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Rams picking up Matthew Stafford’s option signals more reason for Aaron Donald return

L.A.’s championship window isn’t closed

NFL: FEB 16 Rams Super Bowl LVI Championship Parade Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

AD, Come Back!

On Saturday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Rams will pick up Matthew Stafford’s 2023 option bonus, which also guarantees that Los Angeles is financially committed to the quarterback through 2024. On the heels of Sean McVay’s return announcement, it’s a sign that the organization is ready to move forward as if their championship window is open for at least two more years.

Stafford, Cooper Kupp, and Bobby Wagner are signed through 2026. And it’s all the more reason to believe that Aaron Donald will be in prime position to go out on top if he holds off retirement, rather than to exit through the SoFi gift shop having missed the last six games for a 5-12 team.

Oh, and he also has a hell of a lot of money on the line this year if he stays.

It’s interesting how less than a week has passed since the Rams lost to the Seahawks and finished the season 5-12, but just a little bit of positive news has perhaps shifted expectations for L.A.’s do-over season in 2023. A year ago, I got a prediction half-right, saying that the Rams had a great chance to repeat as champions because the NFC would be so weak.

Indeed, the NFC playoffs seem to be anyone’s game. But L.A.’s collapse is partially the reason for it. I again expect chaos in the NFC next season, why couldn’t the Rams be the team to dominate the madness?

The Rams need to improve the coaching staff and moves are already in the works. The depth needs to get a lot better. But who is to say that L.A. couldn’t actually be in the playoffs as a wild card team right now if they didn’t lose Stafford, Donald, and Kupp for basically half of the season? Or if they had held the offensive line together for two or three weeks in a row at any point in the first 12 weeks?

The Rams were 3-3 after six games. The Lions started 1-6 and only missed the playoffs by a game. L.A. lost four games in the last 10 weeks by a touchdown or less, to Tampa Bay, New Orleans, and to Seattle two times; the last one not without controversy. Couldn’t a healthier Rams team have challenged for the same 9-8 finish that the Seahawks are taking into their wild card game on Saturday?

Aaron Donald, you must consider a return.

OvertheCap projects L.A. with -$13.8 million in 2023 effective cap space, which sounds better when you consider that there are 10 teams worse off at the moment. I’ve already outlined some very simple ways to open up cap space, including $15.5 million if the Rams decide to release Leonard Floyd with a post-June 1 designation, pushing off some of those dead money hits into 2024.

And if the team can get a hard commitment from AD, like that he will finish out the contract that he signed in 2022, the team could restructure his contract for significant 2023 cap savings. It makes him more expensive in 2024, but that’s not the worse bridge in the road to have to cross. With AD’s generational workout habits, I have little concerns about him being in shape to play through his age-33 season.

With a few moves, the Rams could free up money in the immediate, improve the offensive line, add a weapon, use their highest draft pick since 2016 on a player who can contribute early in his career, and be facing off against a potentially even weaker NFC schedule in 2023.

AD, come back. You can blame it all on me. I was wrong and the Rams don’t want to live without you.