45,000 career passing yards. Nearly 300 touchdowns. 63% completion percentage. Number one overall pick. Pro Bowler.
None of that matters now for Matthew Stafford. The only question on everyone's mind: Is he the guy to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl?
Los Angeles, in one of the more aggressive moves in recent NFL history, came to an agreement with the Detroit Lions on January 30th to deal for the twelve-year veteran. In return, L.A. parts ways with two future first-round picks, a third, and quarterback Jared Goff, who is just two years removed from leading the Rams to a Super Bowl defeat in 2019.
All eyes will be glued to head coach Sean McVay's squad in 2021, as the team has mortgaged their future in an attempt to win now. Was the move worth it, or will L.A.regret going all-in on a quarterback entering his mid-30's?
*All statistics/rankings courtesy of Pro Football Reference
Goff's Struggles Have Opened The Door
To understand the shock of not only acquiring Stafford, but dealing away Goff, one must understand how the Rams operate under general manager Les Snead and just how frustrating quarterback play had been last year.
Since the 2018 season, Goff's play has declined in a number of areas. While the numbers aren't necessarily bad, his yards per attempt and touchdown:interception ratio have only gotten worse. His erratic play was personified by a QBR that could range from 142.1 (Week 2 vs. the Eagles) to 52.9 (Week 12 vs. the 49ers), making each game a roll of the dice at the position. As Rams great Kurt Warner elaborated on, Goff was often in cruise control when the team had a healthy lead and were able to run play-action. When trailing by multiple scores, or being rushedin the pocket, mediocre quarterback play usually followed.
Similarly to Todd Gurley a year prior, Goff was let go by L.A. because his play had begun to decline and the team was unwilling to commit to a hefty payday. Unlike Gurley, the Rams had given Goff a major contract, only to realize they made a mistake just sixteen months later.
An Upgrade At Quarterback Comes At A Price
Matt Stafford is an obvious improvement over Goff for a number 0f reasons. His throw power and accuracy are all superior to that of Goff's, and he has performed well even with a mediocre supporting cast in Detroit. While detractors will point to a lack of postseason success, he has only played in three games, last in 2016. This will be the former Georgia QB's best chance to prove that he can win big games, surrounded by a bevy of star-power that makes many of his old Lions teams look like J.V. squads.
The best part about Stafford's role is that he doesn't even need to be great. He simply needs to lead the team where Goff couldn't. The Rams offense often became predictable and one-dimensional due to an inability to throw the ball downfield late in games. Stafford's arm should ensure that opposing defenses can't stack the box against a Rams run game that surged when rookie Cam Akers took control of the starting job at halfback.
A deal like this was always going to be costly, if not for Stafford's major cap hit alone. Parting ways with multiple first rounders, in addition to a quarterback who still has potential in Goff, has many fans and analysts scratching their heads. However, it shows the Rams' willingness to prove that draft picks, long seen as the most valuable commodity in the league, are actually overrated. Trading away Goff, their most recent first round selection, while still competing in the playoffs is proof of that.
Are the Rams Ready To Find New Success?
For a team built to win now, college prospects should not be a major focus anyways. The Rams had the NFL's top-ranked scoring defense, anchored by the best defensive lineman (Aaron Donald) and defensive back (Jalen Ramsey) in football. With these two stars signed to the team long term, a defensive drop off doesn't seem likely.
On the other side of the ball, Los Angeles has a solid group of weapons for Stafford to work with. The duo of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods is potent, with each having the versatility to play outside or in the slot. Tight end Tyler Higbee was underutilized by Goff, but he should be in line for more work in 2021, given how often Stafford threw to T.J. Hockenson in Detroit. The aforementioned Akers, supported by Darrell Henderson Jr. and Malcolm Brown, form a solid running back trio that McVay used as a committee for most of the season.
Since Stafford's contract will push L.A. even further over the salary cap limit, the likelihood of the team making anymore meaningful additions is slim to none. A need many fans will point towards is the offensive line. However, the unit rebounded after a disappointing 2019, finishing third in the league according to PFF. The age and injury history of left tackle Andrew Whitworth only gives the Rams front office even more impetus to maximize their talent before roster drop-off takes hold.
Still, nothing is guaranteed, and the team can improve in a number of areas. The o-line could lose starting center Austin Blythe, and while Whitworth will likely return for one more season, he has yet to confirm so. At receiver, the team has been missing a deep threat that can spread out defenses, something previous Rams offenses possessed with Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks. With a limited amount of draft capital, it would behoove the Rams to find more depth on offense, while also accounting for the potential losses of strong safety John Johnson, cornerback Troy Hill, and edge rusher Leonard Floyd on defense.
The Los Angeles Rams were a good team without Matthew Stafford. With the former Lion in tow, they have the opportunity to become a great team. How Snead and McVay choose to use their limited resources this offseason should play a role in making sure the team has enough depth for a deep postseason run. In an already dynamic NFC West, a healthy San Francisco 49ers squad, the division-winning Seahawks, and a young Cardinals team should give L.A. a serious fight for the division crown.
With all the hype, it's now up to Stafford to lead Los Angeles to the promised land. His legacy, as well as that of McVay and the front office, hinges upon whether his arm is still capable of more magic. It's a high-risk, high-reward bet, with the fate of an entire roster hanging in the balance.
In other words, it's the kind of story that could only be written in Hollywood.