Three years ago, the Los Angeles Rams made the risky decision to trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions. In the trade, the Rams gave up multiple first-round picks and their young quarterback that they had selected first overall just five years earlier. There was no denying the risk at the time, but it paid off as the Rams won the Super Bowl.
That trade changed the quarterback landscape of the NFL. Since then, teams have seemingly been more willing to trade assets for a proven, veteran quarterback in their mid-late 30s. The Denver Broncos traded away multiple first and second round picks plus multiple players for Russell Wilson. This past offseason, the New York Jets also traded high assets for Aaron Rodgers.
However, the relevant situation here is the one currently going on in Denver. After a disastrous first season with the Broncos, Wilson’s second season has gone slightly better with Sean Payton. With that said, the team is 7-8 after a disappointing loss to the New England Patriots. Due to financial implications, the Broncos have decided to bench the quarterback that they gave up so much to acquire.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Broncos are benching Wilson for the final two games of the season. While the team is citing the need to “add a spark” to the offense, there is a clear financial reason to the decision. Wilson has $37M that becomes guaranteed if he can’t pass a physical in the offseason. Denver benching Wilson has a lot to do with the need to keep him healthy so that they can potentially get out of his contract this offseason.
Wilson’s situation is a peek at the dark side of what could have happened with the Rams and Stafford. The Stafford deal would be looked at a lot differently if 2022 had been the first year and this season been year two. There were rumblings that the Rams were trying to move on from Stafford this offseason. Those would have been even louder had Los Angeles not won the Super Bowl in 2021.
The situation with Russell Wilson in Denver really shows you just how right the Rams got it with Stafford. There was obviously some luck involved, but they handled everything almost perfectly. General manager Les Snead traded assets, but didn’t immediately hand out a lucrative contract. The Rams understood where they were as a franchise and actually being an elite quarterback away. They gave themselves an out.
Meanwhile, the Broncos put all of their eggs in one basket. The Rams won a playoff game with the number one defense the year before trading for Stafford. Denver went 7-10 and fired their head coach. It’s unlikely they were actually just a quarterback away.
Los Angeles only inherited two-years and $43M of Stafford when they traded for him in 2021. They didn’t sign him to an extension until after the Super Bowl season. The Broncos also inherited two years of Wilson. However, instead of waiting a year, they immediately signed him to a large extension and are now facing the consequences.
When the Rams traded for Stafford, Sean McVay and Les Snead had a vision of what that would look like. The Broncos traded for Wilson as almost a backup plan when they weren’t able to trade for Aaron Rodgers. The head coach and quarterback never connected. A quarterback that had won a single Super Bowl while also being with a historically good defense predictably underperformed in a system that wasn’t built for him.
It’s fair to ask if you take Russell Wilson out of Seattle and away from the Legion of Boom in his prime, does he have a Super Bowl? Flip him and the 2008-2013 Phillip Rivers Chargers teams, does Wilson elevate any of those teams to championship contenders? What if you do the same with Stafford?
The Rams understood where they were as a franchise when they traded for Stafford, but also gave themselves an out had things not worked out as planned. Snead and co. gave the team an option to call an audible if needed.
Russell Wilson’s current situation in Denver is a look at what could have happened with the Rams and Stafford. It’s also a reminder that while the Rams gave up a lot to get their quarterback, they also handled it perfectly every step of the way.