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Rams are ‘fully committed’ to Matthew Stafford, view last season as anomaly

That is unless a team offers “a ridiculous trade package”

Rams training camp in Irvine, CA.

The Los Angeles Rams are “fully committed” to quarterback Matthew Stafford, according to team COO Kevin Demoff, but at the same time the front office would “listen the same way you would anyone” if another team is “offering a ridiculous trade package”. This was all part of a wide-ranging interview with Demoff on the 11 Personnel podcast on The Athletic, but when you unpack what was actually being said it seems as though the COO is trying to talk his way around the truth.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t more inquiry into why Demoff said the team was never going to “restructure” Stafford’s deal, which is much different than “re-doing” the contract, and he says the Rams could have “walked away” from the quarterback in March when that is very hard to believe based on the salary cap hell it would have created.

Demoff is normally busy during the offseason answering questions that are about blockbuster trades that the Rams have made to acquire star talent, but 2023 has been a different sort of journey for people like him who run one of the most successful NFL franchises of the past half-decade. Now the questions are mostly about blockbuster trade rumors that haven’t happened, but speculation about L.A. making moves with any of their three star players aren’t going to die down until one of three things happen:

Either the L.A. Rams prove to be contenders in September and October, the trade deadline passes with no deal, or any of these players are dealt.

Demoff insists thought that any rumors of the L.A. Rams attempting to trade Stafford to unload his contract and the $59 million he was owed in March, which has mostly been sourced from Michael Lombardi, were the work of fiction.

“Those conversations frustrated me because I think it’s trying to inject narratives that aren’t there,” Demoff said. “I know there are reports that we tried to trade Matthew. We were not actively trying to trade Matthew. I know (GM) Les (Snead) has rebuffed that before. It’s just not the case.”

And yet he also implied that the team may have had “casual conversations” about a trade and that they would have had to “listen” if the offers were ridiculous.

“It would be naive to think that people didn’t inquire about what was going to happen with the player who the year before won the Super Bowl,” Demoff said. “It’s different than whether people inquire, whether there are casual conversations.”

“[Stafford] is a pillar, we value him highly,” he said. “Now, again, if someone did come in offering a ridiculous trade package, I think you owe it to your organization to listen the same way you would anyone. I think Les said people called about nine players during the offseason. That’s grown probably since that time.”

It is true that if the Rams didn’t want to have any conversations about Stafford, but listened anyway, that would directly refute Lombardi’s rumors that Les Snead was “desperate” to trade the quarterback. That’s more like “injecting a narrative” than it is semantics.

However, if the Rams went back and forth on trade compensation for Stafford and couldn’t get a team to give up enough to justify a deal, then it could be argued that there’s nothing wrong with an “NFL insider” reporting that he’s heard the franchise is having active trade conversations with their star quarterback. It’s not like teams actively negotiate trade terms with all of their star players every year.

It probably never happened in Stafford’s case until he was actually traded to the L.A. Rams in 2021 after 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions.

Then last week, Colin Cowherd said on his radio show for Fox Sports that he heard the L.A. Rams wanted Stafford to “re-do” his contract and that the quarterback refused, which “frustrated” the team. Demoff said that “there was no need to restructure” Stafford’s deal, although the words being used in this debate are very important; a “re-do” is significantly different than a “restructure” despite how similar those terms probably seem.

“That tells you that you didn’t have an understanding of the situation. Matthew’s dollars after 2022 were un-guaranteed. We could’ve walked away this year, free and clear, for $0. No future money owed. So there was no need to restructure. If we wanted out of Matthew’s deal, we could’ve walked away. We didn’t have to trade him to relieve the $58.5 million. We could’ve just walked away.”

Demoff says that the team could have walked away from Stafford’s deal without owing him any money prior to the $59 million that was activated in March. However, this does not address the salary cap dead money hit that L.A. would have incurred if they had cut Stafford back then: The Rams paid Stafford $63 million guaranteed at signing, including a $60 million signing bonus, over four years.

That means that if he was cut, the Rams would have paid $63 million to never play on the contract, thereby repeating the mistakes they made with Jared Goff and Todd Gurley.

The prorated bonus money for that contract would have meant a monumental dead money cap hit because the team would have been cutting him before the new deal even kicked in. Essentially what Demoff is saying is that the Rams could have cut Stafford before the third day of the league year, which yes would have meant that his 2023 option bonus and $31 million base salary would not have been paid.

But the financial ramifications for doing that would have set back the organization’s strapped 2023 and 2024 salary cap even more. By not releasing Stafford, the Rams only have the option to be committed to him as now they are on the hook for a fully-guaranteed $31 million base salary in 2024.

Second, Cowherd claims that his sources say that the Rams wanted Stafford to “re-do” his deal, which means that they wanted him to take a pay cut. Demoff says that the Rams never considered “restructuring” Stafford’s deal, which is a MUCH different transaction. The reason that L.A. wouldn’t restructure Stafford’s deal is as simple as the fact that they couldn’t. It literally isn’t possible. A restructure turns a base salary into a signing bonus and Stafford’s $1.5 million base salary is as low as it gets.

To be fair, Demoff was asked about “rumors of a restructure” instead of renegotiation, so he answered that question. But the fact is that even if the Rams had found a trade partner in March before the bonus, they would have been in salary cap hell and must have wanted to hear something like “two first round picks” to consider walking through that fire.

It is true what Demoff says about Stafford not signing a top of the market contract...

“It’s not like this is some outlandish deal,” he said. “There were plenty of quarterbacks this year who signed for $80 million-plus in the first couple of years. So $58.5 million when you’re talking the next years is really not top-quarterback money.”

A $40 million annual average salary ranks ninth in the NFL and his $20 million cap hit in 2023 is 10th. However, that jumps up to $49 million in 2024 and ranks fifth in the league.

The reason that Stafford isn’t making as much as the recent deals being signed by players like Jalen Hurts and Lamar Jackson could be explained as easily by the fact that the Rams quarterback is 35 and will turn 36 in February. Demoff compared Stafford’s first two years to the recent deals signed by Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo, which is fair, they are similar.

But that still doesn’t dispel the notion that the team may have wanted to change Stafford’s contract, just as the Las Vegas Raiders may want to do with Garoppolo. It was revealed months after Garoppolo’s deal that the Raiders added a clause that allows the team to waive the quarterback, scot free, if he doesn’t pass a physical on a pre-existing injury such as the one in his foot.

Did the Rams want a similar waiver option added to Stafford’s deal after the quarterback missed eight games in 2022 with multiple injuries, including a concussion?

Still, Demoff said everything he could say about Matthew Stafford given his actual current situation, which is that the team is committed to him, which is great but it’s not like they have had any choice in the matter since giving him a four-year, $160 million contract with $63 million guaranteed last offseason. It’s almost exactly where the organization was prior to his guaranteed salary and bonus kicked in, unless Demoff thinks that it would have been wise to pay him $63 million for zero years.

“The biggest point is it misses [that] this organization is fully committed to Matthew, believe in him, believe in what he did,” Demoff said. “View last year as an anomaly for a number of reasons.”

The Rams view 2022 as an “anomaly”, which is understandable too, because teams rarely suffer so many injuries. But the team also wasn’t on track to be playoff contenders prior to putting their top three players on injured reserve, so L.A. must also need to be an anomaly in performance and productivity, or the front office will be having a lot more “casual conversations” in the near future.