View from Los Angeles: Rams moved quick to get Stafford

Kevin Modesti
Los Angeles Daily News

The Rams wanted a new quarterback. And they wanted him now.

They got him Saturday night, moving quickly and aggressively to replace Jared Goff with Matthew Stafford as the Rams and Detroit Lions agreed to swap quarterbacks in a trade that also costs L.A. its 2022 and 2023 first-round draft picks and this year’s third-rounder.

The trade, first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, won’t become official until the NFL’s new league year begins March 17.

The Lions get Jared Goff, 26, the 2016 No. 1 draft pick from Cal who looked like a star in quarterbacking the Rams to the NFC championship in the 2018 season but fell out of favor in an up-and-down 2020.

But it’s done, bringing a swift end to the intrigue surrounding Goff and coach Sean McVay that began when the fifth-year starting quarterback broke his passing thumb in the second to last game of the regular season.

If the speed of it all is stunning, the roll of the dice by Rams general manager Les Snead is characteristic of a front office that now has traded away every first-round draft pick from 2017 to 2023 in moves meant to bring victories now.

The Rams get Stafford, 33 on Feb. 7, the 2009 first overall draft pick from Georgia who has piled up huge passing numbers but has gone 0-3 in playoff games with Lions teams that have usually been undermanned in his 12 years.

The Lions get Goff, 26, the 2016 No. 1 draft pick from Cal who looked like a star in quarterbacking the Rams to the NFC championship in the 2018 season but fell out of favor in an up-and-down 2020.

Since Stafford had requested a trade, and McVay and Snead sounded intent on moving on from Goff, the deal was a case of mutual problem solving by front offices that know each other well since Lions GM Brad Holmes was recently hired away from his longtime role as Rams college scouting director.

They also move around a lot of money. According to the sports payroll tracker Spotrac.com, Stafford brings with him the remaining two years and $43 million of a five-year, $135 million contract, leaving the Lions a $19 million salary-cap hit. Goff takes with him four years and $104.3 million of the $134 million extension he signed after the Super Bowl year, leaving the Rams $22.2 million of dead salary cap money.

Including Goff in any trade for a new quarterback was seen as crucial because the Rams faced a challenge to get under the NFL salary cap. They got closer to the projected cap with Saturday’s move, but they remained $13 million over the cap for the top 51 players on their roster, Spotrac.com calculated. Teams have until the start of the league year in March to meet the cap.

It’s the second straight offseason that Snead moved boldly to fix a perceived problem.

A year ago, the Rams released Todd Gurley, who’d gone from the NFC Offensive Player of the Year in 2017 to a high-paid shell of himself as knee problems took hold.

Now, they’ve found the best way to move on from Goff, having lost confidence in him 16 months after giving him $110 million guaranteed in that contract extension.

Goff started his fifth pro season strong but cost the Rams two crucial games with interceptions and fumbles during a bout of 10 turnovers in four games in November.

At the time, McVay was unusually critical of Goff in public. But McVay said he and the quarterback were “in this together.” Goff appeared to shrug off the jabs, saying they were deserved.

Things got tense again after Goff broke and dislocated his right thumb, hitting it on a Seahawks pass-rusher’s helmet during the Rams’ Dec. 27 loss at Seattle. Goff had surgery the next day and intended to return to action for the Rams’ playoff opener, also at Seattle. But McVay, impressed by backup John Wolford’s performance in the Rams’ regular-season-ending win over the Cardinals, kept Wolford as the starter without giving Goff a chance to show he was ready.

Goff wound up coming off the bench to lead a 30-20 playoff win over the Seahawks after Wolford was hurt early in that game, and played solidly with the thumb still less than 100% in the 32-18 loss to the Packers that ended the 10-6 Rams’ season Jan. 16.

It was immediately after the game at Green Bay that McVay was asked if Goff was his quarterback going forward and replied, “Yeah, he’s the quarterback, right.” (Some reporters thought they heard him say “right now,” making the comment even more controversial.)

Last Tuesday, Snead too passed up the chance to settle the 2021 quarterback question, telling reporters only that Goff was a Ram “at this moment.”

By then, Snead probably was already talking about potential trades with the Lions and other teams with quarterbacks on the market, including the Texans with Deshaun Watson.

The Rams hadn’t confirmed the trade as of Saturday night.