The path towards Matthew Stafford starting for the Los Angeles against the Seattle Seahawks in two weeks is simple: The veteran quarterback is ruled healthy enough to start and the Rams bring him back in Week 11 after only missing one and a half games with a thumb injury. However, the path to Stafford never playing for the Rams again is just as uncomplicated.
If the L.A. Rams feel that they have nothing to play for in the second half of the season, just as it was in the second half of last season, then maybe Sean McVay never brings Stafford back this year. And maybe he doesn’t come back next year either.
After losing to the Green Bay Packers 20-3 on Sunday with Brett Rypien as the starter, the Rams have fallen to 3-6 with six losses in their last eight games. The team resembles the one that many expected to struggle going into the season instead of the one that shocked the skeptics and beat the Seahawks 30-13 in Week 1.
Yes, the Rams played in Week 9 without Stafford, right tackle Rob Havenstein, and linebacker Ernest Jones, but what does that do to improve L.A.’s current situation and the state of the team moving forward?
The Rams will still be 3-6.
The Rams will still have little chance of making the playoffs.
The Rams will still have games left on the schedule against the Seahawks, Browns, Ravens, Saints, and 49ers. If the season ended today, all five of those teams would be in the playoffs. Not only would L.A. need to win at least two of those five games to have a chance at a winning record, they would also need to sweep the Cardinals, Commanders, and Giants.
Even if Stafford is able to play the rest of the season, would that be enough for the Rams be good enough to win six of their last eight games to guarantee a winning record?
The team was only 3-5 this season with Stafford. Would they really be 6-2 in the last eight games with him back?
The Rams reasons for being 3-6 stretch far beyond the quarterback position and we all know this. Stafford wasn’t the reason that many expected L.A. to be picking in the top-10 of the 2024 draft. If anything, he was one of the only reasons for hope. It was a defense cobbled together with day three picks and undrafted free agents. It was the fact that Stafford and Aaron Donald are the only two players on the roster who were drafted in the first round. It was how many key players were in their first or second year in the league. And it was the probability that just as injuries played a factor in L.A.’s demise last season, so too could that problem show up again in 2023.
There’s no denying that injuries have been an issue in the first nine games. Cooper Kupp missed four games, Stafford, Rob Havenstein, and Ernest Jones missed this latest loss. Kyren Williams remains out. Puka Nacua seems to be a weekly designation waiting to happen. We haven’t seen the first or the last of an offensive lineman missing a game.
There’s no denying that injuries will probably still be a problem in the final eight.
So what will be the purpose of bringing back Matthew Stafford after the bye week?
Why bring Stafford back in 2 weeks?
Let’s attempt to answer this question without questioning the necessity of the question. It’s a necessary question to address for the simple reason that L.A. needs to do what’s best for the future beyond 2023.
The reason to bring back Matthew Stafford when the team is 3-6 is that though it is rare, teams have crawled out of holes like this one to finish the season with a respectable record. Again, that’s very rare.
Having Stafford instead of Brett Rypien or Dresser Winn would mean that the Rams are attempting to prove to fans and the other players left on the team that L.A. isn’t tanking for the highest possible draft pick. Whether or not trying to win games is in the best interest of the future of the franchise is up for debate, but bringing back Stafford would clearly show that the Rams are playing for this season and not next season.
Agree or disagree that they should play to win as many game as possible in 2023, starting Stafford against the Seahawks would show that L.A. wants to win now.
It would also give receivers like Kupp and Nacua opportunities to perform instead of having to just run routes for no reason with backup quarterbacks. Kupp had two catches for 48 yards and Nacua had three catches for 32 yards and Tutu Atwell had four catches for 13 yards (each of them had seven targets) with Rypien on Sunday.
If McVay wants to have a chance at any semblance of an offense in the final eight games, then the Rams bring back Stafford.
Some will argue that the only thing the Rams should be doing is getting the highest possible draft pick in 2024.
Brett Rypien was put in a really difficult spot.— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) November 5, 2023
That said, this is a reminder of how good Matthew Stafford is.
Why shut Stafford down?
Preventing Matthew Stafford from playing for the rest of the season, if he’s actually healthy enough to play, would put the L.A. Rams much closer to vying for a top-3 draft pick in 2024. This is a pick that could be used on a potential franchise cornerstone, be it a quarterback, left tackle, defensive player, or Marvin Harrison, Jr..
Though “tanking” is considered sacrilege to some, it is considered smart business to others and we should respect everyone has a difference of opinions.
How realistic was it that Stafford could play this week? I would say not realistic at all.
McVay started the week saying Stafford’s injury was very bad, then came back and said he wouldn’t go on IR, then the team kind of made it seem like he was at worst a gametime decision but he didn’t practice at all during the week. It wasn’t until Saturday that reports emerged all over the place that actually the odds of Stafford playing were VERY low mid-week and that only a miracle would put him on the field, so was he ever truly a game time decision?
That doesn’t seem very likely because Stafford didn’t play and he was all but ruled out Saturday night from reports.
What’s to say that Stafford is actually healthy enough to start in two weeks against the Seahawks? Or that even if he does, that his throwing hand will work good? Just because an injured Stafford might be better than Rypien, that doesn’t mean he’s good enough to start.
If Stafford misses another game or two with his injury and the Rams fall to 3-8, then wouldn’t it be malpractice to start him for the final six games? Especially because further injury would make it even harder to move on from Stafford, if the team has to, in 2024.
Will Stafford be back in 2024?
Matthew Stafford has a fully-guaranteed $31 million base salary in 2024, which is probably one of the main reasons that the L.A. Rams front office was willing to have conversations about trading him this past offseason. Allegations that they first denied, then confirmed, and not even the front office and Stafford seemed to align on what happened this year.
The team said they never approached Stafford about changing his contract, Stafford said they did.
If the Rams can get a team to agree to trade for Stafford in 2024, then they will take on a $55.5 million dead money cap hit with a $6 million cap charge against the 2024 salary cap. That’s not good, but it could be better than the alternative, which is paying his $31 million base salary, cash that could be used somewhere else if the team continues to work towards being younger and cheaper and to develop draft picks.
If Stafford returns in 2023 and gets hurt worse than he is now, there’s no chance that a team will take on his $31 million base salary in 2024.
Stafford will be 36 next year and we have to forget that Tom Brady played until he was 45. That’s just not even close to the age that any quarterback will play to, even in the modern era in which they do get a little bit closer to 40 by the time they retire. That’s still not “normal” and Stafford has shown signs of wear and tear in his last few seasons, despite the remaining talent left in his right arm.
If the Rams next best chance of making a deep playoff run is in 2025, then it is unlikely that Matthew Stafford will be around for that. Aaron Donald, who turns 33 next year, isn’t signed past 2024 and that only matters if he hasn’t retired by 2025.
Matthew Stafford approached the Lions almost 3 years ago and said he didn’t want to play for a bad team anymore. That was 3 years ago. Where’s he going to be at next year, when he’s 36 and the Rams could possibly be coming off of back-to-back seasons with double digit losses and one of the youngest rosters in the NFL?
If Stafford doesn’t play against the Seahawks, the odds go up that he never plays for the Rams again.