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Why Baker Mayfield should be Rams top free agent priority

With backups showing their worth in playoffs, signing Mayfield to a long-term contract needs to be prioritized

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams have plenty to prioritize this offseason but have no doubt about it, signing a reliable backup quarterback needs to be on the top of their list if next season is anything like 2022. They may not have to look too hard for their solution either with Baker Mayfield being the latest to have the job and potentially not finding a starting role on the free agent market.

Turf Show Times’ own Cliff Jackson recently argued that Matt Gay should be the team’s top free agent priority and I completely respect that take, as well as the importance of Gay these past few seasons. However, given the level of ball we saw from Matthew Stafford’s backups in 2022 and the number of times we had to watch L.A. pull into their reserves, I think the Rams must secure a top-ranked backup to Stafford and there’s one right there already on the roster.

This is why I think Baker should be the top priority. Then Gay.

Preseason games have been boring since Sean McVay took over as the head coach with starters watching from the sidelines instead of getting live-reps against good competition. This year’s preseason offered more drama than others as the debate for who would sit behind Matthew Stafford for the 2022 season made headlines this time: Bryce Perkins looked nimble and at times impressive as he used his legs and toughness create highlight worthy plays, while John Wolford offered some average-to-below-average consistency at the position.

The two were heavily compared during the Rams second preseason game against the Houston Texans when both found playing time on the field. In the first half, Wolford went 14 for 22 and 142 passing yards, then Perkins went 11 for 13 for 123 yards with neither quarterbacks finding the end zone and Perkins unable to put together a winning drive. By the end of the preseason there was not a single person watching that felt that either quarterback could come in and win games during the regular season and at the moment that was alright.

Unfortunately, both would eventually find themselves starting games for the Rams.

Stafford was put behind an injury-riddled and less-than-inspiring offensive line that left him vulnerable with their inability to block. Pair that with McVay’s resistant to establishing a run game and you have a recipe for disaster, which is exactly what happened. Wolford got the nod to start against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10 with Stafford in concussion protocol and offered those who were watching the first glimpse of what the Rams looked like without Stafford under center. It was not pretty. Wolford went 24 for 36, 212 yards, a touchdown, two fumbles and an interception on his way to a 79.9 rating and yet another loss to the season.

Bryce Perkins was the last man standing in the QB room in Week 12 when LA got the unfortunate opportunity to take on the Kansas City Chiefs and played even worse than Wolford. He completed just 13 of his 23 attempts for 100 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions but did run for 44 yards on nine attempts. Suddenly it became clear to everyone that the situation was dire as both backup quarterbacks looked as though they did not belong on the field.

Then came a miracle: A former number one overall pick who had been traded months earlier, won a training camp “competition” with the Panthers, but hit waivers in the knick of time not long after Matt Rhule was fired as head coach.

After just 48 hours of being on the team, Baker Mayfield led the Rams to their first win in six games in the most dramatic way possible on Thursday Night Football and gave Rams fans something to cheer for the first time in more than a month. With no rapport built with his receivers, led by Van Jefferson and not Cooper Kupp, put together a 98-yard game winning score in shocking fashion against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Besides a near-perfect game against the Denver Broncos, Mayfield’s season with LA was a mixed bag. He finished with a 63.6% completion percentage, four touchdowns and two interceptions in five games, and threw for 850 yards. Though the numbers may not jump off the page, his command of the offense was lightyears ahead of the other Rams backup quarterbacks.

Look at the NFL playoffs, where the 49ers are on third-string option Brock Purdy and finding that he’s been their best quarterback in quite some time. The Eagles have MVP candidate Jalen Hurts, a second round pick in 2020 who was drafted at a time when Carson Wentz still believed he was Philadelphia’s long-term franchise quarterback. The Rams can’t rest on undrafted free agents and castoffs from practice squads for their 2023 backup QB.

That is all to say that Los Angeles surely have an interest in Baker, but does Baker have any interest in backing up Stafford?

The Rams need a backup option at quarterback in case Stafford is not able to last the entire season again, while Mayfield is looking for a stable environment that respects him for his leadership and his talent. What has Mayfield said about what he’s looking for? He highlighted the “best opportunity” and not necessarily the best chance to start:

(1:44) “It’s got to be the best opportunity. I’m not going to chase a check to go start and play. After seeing a place that makes me have fun playing football again it is going to be hard to try something else new. It is going to be a big time decision. There is going to be a lot of thought put into it,” Mayfield explained in the locker room following LA’s Week 18 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Rams need to make it their priority to find a way to get Mayfield on the roster for 2023. Stafford has insisted that he isn’t thinking of retirement any time soon and the Rams are committed to him financially through 2024, at least, but we know that a player’s career can change at any time. Especially one who has been through as much physical pain as Matthew Stafford. So Les Snead and McVay must be thinking about what could come in the event of not only losing Stafford for another month, but forever.

Baker Mayfield would be one of the best backups in the NFL but he’s also got the talent to potentially be a replacement for Stafford in the long run and getting multiple years to develop behind him could really get the best out of him. The only questions left are “How much will he cost?” and “What does Baker think the best ‘opportunity’ really is for him?”

That’s something that nobody knows yet. But what we do know: The Rams can’t run it back with Wolford and Perkins ever again.