The Los Angeles Rams of recent have not invested in the backup quarterback position, though over the last six years or so they did not need to dip into the reserves.
Jared Goff, despite his up and down play in LA, maintained a clean bill of health up to his final stretch of games in royal and sol. His replacement - Matthew Stafford - is notorious for playing through injuries and staying on the field; however, playing behind a patchwork offensive line resulted in concussions and a spinal cord contusion that ended his season prematurely in 2022.
The tradeoff of not investing premium dollars in a backup quarterback paid significant dividends from 2016 to 2021: allowing the team to put those resources to work elsewhere on the roster. But the Rams were always treading on thin ice, and the bottom fell out from underneath them this past season.
John Wolford and Bryce Perkins, both former undrafted free agents that have been with the team for several years, were simply not up to the task of replacing Stafford. Wolford proved that he’s not a NFL-caliber thrower of the football despite having the football acumen of a coach. As exciting as Perkins can be as a rushing threat, Sean McVay and the Rams failed to build a run-heavy offense around the reserve quarterback to make the most of his skillset.
Then the Carolina Panthers did the Rams a mid-season favor - they cut Baker Mayfield and allowed LA the opportunity to claim the quarterback on waivers.
Mayfield gave the team an immediate upgrade at quarterback, and his arm talent was a noticeable improvement from the jump. After joining the Rams mid-week, Mayfield prepared as the signal caller for a Thursday night game versus the Las Vegas Raiders - and he led the team to a last-minute comeback victory.
While the rest of the season wasn’t all rosy for the veteran quarterback, the degree of difficulty for the situation he found himself in was extremely high. The Rams offense wasn’t its productive self even with Stafford, and Los Angeles was down to third string and lower receivers by the last few games.
The bottom line is that Mayfield showed enough to prove that he’s a capable starter in the NFL, though he’s failed to rise above less-than-ideal circumstances in Carolina and with the Cleveland Browns. He probably won’t ever be an elite level quarterback that you expect to get from a former number one overall pick, but he can flourish if the supporting cast is right.
There will be a team this offseason that will convince themselves Mayfield is a capable starter and the right fit for them as an unrestricted free agent, and it’s up to the veteran whether he takes that opportunity or returns to the Rams as a backup to Stafford.
These are three potential landing spots for Baker Mayfield in free agency:
Under head coach Mike Vrabel the Titans have become a perennial playoff team despite a lackluster roster. Tennessee struck gold when they traded for Ryan Tannehill as a backup to Marcus Mariota but ended up finding their long-term starter.
But has Tannehill run his course with the Titans?
Injuries have set in for the veteran, who missed five games this season. Malik Willis, who the team drafted in the third round a year ago, was not ready to fill in.
The on-field production has also declined for Tannehill. After touchdown to interception ratios of 22-6 in 2019 and 33-7 in 2020, he’s gone 21-14 in 2021 and then 13-6 in 2022. Sure, this decline also coincides with a string of injuries for Derrick Henry and trading away star receiver AJ Brown.
It could be time for the Titans to move on, and why not look to a former number one overall draft pick as another reclamation project?
New York Giants
While this outcome is probably one of the least likely for Mayfield, it’s interesting to wonder what Brian Daboll could do with the veteran after he helped Daniel Jones turn his career around this season. Jones’ had been plauged by turnovers for most of his time in the NFL, but Daboll worked to mitigate those mistakes while still maintaining a lot of what makes Jones effective.
But the Giants must be honest with themselves about who Daniel Jones really is. Jones is a free agent, which is a rare occurrence for a starting quarterback. It would be ill-advised to sign a long-term contract extension, and he really hasn’t played up to the level that the franchise tag would pay him.
If the team reaches an impasse over a contract for 2022 and perhaps beyond, perhaps the alternative options become more attractive. Would the Giants be able to acquire Mayfield for less money and let Daboll work his magic with a different quarterback?
Los Angeles Rams
There are still two teams that are actively searching for head coaches, so it’s difficult to project something as important as a decision on a starting quarterback. If Raheem Morris ends up as the lead man with the Indianapolis Colts, could he ask Mayfield to follow him east? Could the Arizona Cardinals ask the veteran quarterback to fill in while Kyler Murray works his way back from his late-season ACL tear?
If Mayfield cannot find a starting gig on a team with a strong supporting cast, he should instead return to Los Angeles and continue to work with McVay and Stafford. There’s no telling how many more chances he will get as a starter in the NFL - though you have to strike while the iron is hot.
Mayfield needs to put himself in the best possible situation to be successful, and that might actually be with the Rams should Stafford struggle to stay healthy again next year.