Trade rumors have followed Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams as far back as March, with Michael Lombardi doing virtually all of the legwork on spreading that narrative every few months. According to Lombardi, the Rams were calling other teams to gauge the possibility of anyone picking up his $59 million tab this year and unsurprisingly, if true, got no takers.
The rumors could have been outright denied by L.A., but instead at various points Les Snead or Kevin Demoff have said that they had “casual conversations” and denied calling other clubs. Demoff said that the Rams received calls about Stafford and that they did not ask him to change his contract in any way.
Yet days later, Stafford said that they did.
Well, that’s not the only rumor in the Rams-Stafford offseason that has conflicting and contradictory reports. We’ve also heard that the team was “desperately” calling others to try and get a trade done, to which the team said they only “received” calls for Stafford. That’s hard to believe and there’s $59 million reasons why.
It would have been extremely hard to trade Stafford in March. It could be just as hard to do it in September and that’s even if the Rams struggle to win games before the trade deadline or even if you think they should “tank”. Here’s why.
First some history
On a recent episode of his podcast The GM Shuffle, Lombardi tripled down on what he’s said all offseason, sarcastically laughing at Demoff’s assertion that teams called the Rams to see if they could trade for Stafford and his contract.
Adam Schefter tweeted that the Rams were “approached by other teams about quarterback Matthew Stafford but were in “unanimous agreement” to keep him for another season.”
Rams were approached by other teams about QB Matthew Stafford in the offseason but were in “unanimous agreement” to keep him for at least another season, per HC Sean McVay. More via @NotoriousOHM:https://t.co/dsNR1GPhyy— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 27, 2023
Lombardi: “Yeah, people wanted to pay the $59 million, they couldn’t wait, you just said No. You said No. I mean this is just clarifying they don’t want Stafford to be mad that they were, that it’s out there that they were trying to trade him, so they spun it to a different direction. That’s what happens. They know they had conversations with teams, I know they did, they know they did, right? They spun it to where “Teams were calling us.” Yeah, there’s a long line, like a port authority in New York City to get on a bus to pay $59 million for Stafford on his option when he’s not even healthy. I got that. I buy it completely! Why wouldn’t I buy that? There’s no question. Les Snead had zillions of calls for that! There’s no doubt that Kevin Demoff was getting calls from all over, “Would you trade Matthew Stafford? Oh my god, we would love to pay that $59 million and take you off the hook. We couldn’t wait. Oh please! Oh you don’t want to do it? Oh I’m so depressed.” Come on. Give me fucking break. Give me a break. Seriously? How dumb do you think we are? As Michael Corleone said, Don’t insult my intelligence.”
Like I said, sarcastic.
Lombardi added that the “best part” of the situation is that the Rams felt compelled to spin the narrative into “We got phone calls for Stafford” because if there were no truth to the rumors that they wanted to trade Stafford they would just say that the entire rumor was bull.
And just to be clear, Demoff did say that teams “inquired” about Stafford and claimed that it was because he had just won the Super Bowl:
“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.”
I know that people often dismiss what Lombardi says because he’s probably not famous enough or not on the right networks or because his one GM job came with the Browns (it’s not like he can be blamed for the entire failure of the NFL’s worst organization) but he also worked in front offices as a pro personnel director or above from 1989 to 2015. He knows people.
Even if you think he had no inside information, his argument also make sense. Let’s break down the theory that the Rams “received phone calls” for Matthew Stafford because even Kevin Demoff (will get to him later) has said outright that this is what happened. Does that make sense?
Next, let’s talk about Kevin Demoff because he’s planted himself in the middle of this
Though the team has decided to call him the COO, I would rather just start referring to Kevin Demoff as “the Rams main spokesperson.” It seems that the franchise would much rather have Demoff as the go-between from the team to the media than having to put Les Snead or Sean McVay in that position and that allows Demoff to attract all the heat when the organization has been accused of lying or when things generally go south.
For example, when Mike Florio recently outright called Demoff a liar who was spouting “bullcrap” when talking about Stafford trade rumors. He didn’t say the GM or head coach was lying. He said that a guy with a generic “fortune 500 office building job title” was a liar and I am not even sure there’s a single other team in the NFL that has a “COO” who has the same responsibilities of being so front-facing of an organization.
Stan Kroenke doesn’t care to be involved more than as an investor. Snead doesn’t want to go much further in explaining his moves than wearing a “F them picks” t-shirt. McVay is rightfully fixated and focused on coaching and not necessarily answering for why the team would or wouldn’t trade one of their star players.
It’s actually a genius move by the Rams.
Because who is most in risk of losing their job if the team goes 5-12 again? Not Kroenke. Not McVay. I doubt it would be Snead. And it wouldn’t even be Demoff because he’s doing such a great job of being the bad guy. There’s a term in Survivor, “shield”. You never want to vote out your “shield”, because a shield is the person that’s keeping YOU from being voted out.
Kevin Demoff is the ultimate shield.
The Rams go 5-12? Well, assuming McVay doesn’t walk away on his own, the people most at risk are probably the assistant coaches and the players. The next offseason would look a lot like this offseason, but with a team that’s younger, cheaper, and has a first round pick.
But Demoff’s job should be safe, if for no other reason than he’s taken on the brunt of the criticism for these conflicting reports on Stafford’s contract “restructure” request and trade rumors. Lombardi says the Rams called other teams. Schefter very clearly says that the Rams say that they got offers from teams.
No, Kevin, the Rams could not have just “walked away”
Demoff also told Jourdan Rodrigue on her podcast 11 Personnel, to no rebuttal, that it would have been easy to just walk away from Stafford without paying the $59 million in roster bonus and 2024 salary; Stafford now has a fully-guaranteed $31 million base salary in 2024 because he remained on the roster in March.
He literally said it three times, almost in a row: “We could’ve just walked away.”
What would have been interesting to ask Demoff in that moment...”How?”
How could the Rams have “walked away” so easy like Demoff claims?
First of all, cutting Stafford before his $59 million would have been admitting that the four-year, $160 million extension in 2022 was a complete and utter failure. The Rams would have paid Stafford $63 million to play ZERO years on the contract.
Second of all, the cap hit would have been too massive to swallow. They just couldn’t have gotten away with it, period.
Now me being sarcastic: “We traded two first round picks to get this guy for one and a half seasons and then we gave him a $63 million ‘just because’ bonus that is going to eat so much into our salary cap for the next couple of years that we won’t be able to field a team that you’ll come watch, in fact we’re just renting out SoFi Stadium to Taylor Swift on a full-time basis now. If you get bored, you could watch Jared Goff’s Lions? Idk.”
Call Lombardi full of shit, I don’t care, I have no need to defend him. But that is completely irrelevant when making the point that what Demoff said on the 11 Personnel podcast made no sense and required follow up.
The Rams couldn’t have “walked away” from Stafford’s contract. The only reason to do that would have been to save $59 million in cash at the expense of hurting the team. The L.A. Rams are valued at over $6 billion and had revenue of $628 million last year. There would have been no need to save $60 million on Stafford’s contract, which amounts to less than one percent of the franchise value and less than 10% of last year’s revenue. Put that way, it seems almost like a lot, but Stafford isn’t worth $0. He could be worth a lot more than $60 million compared to starting Stetson Bennett or Brett Rypien or John Wolford or Baker Mayfield.
Saying the team could have “walked away” is just absurd.
Okay, so could the team have traded him instead?
Yes! But it’s still very unlikely and that’s the reason that the Rams didn’t trade Matthew Stafford. Because the numbers don’t add up to make a trade worth it to either side.
Demoff’s claim that the Rams could have cut Stafford to save Kroenke pocket change carries a massive negative net return. You just lose your quarterback, lose fans, lose cap space, and lose more games. It’s a classic lose-lose-lose-lose.
However, a TRADE, if it could have happened before his bonuses, erases at least half of those losses.
The Rams would have lost Stafford and lost cap space, but they would have gained two very important things: More draft picks and the ability to get away from Stafford’s fully-guaranteed $31 million salary in 2024.
Michael Lombardi’s last job in the NFL was working for two years in the New England Patriots organization, so it’s interesting to me that at the same time there were Stafford rumors there were also rumors about Mac Jones. It makes sense that the Patriots would want to try and upgrade Jones. It makes sense that Lombardi’s sources work for the Patriots. “They called us, Michael! I’m telling you, they called US!” It makes sense that New England would look around the division, expecting the Jets to trade for Aaron Rodgers, and realize that they now had the fourth-best QB in the AFC East.
The Patriots also have the most cap space in the NFL in 2024. They could afford his $31 million base salary.
Between GMs who made a Brandin Cooks trade in 2018, could Snead have asked Bill Belichick if he was interested in Matthew Stafford?
It makes sense.
But the Patriots weren’t going to trade the 14th overall pick for Stafford and they might not feel that Stafford could help them win football games this year and feared he wouldn’t have many more seasons left in him after 2023. That’s likely the main reason that most teams would have rebuffed L.A.’s phone calls to see, “What would you be willing to give up for our recently injured quarterback who has a $59 million guarantee coming up in a few weeks?”
If not then, when? Now?
I seriously doubt it.
Earlier this offseason, I was much more confident that the Rams would want to find a trade offer for Stafford if the playoffs seemed unlikely to the organization. But the financial ramifications are still pretty terrible—both for the Rams and the trade partner—and it would make a lot more sense for L.A. to wait until 2024 to try and make a deal.
According to OvertheCap.com, trading Stafford now means saving his $1.5 million guaranteed base salary and leaving $18 million in dead money. Doesn’t seem that bad.
But it also leaves $55.5 million in dead money in 2024 plus a $6 million cap penalty. What the Rams would save is Stafford’s $31 million base salary next season, but they would owe is the combined total of his three remaining prorated bonus amounts of $18.5 million: $55.5 million.
The receiving team would be getting Stafford but also take on his fully guaranteed $31 million base salary in 2024. That’s a lot of money for a quarterback who will be 36, missed half of last season with multiple injuries, and has had “arm fatigue scares” and “head injuries” in the recent past.
Demoff’s claim is that teams would overlook these problems because Stafford just won the Super Bowl.
Okay, can you trade Joe Noteboom then, Kevin? He just won a Super Bowl too.
Now let’s pretend that you found a team that would pay his salary. Say that the Patriots start 4-0, but then Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe both get hurt. New England feels like they can win the division and they have the salary cap space to take on Stafford and they call back Les...no Sean...no Kevin...no Stan! They call “The Rams” and they ask if Stafford is on the table still.
Well, what are the Rams supposed to ask for in return?
Are Rams fans going to be happy if the team trades Stafford for a fourth round pick? Because that might be what they can get right now. Teams aren’t going to line up to take on all that risk and then on top of that give up a first round pick. Conversely, the Rams shouldn’t be eager to trade Stafford for less than a first round pick because they’re taking on a huge cap penalty for doing it and they don’t know how good or bad that pick will be.
They could instead wait all the way until the 2024 offseason, hope Stafford doesn’t miss a game, and trade him for a much better and guaranteed return. Or don’t trade him. Or wait and trade him next fall, when the savings will be much greater.
This idea of “trading everybody and tanking” seems possible in theory or if you’re playing a video game. But this is real money. Or it’s not, it’s “salary cap money”. If it were real money, you could just...walk away.