The NFL’s opening week has arrived. Wes Welker’s status is uncertain for the Broncos’ opener. Sam Bradford’s status for the Rams’ season is not.
Bradford has been decked by another major knee injury. Meanwhile, Welker suffered another concussion to go with the two he had last season and who knows how many others, dating back to Heritage Hall. It’s a fair question to ask about the bust status of these two Oklahoma icons.
As in, will Bradford be a bust and will Welker get a bust, in the Hall of Fame?
Bradford’s blessing is his curse. He was the last of the bonus babies, the overall No. 1 draft picks who got ridiculous money without spending a minute in an NFL huddle or meeting room or pocket. The league now saves its big money for guys that have proven themselves, but Bradford got an $18 million signing bonus, a $78 million contract and $50 million guaranteed.
For that money, the Rams have gotten 49 games and an 18-30-1 record. They are not likely to pick up the final year of his contract.
If Bradford had been a late-round pick, or even a late first-round pick, bust would not be in the discussion. But overall No. 1’s carry a burden into their pro careers.
Of the 20 quarterbacks drafted first overall in the Super Bowl era, you could label three sure-first busts: JaMarcus Russell, David Carr and Tim Couch. Couch, who went 22-37 in five Cleveland seasons, is actually a strikingly similar comparison to Bradford.
Others proved to be journeymen. Jeff George, Alex Smith, Vinny Testaverde. Michael Vick for non-football reasons.
Others were just solid. Carson Palmer, Drew Bledsoe, Steve Bartkowski.
And stars, of course. Terry Bradshaw. John Elway. Peyton Manning. Eli Manning.
But maybe Bradford’s shining hope is Jim Plunkett, who was taken overall No. 1 in 1971 and spent five fruitless years with the Patriots, where he went 25-38 as the starter and was traded, as a bust to the 49ers.
Two years later, Plunkett landed in Oakland at age 32 and became the star everyone thought he would years earlier. Plunkett quarterbacked the Raiders to two Super Bowl titles.
That’s the kind of revival Bradford needs to avoid the bust label.
As for Welker, his health is a constant debate. Should he retire in the face of so many concussion concerns? Welker seems to have no interest in retirement. And if he’s interested in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I would suggest still playing.
Welker was a folk hero in New England for almost a decade and now is Peyton Manning’s sidekick in Denver. Welker has 841 career catches, 24th on the all-time list. But Welker’s numbers aren’t Canton-worthy. Not yet.
Welker has fewer catches than all kinds of players not in the Hall of Fame. Fewer than Reggie Wayne and Anquan Boldin. Fewer than Rod Smith and Irving Fryar; 183 fewer than Isaac Bruce, and nobody is pushing for Isaac Bruce in the Hall of Fame.
Sure, Welker has played in a ton of big games. But so did Hines Ward, who has 159 more catches than does Welker.
Wide receiver is a tough position from which to reach Canton. Tim Brown was a star; he retired 10 years ago with 1,094 catches. That’s fifth all-time. Brown is still waiting to make the Hall of Fame.
Art Monk retired after the 1995 season as the NFL record-holder in receptions, with 940. He waited 13 years to make the Hall of Fame. Andre Reed retired after the 2000 season with 951 catches and four AFC championship rings. Reed waited 14 years to make it to Canton.
All kinds of receivers — Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss — have reached or soon are headed for Hall of Fame eligibility. It’s a crowded field. Plus Welker’s contemporaries, like Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson and Steve Smith, will join the discussion.
If Welker wants a bust in Canton, he’ll need to keep playing.
Just like if Bradford wants to avoid being a bust in the NFL, he’ll need to resurrect his career in another locale.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.