Sean McVay tiptoes around Matthew Stafford’s contract concerns

There was a question as to whether the Rams would use their first first-round pick since 2016 on a quarterback. After they didn’t, word emerged that their current quarterback wants more of his remaining contract to be guaranteed.

There continue to be no accidents or coincidences on matters of this nature. With the Rams not landing one of the top six quarterbacks in the 2024 draft, the leverage swung back to Stafford.

On Friday, the issue inevitably came up during coach Sean McVay’s in-draft press conference. Stafford did his best, as he often does, to tiptoe around the topic.

Is the report that Stafford wants more guarantees accurate? Activate polite non-answer.

“Yeah, I’ve had good dialogue with Matthew,” McVay said. “We’ll keep those things in house, but he’s been working with our guys and we’ll keep those things in house.”

Will Stafford by present for OTAs, the key third phase of the offseason program? Be non-committal.

“He’s been working with our guys the last couple weeks,” McVay said. “And so that’s kind of where we’re at with that.”

Will the Rams find a solution to the contract issue? Avoid topic entirely.

“We’re definitely jacked to have Matthew as our QB,” McVay said.

So he’ll be at OTAs? Relent to the situation and provide something close to a real answer and then change the topic.

“We’re going to take it a day at a time,” McVay said. “We’ll see. So we’re going to try to figure it out. There’s nothing that’s more important than making sure that he feels appreciated and he knows how much we love him and want him to lead the way. I think that commitment that I think he wants to have can be reciprocated and we want to work towards figuring that out. On a positive note, I’ll say this. You get [Blake] Corum and you get [Kamren] Kinchens. For us to be able to come away with four players who we have a consistent appreciation for. If you told us that these were the four guys that we’d be able to come away with after the first two nights of the draft, their makeup is unbelievable in terms of the intangibles, the mental toughness. These guys all have a physicality to their game. They’re mature men and that’s the kind of guys that we wanted to be able to bring in. It’s such a credit to [G.M.] Les [Snead, his group, the amount of work that they’ve done and then working in combination with our coaching staff. There has been unanimous excitement for all four of those picks and tomorrow will represent an opportunity for us to improve as well.”

Stafford’s options are limited. He could skip OTAs, since they’re voluntary. He could ask for a trade, but it’s a little late for that. Most if not all seats are filled. (The Raiders and Giants are the two teams that were considering a quarterback on Thursday night but didn’t draft one.)

He could retire, something the Rams very quietly hoped he might do a year ago (they’d never admit it, just like they denied they asked him to rework his contract in 2023 before Stafford said they did). But he’d owe the Rams $36 million in unearned signing bonus — and he’d be giving up $31 million in fully-guaranteed salary this year, plus another $10 million in fully-guaranteed salary next year. That’s $77 million.

Stafford is wisely applying pressure in order to ensure he doesn’t get thrown overboard after the current season. They’d need to make a quick decision (there’s a $5 million roster bonus due on the third day of the league year), but they’d definitely be able to move on after 2023 with only $10 million owed. Stafford wants that number to be higher, ensuring as a practical matter that they won’t cut him.

The last practical piece of leverage Stafford would have is to take the bare-minimum approach to 2023: I’m not showing up early. I’m not staying late. I’m not studying film at home. I’m not working on Tuesdays. I’m not doing a damn thing more than what I’m contractually required to do. If you don’t appreciate me enough to give me more security, I’m not giving any more than I’m required to do.

Would Stafford do that? That’s the real question. It’s easy to think it or even to say it, but he’s a competitor. He won’t want to half-ass what could be his final year in L.A.

The Rams shouldn’t want to risk it. They should make a two-year commitment to Stafford, with the understanding that they’ll revisit the situation after 2025. It’s not hard, if they really want him for the next two years. If the very quietly only want him for one more year, it gets complicated.

The fact that it’s currently complicated suggests that, indeed, the Rams only want him for one more year. Stafford is wisely calling them on it now.

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