The Los Angeles Rams enter the 2023 season with some uncertainty at the quarterback position. While Matthew Stafford played at an elite level in 2021, that level dropped last season before he was shut down after just nine starts.
Stafford never really got going last year. He began the season on a pitch count after elbow surgery in the summer. This effected his chemistry with players like Allen Robinson who the team had brought in as a free agent to replace Odell Beckham Jr. Even before getting shut down, Stafford ranked outside the top-20 in many quarterback metrics.
Now, Stafford is another year older, coming off of multiple concussions and a spine injury. For any player, let alone a 35-year old quarterback, that’s something to be concerned about. That’s not to mention that the Rams aren’t necessarily honest when it comes to injuries of their players.
The Rams consistently downplayed Stafford’s elbow injury throughout the offseason. Even after the season opener loss to the Buffalo Bills, Stafford said, “I feel good, feel great. Obviously had a couple of extra days off. It doesn’t hurt, so I feel pretty good.” McVay said during training camp, ”He looked like the Matthew I know.” This was the consistent theme throughout the offseason. Stafford’s elbow was ‘fine’ and the narrative was being overplayed by the media.
This was the same story with Todd Gurley’s knee injury. Following the Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, Gurley said, “I know there’s been a lot of concern about my knee but I really am fine.” McVay insisted that Gurley’s knee was 100 percent.
As we know now, Gurley was cut following the 2019 season. After denying concerns with Stafford’s elbow all of last year, McVay was quoted saying before the draft, “His elbow’s feeling good. People forget what a big deal that was and that was a little bit different than what we anticipated in terms of the recovery time.”
The issue here is that you can’t downplay an injury for over a year and then turn around and say “people forget what a big deal that was.” You can’t have it both ways.
At this point, while McVay and Stafford both say that he’s “feeling good”, what does that really mean? How much can we trust that to actually be the case?
Kay Adams raised the question on her show “Up and Adams”. Is Matthew Stafford healthy? Here’s what she said,
“Is Matthew Stafford ok? Sean McVay said this weekend that he looks like ‘a human jugs machine’. I don’t what that means — I guess just with the way that he’s firing the ball. I have concerns. Do you have concerns? It's my question. Last season there were multiple concussions. A spinal cord bruise that eventually shut down his season after nine starts. Don’t forget even before that he didn’t feel like the same guy after he had the offseason elbow surgery last summer...With the limited cap space and draft capital, LA wasn’t able to do much to improve the offensive line that really struggled to protect him last year...He’ll have Cooper Kupp back, but the talent around him has taken hits across the board...If Stafford can somehow get back to his usual self — and maybe he can — he gives the Rams a chance to compete for a playoff spot or at least be in the mix in the NFC. But if the injuries have taken a toll on him, which is only natural, it could be another long year in LA. That’s the question, and it’s a health question, is Matthew Stafford ok?”
These are legitimate questions, especially after all of the retirement rumors surrounding Stafford this offseason. NBC Sports’ Matthew Berry was reportedly told at the NFL Combine, “The guy could barely throw last year. Retirement is still not out of the question.”
The Rams signed Stafford to a contract extension last offseason. That extension was deserved after Stafford had led the Rams to a Super Bowl and led three game-winning drives in the playoffs.
When @PSchrags put @RamsNFL QB Matthew Stafford #2 on his list of Top 5 clutch QBs in the NFL yesterday, Twitter had some thoughts...and it wasn't pretty.— Good Morning Football (@gmfb) May 16, 2023
He doubled down today.
"Maybe I should have put him as number 1..." pic.twitter.com/gmE3M3uvNh
Following the injuries, however, it is fair to wonder how much longer he has left. While we’ve seen quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees play into their 40s, that seems like more of the exception than the norm.
Phillip Rivers played his last season with the Indianapolis Colts at 39 years old and Matt Ryan has likely played his last down in the NFLF at 38. That may be more of what we’re looking at with Stafford.
ESPN Insider, Dan Graziano asked a question about each teams quarterback position. His question for the Rams was, ‘How much longer for Matthew Stafford? And what’s next for the Rams?’ Here’s what Graziano had to say,
“The Rams will never regret the move they made to get Stafford before the 2022 season. They went all-in to win the Super Bowl, and they did it. But coming off a 5-12 season in which Stafford struggled to stay on the field, L.A. has to be looking toward the future. The problem is Stafford’s contract is a bit of an albatross. He’s signed through 2026, and his $31 million 2024 salary is already fully guaranteed....He’s 35 years old, so he’s not necessarily thinking retirement, and if he has a good, healthy season, maybe they can get enough in return for him to justify that hit...With late-round flyer Stetson Bennett the only other QB on the roster and the Rams actually armed with a first-round pick for the first time since 2016, could we be looking at the possibility of them keeping a Southern California QB in Southern California next April, when USC’s Caleb Williams is expected to be among the top draft prospects?”
Due to the contract extension, the Rams are stuck with Stafford for at least the next two years. The dead cap on Stafford’s contract is much more manageable after the 2024 and 2025 seasons.
The Rams are in a very similar position that the Detroit Lions were in when they decided to move on from Stafford. On one hand, at his best, Stafford is capable of winning a championship. That chance at a championship is worth hanging on to. Contrarily, are the Rams set up to build a team around Stafford so that he can win or would they be better off just embracing the inevitable rebuild?
Graziano suggesting Caleb Williams may be a bit of an extreme. It would take a lot for the Rams to end up with the number one overall pick and that seems unlikely for a team coached by Sean McVay. However, if the Rams do select in the top-10 once again, one of the other top quarterbacks certainly wouldn’t be out of the question, depending on Stafford’s level and how the Rams feel about him moving forward.
2023 will be a big season for Stafford. While it is a transition year, the Rams need Stafford to not only remain healthy, but play at a level that they can feel comfortable with as they look to be competitive once again in 2024.