As the 2010 draft approaches, the team that holds the first overall pick has made it known that it won’t be negotiating with any of the potential first overall picks. Though the Rams, if they keep the pick, would be the first team since 2007 to use the pick without signing the player to a contract, the Raiders at least tried to get a guy to agree to terms before pulling the trigger at the top spot, negotiating with the agents for JaMarcus Russell, receiver Calvin Johnson, and quarterback Brady Quinn.
So while it’s not unprecedented to make the first pick without signing the player to a contract, it’s rare for the team that holds the top spot to not even try to get a guy to do a deal. We’ve been racking our brains (and polling multiple league insiders) as to the reason for the Rams’ position, and we keep coming back to two possibilities.
First, it’s possible that they have decided to take Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, and that they have accepted the fact that Bradford’s camp (as we’ve been hearing for weeks) won’t do a pre-draft deal, since if the Rams don’t pick Bradford he’d go no lower than fourth overall and with the quarterback premium still get the best contract. So: (1) if the Rams start talking to the likes of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, tackle Russell Okung, and/or quarterback Jimmy Clausen; (2) if the Rams start making progress with one or more of them; (2) if Bradford digs in his heels and refuses to negotiate; (4) if the Rams have a guy teed up to take a deal that represents a package in the ballpark of the contract signed last year by No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford; and (5) if the Rams still pick Bradford anyway, word will get out that they could have had one of the other guys for far less than what they eventually pay Bradford.
And if one of the other guys becomes an instant Pro Bowler and Bradford is a bust, it’ll be time for the folks responsible for the Bradford pick to pack up their stuff.
Second, it’s possible that the Rams are trying to line up an Eli Manning-style pick-and-trade, which would make negotiating a contract with Bradford or anyone else irrelevant. Under this scenario, the Rams would have a tentative deal lined up with a team drafting in a lower slot, the Rams would tell that team which guy to pick when on the clock, and then the swap would occur.
Still, the Rams would benefit from the perception that they’re keeping all options open. Their current approach suggests either that they already know what they’re going to do, or that they’re paralyzed by uncertainty. Our guess is that it’s the former, and that come Thursday night they’ll pick Bradford. Whether they still have his rights by the time the first round ends remains to be seen.