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Matthew Stafford trade helps solve other problems for Rams besides quarterback

LA deserves credit for upgrading an offense that seemed it would be stuck this offseason

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

One of the major blind spots by NFL media that has been greatly exposed — but rarely highlighted by anyone other than me — is that many seem to think that all first round picks are created equal. At no other time — other than when a team trades an undetermined first round pick — do media members seem to treat every first rounder like it’s a top-three pick.

Yet when the draft approaches and eventually arrives, those same writers come to their senses about the actual relationship between picking first and picking 31st. Those two picks — 1 and 31 — are about the same as Keenan and Kel.

Sure, they both worked at Good Burger and hung out a lot, but only one made it to Saturday night.

Setting aside the pointlessness of immediately grading any NFL transaction, the LA Rams are predictably being treated like a franchise that just gave up the top two picks in the 2022 and 2023 draft for Matthew Stafford. Naturally, that means that the Detroit Lions must have just acquired the rights to two Trevor Lawrence’s — if you ignore the fact that prospective first round Lions-to-be might turn in careers similar to recent first round picks by Detroit. A list that I will set aside for now.

The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia gave the Lions an “A” for their side of the deal, but didn’t think the Rams were all that and popped them a “C” for their continued willingness to part with first rounders.

The last time the Rams picked in the first round was 2016 when they selected — wait for it — Jared Goff. The next time the Rams are scheduled to make a first-round pick is 2024. That would be a stretch of seven(!) consecutive years without a first-round pick.

The Rams ended up giving up pick five in the 2017 draft, but since Sean McVay arrived, LA hasn’t come close to selecting that high again. They gave up pick 23 for Brandin Cooks, who helped them reach a Super Bowl, then returned pick 57 in the deal to Houston. They traded down from pick 31 in 2019. (If the Rams had stayed at pick 31, and people weren’t able to say that the franchise “stayed out of seven straight first rounds,” would this have somehow make the organization “smarter” in the eyes of those people?)

Next, the Rams traded picks that ended up being 20th and 25th for Jalen Ramsey, the best cornerback in the NFL. Is that “two first rounders for Ramsey” or is it “picks 20 and 25 for Ramsey”?

I can’t see any argument for it not being the latter. Did anyone grade the Ramsey trade that way? No. Will anyone wait to grade the Stafford trade until after finding out what the picks actually are? They don’t usually.

And Kapadia explains it all when he seemed worried that some readers would criticize him for not giving Los Angeles an even lower grade than a “C,” but noted that the contract swap between Stafford and Jared Goff should give the Rams greater flexibility moving forward.

So why not a lower grade for the Rams? The big thing is they’re getting Stafford on what amounts to a bargain contract — $43 million over the next two seasons.

Just moving Goff’s contract may have cost the Rams a 2021 third rounder at best, the 2023 first rounder at worst, but according to OvertheCap.com, that move should save the Rams $12.75 million in 2021 and $17.5 million in 2022. That’s $30 million in savings over the next two seasons and it paves the way for a Stafford extension that begins in 2023.

As of recently, the idea that LA could upgrade at quarterback for a raise of roughly $6 million per season was ludicrous. But that’s kind of what the Rams managed to do on Saturday and while it did cost them day one opportunities in 2022 and 2023, that upgrade at quarterback could very well push those selections down the board into the 31-32 range.

And make the other three NFC West teams say, “Aahhh!!! Real quarterback!” when they face the Rams.

Matthew Stafford leaves a team that has only drafted one receiver before the fifth round in the last eight years (Kenny Golladay, third round, 2017) and joins one that extended Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods and drafted Van Jefferson in the second round last year. For anyone who attempts to grade this trade while citing Stafford’s “EPA” or “PFF Grade” or other paper nonsense, you’re ignoring the fact that he no longer has to play for the Detroit Lions.

The adventures of Les & Sean might seem tumultuous, but most franchises would be ecstatic if their “lows” were going 9-7 or 10-6 and winning a wild card game. The Rams of the 15 years prior would take it. And if McVay can get two Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl berth, and moderately decent performances from a below-average quarterback like Goff, what can he do with Stafford?

And what can Stafford do for the new complement of weapons around him? That’s another piece of trade fallout that could get ignored up until the moment the games begin.

Les Snead deserves criticism for nearly every extension he’s ever handed out, but the reality of 2021 is that the Rams were mostly stuck with what they were stuck with. Some good, some fine. But unlike 2020, when the team attempted to change the weapons around Goff to fix him — cut Todd Gurley, draft Cam Akers, trade Cooks, draft Jefferson — the team flipped its focus and changed out the fighter this time instead.

Woods, signed through 2025, will be able to go deep again. Woods saw his average depth of target fall from 11.4 in 2018 to 8.4 in 2019 to 6.9 in 2020.

Kupp, signed through 2023 with an average cap hit of $15 million per season, could find his path to greatness once again. Other than when they forced him targets (like 20 in a loss to the Miami Dolphins), Kupp was not the productive receiver or third down option that he should have been. In Kupp’s last 23 games, he has only 128 catches for 1,343 yards and eight touchdowns. Will the addition of Stafford allow Kupp to put up those kinds of numbers in a single season, instead of one-and-a-half?

Jefferson was a second round pick in a loaded 2020 receiver class and Saturday might have been the best day of his career. Because he got a quarterback. One that his dad knew personally as wide receivers coach on the Lions from 2009 to 2012. The optimism I had for Van Jefferson’s sophomore campaign changed significantly this weekend.

And instead of having to make Akers the foundation for which the entire offense is built around — because he’d have been one of the only running backs in the league who was likely to be more valuable than the team’s quarterback next season — McVay can use Akers as a complement to and a benefactor because of Matthew Stafford’s passing offense.

The Rams didn’t just get better at quarterback on Saturday.

They also got better at WR1, WR2, WR3, and RB. Tyler Higbee’s probably not crying either. Andrew Whitworth likely feels much more confident that he’s returning at age 40 for one more shot at the Super Bowl. McVay’s probably losing sleep as he runs through all of the plays that he couldn’t run last season that he’ll now be able to utilize for the first time.

Flexibility, change, hope ... and all it cost was two first round picks?

Yes, it is possible that disaster awaits the Rams. No franchise is immune to that. The Texans didn’t expect to be giving up the third overall pick, in addition to another first rounder, when they acquired Laremy Tunsil. But it is because of that sense of constant immediate danger that I prefer LA’s motives (to “win now”) over Detroit’s motives (to “win...sometime. look, it’ll happen. eventually. we swear!”) in this deal.

The worst could be waiting for the Rams. But so could the best. And if that results in trading two late first round picks for a monumental upgrade to your offense at a time when Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady have added another Super Bowl appearance to their resumes, then I welcome the unknown and won’t grade the attempt harshly. Who would?

Are you really that afraid of the dark?

Poll

Are you happy with the Rams trade for Matthew Stafford?

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  • 77%
    Yes
    (1694 votes)
  • 8%
    No
    (176 votes)
  • 14%
    I don’t know yet
    (313 votes)
2183 votes total Vote Now