The ending of Thursday night’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and Las Vegas Raiders was an exciting one to say the least. Newly signed quarterback Baker Mayfield marched the Rams offense 98-yards down the field in under two minutes and threw a game-winning touchdown to wide receiver Van Jefferson.
Good, happy feelings were brought back to Rams fans after six weeks of losing. Losses against the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the final seconds were heartbreaking to say the least. To come out on the other end of that was a nice change.
The conversation immediately turned to what Mayfield’s future in Los Angeles is. There are still four games to figure all of that out. Still, with all of that being said, Mayfield’s future likely is not in Los Angeles.
As I wrote after the Rams claimed Mayfield, it was a very low-risk move. With Mayfield, they potentially net a 2024 fourth round compensatory pick which is important to the front-office. The long-term plan was likely never to sign Mayfield to a long-term contract following this season. It was very much a “we’re 3-9, why not?” move.
Of course, situations change and this one could as well. There has been speculation that Matthew Stafford could retire. Following a season with multiple concussions and now a spinal contusion, could he decide just to hang it up after this season? As Good Morning Football’s Kyle Brandt put it:
“He’s a family man with a wife and a bunch of daughters. His wife is very outspoken [with] concerns for his health. Could he hang it up after this year? Maybe.
However, is it likely? Unless something drastic changes or there is information regarding Stafford’s spine contusion that we don’t know, the Rams quarterback will likely be back for at least one more year. It’s very hard to see a competitor like Stafford go out after the season that he just had.
The Rams also can’t just move on from Stafford and nor would they do that even if Mayfield wins out. They would go from having $2.4M in cap space this offseason to being $53M over the cap by out-right cutting or trading Stafford pre-June 1. It also wouldn’t make sense given how Stafford played in 2021.
This would mean that Mayfield would have to come back as a backup quarterback next season. As a former number one overall pick, that too seems unlikely. If Mayfield plays well over these next four games, there will be suiters for Mayfield. The quarterback landscape in the NFL is very thin.
The New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, or Washington Commanders could be interested in Mayfield this offseason. There will be teams that will give him a chance to compete for a starting job. With Stafford on the Rams, he won't get that opportunity. He’d be a guaranteed backup.
On the Rams side, they simply haven’t invested in the backup quarterback position in the past. According to Spotrac, they currently have placed Mayfield’s free agent market value at $6.6M. However, if Mayfield plays well over the next four games and shows signs of what he was in 2020 with the Cleveland Browns, that number could jump as high as $10M.
Even if Baker Mayfield is seen as just a high-end backup or low-end starter, Teddy Bridgewater signed a one-year, $10M contract with the Miami Dolphins last offseason. Jameis Winston signed a two-year $28M contact with the New Orleans Saints. Marcus Mariota’s contract was worth $6.75M this season with the Atlanta Falcons and Mayfield has more of a resume than Mariota. The $6.6M estimation by Spotrac is on the low-end.
The idea that Mayfield is going to come to Los Angeles for $2.5M next year to be the backup seems unlikely when he’ll get paid more and get the opportunity to start elsewhere.
There’s also the fact that the Rams simply have other needs on the roster and haven’t invested in the backup quarterback position.
All season it’s been known that the Rams need to invest in the offensive line this season. The $10M that would potentially go to Mayfield could be used on bringing back David Edwards. Currently Spotrac has Elgton Jenkins’ market value set at $7.1M per year. With how the offensive line has performed in 2022, it would be a bad use of resources to use that money on a backup quarterback.
Instead, the Rams can draft someone like Hendon Hooker, Max Duggan, Bo Nix, or Jake Haener, etc. Will Levis could be an option at the top of the second round. For what the Rams would pay Mayfield, they could pay one-fifth of the price, if not less, to a rookie. The free agent class also has some names like Drew Lock and Gardner Minshew who won’t cost a lot.
There’s also one more thing to think about in all this. Let’s theoretically say that Mayfield did decide that it was best for his career to re-sign with the Rams on a cheap deal and stay as a backup.
What do the Rams look like in 2024 when Mayfield would take over as the starter?
It’s well known that the Rams’ window is short-lived. This isn’t a dynasty. This is very much a ‘capitalize on the window right now’ situation.
If Stafford retires following the 2023 season, McVay likely goes with him. Those two as a quarterback-coach combination are very much tied together. At the same time, Aaron Donald likely is also retired.
The Rams are currently projected to have $4M in cap space in 2024 and then -$177M in 2025 according to OverTheCap. That’s negative one hundred and seventy-seven million dollars.
Is Los Angeles with no McVay, no Donald, and in serious salary cap trouble really the best situation for Mayfield to restart his career at 29-years old?
Enjoy these next four games. It will be a lot more fun than watching the Rams inevitably drop to 4-13 to end the season with John Wolford or Bryce Perkins struggling to run the offense.
If the Rams can increase the value of Mayfield over these next four games to get a better compensatory pick, the Mayfield experiment will have been a success for both sides. As for what happens after that? Mayfield’s future likely is not in Los Angeles with the Rams.