The Los Angeles Rams always get their guy, regardless of cost. After yet another disappointing campaign from Jared Goff, the Rams traded two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and the quarterback himself for the rights to Matthew Stafford. There is no denying that the Rams now have the better passer, but they overpay to acquire Stafford’s services?
Matthew Stafford Trade: Did the Los Angels Rams Overpay?
Quarterback is easily the most important position in football, and getting the best passer possible should be the top priority of every single organization. Since 2018, every team to make it to the Conference Championship game has ranked in the top 10 in EPA/dropback, which goes to show how important it is to have an elite passing attack. After two solid seasons under Sean McVay, Jared Goff has regressed to below-average play since 2019. Quite simply, you can’t win a Super Bowl with this version of Jared Goff running the offense.
Matthew Stafford is an upgrade, but is he good enough to justify giving up THAT much draft capital? Since 2017, Jared Goff ranks 15th in EPA/play (0.140) to Stafford’s 17th (0.136). However, it’s worth noting that Goff has been playing in a far more favorable system, and this has artificially increased his numbers.
Pro Football Focus grades tend to be the more predictive metric for quarterback play, and these numbers suggest Stafford is a notably better quarterback. According to PFF, Stafford ended 2020 as the 14th-best quarterback in the league, while Goff was all the way down at 22. Stafford is an upgrade, but he’s obviously not an elite quarterback like Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers. On paper, it’s hard to justify giving up that much draft capital to go from a below-average quarterback to a good-but-not-great quarterback, unless there’s an ulterior motive for making the move.
After a hot start to the 2018 season, Jared Goff crashed and burned in the second half of the year. Despite the sluggish finish, the Rams committed to the former first-overall pick by signing him to a four-year, $134 million contract. Despite being signed early in 2019, the deal only started in 2021. Had Goff reverted to his 2017 and early 2018 form, this deal would’ve been fair for both sides.
However, that didn’t happen. Goff continued to struggle over the next two seasons, making his contract one of the worst in the league. Nobody in the league wants to be on the hook for Goff’s paycheck, so the Rams had to throw some extra draft capital to make Detroit take Goff’s massive contract.
Thanks to the structure of Goff’s deal, the Los Angeles Rams are still on the books for a portion of Goff’s contract over the next two years. In 2021, Goff will carry a $22.2 million dead hit, as compared to his $34.75 cap hit had he remained on the team. Stafford, meanwhile, has a $20 million cap hit in 2021 and a $23 million cap hit in 2022.
This move actually decreases LA’s 2021 cap space, but Stafford’s deal can be restructured to lower his 2021 cap hit to just $4.86 million. By doing this, the Rams will have actually cleared 2021 cap space while upgrading the quarterback position. Additionally, this move would only increase Stafford’s 2022 cap hit to $26.4 million, which isn’t that big of a jump.
The Los Angeles Rams made it all the way to the NFC Divisional Round despite having a below-average starter with a broken thumb under center. In theory, upgrading to Stafford should the Rams a chance to compete in a wide-open NFC. However, the current depth of the team means that the Rams have a very narrow Super Bowl window and cannot afford any bad injury luck.
The Rams haven’t had a first-round pick since 2016, and this lack of draft capital eventually catches up to the depth of the roster. Offensively, Stafford is a good quarterback and the duo of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods is one of the best in the league. Defensively, Aaron Donald is the best player in football and Jalen Ramsey is in the conversation for the NFL’s best cornerback. However, the depth on this team leaves a lot to be desired, and one injury could sink this entire team.
Every team is doomed if their starting quarterback goes down, and Stafford has a long history of injuries. Normally, injuries have more to do with luck than anything else, but Stafford is getting up there in age and has a long history of back issues. Back issues tend to linger, and certainly don’t get better as you get older. He might have a few more years in his tank, but he does carry more risk than your typical quarterback.
As far as receiver goes, the depth chart gets a little barren after Kupp and Woods. Josh Reynolds is a free agent, and Van Jefferson didn’t do much as a rookie to inspire confidence. In the secondary, Troy Hill is a fine player but the rest of the depth chart isn’t good enough to survive should Ramsey go down. Aaron Donald is in a tier of his own, and no player could ever replace his impact in the trenches. Ultimately, this roster needs a lot out of their elite players, and they don’t have the resources to reinforce the roster with the necessary depth.
Ultimately, this is an aggressive move that is probably a bit of an overpay. Matthew Stafford is better than Jared Goff, but the Rams probably gave up too many picks considering the current state of their roster. If they want to compete in the short term, they’ll need a lot of injury luck to go their way.