April 21, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Worth the risk? Rams hope Matthew Stafford can deliver what Jared Goff couldn’t

Gambling is against NFL rules, but the Rams rolled the dice Saturday night in betting their immediate future on quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has never won a playoff game.

Then again, risk is in their DNA.

They were the club who took the decisive step toward Los Angeles. They spent a record sum on their $5-billion stadium. They traded up from No. 15 to No. 1 to take Jared Goff in 2016 — the quarterback they’re now discarding — and haven’t had a first-round pick since. They hired a 30-year-old head coach.

So of course they made a splash move to get Stafford.

Now, it’s up to them to prove it was a smart one.

Houston’s Deshaun Watson was out of their price range. They considered making a hard run at Aaron Rodgers, but Green Bay was adamant it wasn’t trading him.

Stafford was within reach, and Sean McVay was increasingly convinced this was the player who could lift his team to the next level — even though Stafford never actually experienced that level with the Lions.

So that’s the question, and one we’ll figure out in short order: Was the problem Stafford, or the team around him?

Stafford has two years left on his contract, and the Rams weren’t able to extend him beyond that. If he has a great 2021 season, that’s a double-edged sword, because the Rams will have to break the bank to extend him, and they’re making it clear with this move that he’s their future.

That was the case with cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Rams didn’t get an extension on him when they made a trade with Jacksonville and subsequently signed him to a record-breaking deal.

Regardless, the news of the moment is the Rams were able to wriggle out of the handcuffs of Goff’s contract and acquire a highly respectable quarterback looking to make the most of that talent in his second act. Is Stafford worth two first-round picks and a third? That will be hotly debated, especially if he doesn’t make an immediate and dramatic impact. But the Rams had to sweeten the deal enough that the Lions would take Goff’s massive contract off their books.

The Rams upgraded at quarterback, and they didn’t have to go to lengths they would deeply regret to get one. They didn’t have to, say, trade Aaron Donald.

Matthew Stafford throws during a game between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 3.

(Duane Burleson / Associated Press)

Giving up two first-round picks is steep. But if you figure a Hall of Fame general manager hits on about 50% of selections in the opening round — if he gets two good starters out of four first-rounders that’s a respectable rate — then a pair of first-rounders isn’t too much … as long as team is getting a franchise quarterback.

There’s no easy path to winning in the NFL, and no sure-fire formula for success.

Drew Brees will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and with him at quarterback, the New Orleans Saints have tried for a decade to get back to the Super Bowl.

Rodgers, as great as he is, has been to one Super Bowl — a victory over Pittsburgh — and just lost in the NFC championship game for the second consecutive season.

In their four seasons under McVay, the Rams are tied for third in the league in wins, have had double-digit victories three times, got to the playoffs three times, and reached the Super Bowl. With Goff as their quarterback, it should be noted.

Goff had his moments. Remember his first season under McVay, with six passer ratings of 110 or higher? His four touchdowns and 413 yards passing in that 54-51 thriller over Kansas City in 2018?

But as this season wore on, he seemed to hemorrhage confidence. When the offense was clicking, he was good. But when he had to make that off-schedule throw, scramble and improvise, the plays just weren’t there. There wasn’t a feeling of, “We can put this game on Goff’s shoulders and let him carry us,” or, “The 49ers left too much time on the clock for Goff.”

The Rams need a fresh start, and so does he. He didn’t take as pronounced a downturn as Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, the No. 2 pick behind him in 2016, but Goff’s season was one to forget.

So now the spotlight swings to Stafford, who turns 33 on Super Bowl Sunday. He’s entering a phase in which a lot of good quarterbacks have caught their second wind.

And remember this: The Rams are sharing a stadium with the Chargers, who have one of the league’s most promising young quarterbacks in Justin Herbert. Did McVay want to start every week with a crippling case of quarterback envy?

The Rams took a risk. There was no other option.