NEW YORK CITY – It's the NFL draft's $50 million question.
Why haven't the St. Louis Rams already told Sam Bradford that he will be the first player chosen Thursday night?
Mind you, I still think Bradford is ultimately heading to the Gateway City. Since the Rams pick first, they could inform Bradford of their intentions at any point before going on the clock. Or they could make Bradford sweat, which the University of Oklahoma quarterback admits is a worst-case scenario.
"I would like to know or have a good idea of where I'm going before tomorrow night gets here," Bradford said late Wednesday morning at an NFL community event in Central Park. "If I walk into that (green) room having no idea, my heart's going to be going nonstop until I hear my name."
Not that the Rams have done anything lately to make Bradford's heart flutter with joy. Bradford said St. Louis has given no indication about his draft standing.
"They've held their cards really close to the vest," he said.
If the Rams felt strongly enough about Bradford as a franchise quarterback, St. Louis already would have plopped its hand on the table. The Rams wouldn't be open to trade talks with another interested suitor like Cleveland even with all the holes that could be filled with extra picks by moving down in the draft. The Rams wouldn't still be singing the praises of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy as possible No. 1 selections. They wouldn't be talking up Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen during a Tuesday pre-draft news conference.
The Rams would have settled on Bradford at some point last week. They would have started contract negotiations with Bradford's agents to get him signed before the draft and eliminate any possibility of a ruinous JaMarcus Russell-like holdout. Bradford said that he was amenable to signing with the Rams early but the team "never presented a contract."
"If they haven't pulled the trigger, how could there be a contract?" Bradford said.
The Rams have won six games in three seasons, finishing progressively worse each year. They let two marquee signal-callers (Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez) slip away in the past two drafts. St. Louis can't make the same mistake again -- unless they're not completely sold on Bradford and the massive price tag that could include $50 million in guaranteed cash for an unproven NFL commodity.
I asked Bradford why a team that desperately needs a franchise quarterback and has a chance to draft a highly-touted one like himself hadn't already done so. Bradford flashed a polite smile and said, "It's probably a little more complicated than that. Obviously, it's a big decision for their organization. They can wait as long as they want. They don't have to make a decision until tomorrow night. I think they're just weighing their options, making sure that they're 100 percent sure of what they want to do."
Bradford can do nothing more on his end to convince the Rams of his worth. Bradford did every pre-draft passing drill asked of him and proved his surgically repaired throwing shoulder was sound. He met extensively with Rams officials and coaches during private interviews. He got stronger, bulking his 6-foot-4 frame up to 236 pounds. Bradford can't do anything about missing last season and the "fragile" label placed upon him. But his outstanding 2008 campaign -- 50 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 4,720 yards, 67.9 completion percentage - was good enough to potentially make Bradford the No. 1 pick in last year's draft ahead of Matthew Stafford had he turned pro.
"It's definitely been a rollercoaster for me coming off the injury," Bradford said. "There are so many different emotions I've felt over the past couple months. When I decided to have the surgery, you're not nervous but you're anxious to see how your shoulder is going to come back. Sometimes it's a little stressful because when you don't throw a ball in so long, you're not sure how you're going to be able to throw. With only four or five weeks to get ready for my pro day, at times that wore on me mentally.
"But in the end, I realize I'm extremely fortunate. There are guys who would kill to be in this situation. I realize I'm blessed and have tried to have as much fun and go with the flow as much as I can the past couple of months."
The pre-draft ride ends Thursday night, here. A new journey then begins - whether in St. Louis or elsewhere.
"At the end of the day, I realize that's not my decision," Bradford said about wanting to become the draft's No. 1 pick. "I've done everything I can at this point. I've shown them the type of player and person I am. Now it's up to the organization."
Should it be the Rams, that organization sure has a funny way of showing Bradford it's genuinely excited to have him under center.