We haven’t even made it to the Super Bowl yet and the offseason quarterback carousel has already started moving. Matthew Stafford wanted a new place to play. Sean McVay wanted a new quarterback. Both got their wish. We highlighted the Rams as one of the offseason’s most interesting teams and they didn’t even wait for the offseason to officially start.
Per Adam Schefter, the Los Angeles Rams agreed to send two future first rounds picks, a third-round pick, and Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Stafford. The Rams don’t have their own first-round pick from the Jalen Ramsey trade, so those firsts will come in 2022 and 2023.
On the surface that is a lot to give up in a trade for an injury-prone quarterback who will turn 33 years old in February. But Stafford was highly coveted with nearly a quarter of the league giving offers, so the Rams get a bit of a winner’s curse by having the winning bid. This is another aggressive move from the Rams, who clearly feel that proven veterans are more valuable to their current roster construction than first-round picks in the late-20’s every year. For a team such as the Rams, that’s not a terrible strategy. Even the misses with that aggressiveness, such as Brandin Cooks, helped the Rams get to the Super Bowl.
At some point, the lack of a cost-controlled first-round pick might come back to hurt Los Angeles, but they’ve been able to draft well enough to replenish the back-end of the roster. Even as the stars-and-scrubs type build might force them to lose a player like John Johnson in free agency, they have 2020 sixth-round pick Jordan Fuller on the roster. Los Angeles is also a team that will trade back late in the draft to take more swings when the probability of a hit is much lower.
This also isn’t a trade that just features a lot of first-round picks for a quarterback. Part of this deal goes for the Lions taking on Goff’s contract. Goff was scheduled to cost $34.95 million on the Rams’ cap. With the signing bonus accelerated to the Rams’ cap, the Lions will take a $28.15 million hit for Goff in 2021 and a $26.15 million hit for 2022 with $15.5 million on that guaranteed, Should Detroit want, the Lions could save over $10 million by cutting Goff after 2021. The Lions aren’t getting any surplus-value from the potential quarterback production against the contract, but that’s what the extra picks are for.
All of this helps a Detroit team that is now in a clear rebuild. Goff at least brings some kind of safety net for a team that will see most of its receiving corps (Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola) hit free agency. The Lions have the seventh overall pick that they could use on a quarterback… or if they love one, they could use the extra firsts they now have to move up for one of the top quarterbacks and let him sit behind Goff until he’s ready. There are a number of ways the Lions could now go. It’s also not out of the question that Goff could be on the move again, should a desperate team get left out of quarterback musical chairs later in the offseason.
On the other side, the Rams will undoubtedly get surplus value for the quarterback. Stafford will count for just $20 million on the Rams’ cap for 2021. With the $22.2 million in dead money left on the cap from Goff, the Rams will take on $7.25 million more to upgrade to Stafford than if they had just kept Goff. But in 2022, Stafford will only count for $23 million on the cap, which is a $10.95 million savings on the cap compared to what Goff would have cost.
That’s another part of what the Rams are paying for, that additional flexibility. Los Angeles could also work out an extension with Stafford that could lower his cap hit for 2021 and allow the Rams more cap space for this coming offseason.
The financials of this trade mean a lot and it’s why the price was as expensive as it was. But the on-field aspect matters too and it’s clear the Rams significantly upgraded at quarterback. So much of the Rams’ offense came from scheming around Goff. Even when he played well, the Rams weren’t winning because of the quarterback.
With Stafford, the Rams could finally have that luxury. Stafford’s 2020 season didn’t live up to the first half of his 2019, but he still finished 15th in EPA per attempt among 44 quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts in 2020, per Sports Info Solutions. Goff finished 28th.
McVay’s offense has schemed open the quick, short game and that’s where Goff saw much of his success. But on throws beyond that safe space, there was much left to be desired. There are two specific places where Stafford can be an immediate upgrade on Goff in the Rams’ offense. Last season, Stafford ranked first in EPA per attempt on intermediate throws (11-19 air yards) outside of the red zone among 32 quarterbacks with at least 40 such attempts. Goff was just 22nd and there was an 8.2% difference in positive play rate (the percentage of plays that produce positive EPA).
Stafford could also unlock a vertical element to the Rams’ offense that just hasn’t been there with Goff under center. In 2020, Stafford threw the seventh-most pass attempts that traveled at least 20 air yards and he ranked 12th in on-target rate among 36 quarterbacks with at least 20 attempts, per SIS. Goff thew the 21st-most deep passes and ranked 32nd in on-target rate. The Rams weren’t exactly built for a vertical offense, but the quarterback was at fault just as much as the personnel.
It’s a completely new look for the Rams, who will hope more individual talent at quarterback can take what has already been accomplished by the scheme to another level. It’s not completely the same, but we’ve seen two high-quality quarterbacks take over McVay-Shanahan type systems and both were rewarded with an NFL MVP award in the second season.
This is a huge swing for the Rams, who undeniably got better for 2021 and with all the talent still on the roster plus cap flexibility going forward, did not crater their future prospects, either, despite the amount given up to make the first big strike of the offseason.