Matthew Stafford apparently had little doubt he would play football this season. He had even less doubt he would play for the Los Angeles Rams.
And when other teams called to inquire about trading for the Super Bowl champion quarterback, Stafford says he made it clear where he preferred to be.
“I see it as flattering, I guess, that other teams would reach out and want me to come play for them,” Stafford said Wednesday. “I just know that I’m really happy where I am, playing for this team, playing for this coach and these fans.”
After an offseason during which he claimed not to know about many of the rumors swirling around him, the 35-year-old Stafford fully participated in the opening practice of training camp with the Rams at UC Irvine on Wednesday to begin his 15th NFL season.
Stafford hasn’t retired, he hasn’t been traded, and he won’t say whether he restructured his contract – or whether he declined to help out the Rams by doing so. As for the unnamed suitors who wondered whether he would be interested in moving again, Stafford claims he was decidedly unenthusiastic about their pursuit.
“I don’t react to it at all, to be honest with you,” Stafford said. “I’m too busy chasing around four kids. But I hear that stuff. I’m in contact with them all the time. I’m not sitting in on all those calls, but I get most of the details.”
Although the Rams are in an elaborate rebuilding process which they’re characterizing as a reload, Stafford has remained fully on board with the process. Just two years after he left the Detroit Lions instead of sticking around through another rebuild, he says he’s fully committed to the Rams’ return to title contention as he begins a four-year contract extension.
Stafford repeatedly said he wanted “to keep the conversations in-house” about the state of his contract. He acknowledged talks about the structure of the deal, but wouldn’t give details on what happened, if anything.
“I don’t know what the technical term of it is, but we had conversations on that kind of stuff, and I’ll leave it at that,” Stafford said.
Every dollar counts this season for the Rams, who cut ties with well over a dozen well-paid veterans in an attempt to clear their books for 2024. The Rams need Stafford’s leadership just about as much as they need his playmaking: Less than 18 months after raising the Lombardi Trophy, Los Angeles’ only three remaining stars are Stafford, Aaron Donald and Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp.
Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff said in an offseason letter to season ticket holders that the Rams “have taken all of our salary cap pain in 2023” to create more than $60 million in cap space next season. General manager Les Snead voluntarily got rid of more veterans than necessary to fit under the salary cap, creating well over $70 million in dead money in 2023 — neck-and-neck with Tampa Bay for the most in the NFL, according to overthecap.com.
Coach Sean McVay also declined to say what Stafford did or didn’t do with his contract, but he says the Rams’ decision-makers all felt strongly that Stafford should stay.
“When that March deadline came in of (Stafford) being due the (rest of that signing) bonus that he’s deserved and he’s earned, we were all in unanimous agreement that we wanted him to be the quarterback,” McVay said. “There were certainly some teams that had reached out, as Kevin and Les both had mentioned. But … I know I can certainly speak for all of us and say I know we’re excited as hell about Matthew Stafford. It’s been great to see him feeling good. I’m certainly really glad he’s our quarterback.”
Fortunately for the Rams, Stafford believes he’s ready to recapture top form. He declared himself healthier than he was last offseason, when the defending champions got just nine games out of Stafford behind a porous offensive line before he was shut down around Thanksgiving with career-threatening injuries.
The Rams didn’t significantly improve that offensive line group, other than drafting guard Steve Avila in the second round to join 2022 third-round pick Logan Bruss, who missed his rookie season with a knee injury. Los Angeles is hoping to get much better results from largely the same players, and Stafford is on board with that belief.
“I think that’s the name of the game, is to try to keep the quarterback healthy, let him go out there and make plays,” Stafford said.
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