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Sam Bradford's lost season could be a major decision point for Rams

Sam Bradford suffered a torn left ACL in the fourth quarter of the Rams' loss to the Panthers. (Chuck Burton/AP)

Sam Bradford suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter of the Rams' loss to the Carolina Panthers.

It was not a great day for St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. His first pass of the day on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers was returned 45 yards for a touchdown by Panthers defensive back Captain Munnerlyn, and Bradford was injured in the fourth quarter as he was running to the sideline. Bradford went down in pain, couldn't put any weight on his left leg and was carted to the locker room. An MRI Sunday night revealed that injury to be a torn left ACL, the team announced Monday morning.

Safety Mike Mitchell was the man on the tackle, which appeared to be clean. "He was in significant pain on the sideline," coach Jeff Fisher said of his QB following the game.

Bradford, who completed 21-of-30 passes for 255 yards, one touchdown and that first-play interception, was replaced by Kellen Clemens in the 30-15 loss. With the loss, the Rams fell to 3-4, tied for last in the NFC West. Next up on the schedule for St. Louis is a visit from the NFC-West leading Seahawks next Monday night.

It's an interesting crossroad for Bradford, who was enjoying his best season in what has been a frustrating professional career for all involved.  In his fourth NFL year, Bradford completed 159-of-262 passes for 1,687 yards, 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Through the first six weeks of the 2013 season, Bradford was the 10th-ranked passer in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted efficiency metrics -- ahead of Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Alex Smith.

But just as Bradford is starting to roll as a quarterback, and just as the Rams are finally surrounding him with estimable targets, a major bill is coming due. Bradford is owed $14.015 million in base salary in 2014, the fourth year of a rookie contract worth $78 million over six years. The Rams said publicly a few weeks ago that they were interested in extending that contract, which would provide security for Bradford and salary cap relief for the franchise.

"We have decided that Sam Bradford is our guy," team president Kevin Demoff told Mike Silver of in late September. "If they [Bradford and his representatives] came to us and wanted to do a contract extension right now, we'd do it in a minute."

Now, things become more complicated. The Rams have a bevy of high picks secured in numerous deals over the last few seasons, and the 2014 quarterback draft class looks to be as rich as any in recent memory. Perhaps the team has seen all it needs to with Bradford, injury be damned.

If not, Bradford's injury could be franchise-defining in the short and long term.

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