In the offseason, the Los Angeles Rams signed quarterback Matthew Stafford to a four-year, $160 million contract that included a $60 million signing bonus. It’s the second signing bonus of at least $50 million that Stafford has received in the last five years and a clear indication that the Rams felt on March 19th that they were locking down the same quarterback who threw for 4,886 yards, 41 touchdowns, and won a total of 16 games for them last season, including the Super Bowl.
Compare that contract to Derek Carr’s deal: He received the same average salary per year, but less than half as much is guaranteed and technically if the Raiders wanted to cut Carr in 2023 they could have a realistic option to do so.
The Rams’ deal for Stafford not only showed confidence in the quarterback’s ability to lead L.A. to multiple Super Bowls in the long term, but also confidence in the short term. They have to pay Stafford $63 million in upfront guarantees, making it near-impossible to cut Stafford before his $31 million base salary in 2024 is guaranteed on the third day of the league year in 2023.
For all true intents and purposes, the Rams signed Stafford to a contract that locks him in as L.A.’s starting quarterback for $94 million over the next three years. Stafford will be 37 by the fourth year, which is in 2025.
Stafford was already signed for the 2022 season and even if entering a contract year would have been awkward for all parties, would the Rams have made a major financial commitment to a starter if they had known of a lingering injury that would possibly sideline him for significant periods of time? Did the franchise learn nothing from Todd Gurley?
Gurley is also why some Rams fans have been worried since the contract was turned into the Spotrac league offices.
With seemingly no known incident since March 19th, Stafford and the organization’s approach to his training camp preparation for the season has taken a cautious approach that nobody expected outside of maybe the quarterback and the coaching staff. As Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic noted, Stafford took all of the usual starter reps in training camp in 2021. But this week, Stafford has worked to the side and John Wolford is getting all of the reps with the 1s.
McVay and Wolford both reiterated that this is no surprise to them based on a plan that has been in place since the offseason to manage Stafford’s arm pain, an issue that was bothering him through the playoffs and on the way to the championship. Stafford had an injection in his elbow during the offseason and said this week that he is “kind of right where I want to me.”
But if the Rams can approach Stafford’s training camp differently one year to the next, then at what point will the Rams approach Stafford’s regular season load management differently than the previous campaign?
McVay noted that right now the only concern for L.A. is having Stafford ready to go for September 8 against the Buffalo Bills—“He could push through it. ... We felt like the smart thing was let’s really just take it a week at time.”—which reveals an obvious priority for the organization: To protect the franchise quarterback owed $94 million through 2024 for the long term.
The plan right now seems to be that if Stafford doesn’t practice again for the next four weeks, it’s to make sure that he’s comfortable enough to play in Week 1.
But what about when the Rams have a quick four day turnaround from December 4 against the Seattle Seahawks to Thursday Night Football against the Las Vegas Raiders on December 8? Will Stafford need to take off practices during the regular season? Will it be more difficult to play a Monday-to-Sunday stretch (like Weeks 4-5 and Weeks 15-16) than the usual full week off?
Will the L.A. Rams ever have to start John Wolford this season not necessarily because of a new injury but due to Stafford’s arm needing rest during what could be another 21-game campaign?
Stafford threw almost 750 passes last season, a career-high. If he repeated that number, he will have thrown 1,500 passes in a two-year stretch, which used to be much closer to a three-year stretch for Stafford and the most high-volume of quarterbacks. Not only is the season longer, quarterbacks are asked to do more, as passers and in mobility. With teams regularly paying these players $40 to $50 million in annual salary, the season extending (potentially to 18 games in the next few years), and the league passing more than ever, will “load management” become a regular occurrence in the NFL?
That’s something that could either reveal itself with Stafford during the Rams 2022 season or it could be that a 13-year veteran with elbow soreness just doesn’t feel the need to put any additional pressure on his pain in early August.
In a new episode of the Turf Show Times podcast with myself and J.B. Scott, we discuss Stafford’s elbow pain and the potential for load management during the regular season (if you are subscribed to us on your podcast app and listened to the show this morning, it was actually INCOMPLETE and cut off in the middle so there’s more content to hear!), as well as what it would be like to have Wolford or Bryce Perkins forced to start a game for the Rams this season. How much different would the offense be and what would the impact be on L.A.’s explosive weapons?
If you want a visual version of the show, you can watch the clip on YouTube and subscribe to the TST YouTube channel.
We also preview the Rams’ 2022 preseason schedule against the Chargers (L.A. rivalry?), Texans (potential opportunity for Rams offense to show out), and Bengals (Super Bowl rematch in the preseason?!) and talk about what fans can expect in the next month of exhibitions.
Listen to the clip in the link above, on YouTube, or find us on your podcast apps and hit SUBSCRIBE because we will be coming at you every week during the Rams’ season.