Mike Martz most frightened me. Ryan Fitzpatrick, coming in to replace an injured Jamie Martin again, found himself making the first appearance of his career in the middle of a truly disappointing season and did the same thing as Bulger. Fitzpatrick threw 19 completions in 30 attempts for 310 yards and three touchdowns, running for 23 more while he was at it to drag the team to a 33-27 victory.
I don't think I can accurately describe what I felt at that moment. It was like Mike Martz's quarterbacks were a series of Russian nesting dolls, and the smallest one had popped out and, to nobody's surprise, looked exactly like the other two. Fitzpatrick didn't work out, but that he even made people wonder if he would was something of a staggering achievement.
2. Trent Green (2000)
Trent Green 1999 is as assuming as a pre-Bradford Rams quarterback gets. Green had an excellent rookie season in Washington after a successful debut in the CFL, went home to St. Louis as a free agent after spurning the Redskins, and made the 1999 preseason moderately exciting until he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the middle of it.
Kurt Warner blah blah blah, and then we find ourselves in the 2000 season, where Kurt Warner is doing basically the same thing he did the year before—and so is Trent Green! But Warner's hand injury left some daylight for Green, in the middle of a very unsatisfying four-year contract, and he took advantage of it by playing better than he ever had before. Traded to Kansas City in the offseason, he had basically the career he would have had in St. Louis, had things (like his knee) not broken the wrong way.
1. Kurt Warner (1999)
What is there to say? Warner wasn't quite as shocking as I'll tell my grandchildren he was—he wasn't actually plucked directly off the street, or called on the Hy-Vee stockroom phone and told to suit up, Trent Green's down and out, but he really was undrafted, he really did work at a Hy-Vee, and while he was a big success in Arena ball there has been, I'd imagine, at least one successful Arena Football quarterback who did not next become a generationally brilliant NFL quarterback. If it wasn't as unexpected as I remember it, it was close enough.
There's something to be said for the kind of success the Rams had over the course of the last decade; it makes for considerably better made-for-TV movies, for one thing. But as we hear more and more about Sam Bradford while he sits on the bench and waits for his Feeley Probation to be over, it's important to give him the benefit of the doubt, once you start doubting him. There's nothing morally wrong about being an incredibly successful, incredibly rich college superstar—we're just not used to it. At all.