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Matthew Stafford could fit with Falcons if Rams hit the rebuild button

After the Los Angeles Rams traded for Matthew Stafford in early 2021, I spent the entire offseason proclaiming that the franchise had made the best move of the year and they became my pick to win the Super Bowl. I then (incorrectly) proclaimed that the Rams had the best odds again in 2022 and would repeat as NFC Champions.

But now that the Rams are coming off of a 5-12 season and tearing the roster down to scraps, any suggestion that L.A. is rebuilding and that it could be in their best interest to simply accept defeat and to go “all-out” this offseason after they went “all-in” is met with criticisms that the writing is “too negative” and “biased against the team”.

For many years the team was good, so the writing and coverage was about how the Rams were good because that was the truth. The writing here is always about the truth. That’s why nine months ago, I wrote that the truth about Jalen Ramsey was that he would likely ask for a new contract or a trade in 2023 so that he could get to a new contract.

“That’s bullshit, that would never happen.” Okay, it didn’t happen then.

Right now, the Rams are either on the verge of one of the most unbelievable underdog stories of all-time (sorry, Kurt, your story would pale in comparison to this one) or they are bad for another season. And if L.A. is bad again, which should become apparent before Week 1, then reports of the team already calling other teams to shop Matthew Stafford could be accurate.

Stafford isn’t going to retire because that would pointlessly cost him about $60 million that he gets to keep as long as he says he has the desire to play, even if he’s too injured to play. Stafford is also two years removed from telling the Detroit Lions something like, “I don’t want to play here anymore because the team is bad.”

How much differently does Stafford view the current Rams roster than the one he left behind in Detroit?

He’s 35. He was sacked more times last year than Trevor Lawrence, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, and (yes) Jared Goff even though he missed eight games. The offensive line is in no better shape. The effort to replace lost weapons like Robert Woods and Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t work.

Which team would most value Matthew Stafford next season, knowing that it could be his last? And for the sake of the people reading this article, how could the current version of Stafford be most valuable to the current version of the Los Angeles Rams?

Is it to try and gut out another season in this offense or is it in shedding cap space and increasing draft capital knowing that there’s still a small window of opportunity to trade Stafford to a team that is desperate for a quarterback upgrade similar to the one that the Rams got from Stafford two years ago?

There’s a team, there’s a fit, there’s a need, and there are plenty of dots begging to be connected.

After 14 years away, would Stafford go back to Georgia and play for the Atlanta Falcons? Just follow the road and see if this leads to a potential opportunity for both franchises.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank wants to win now

SI’s Peter King has been reporting for at least four years now that Blank is getting ‘restless’ and King recently told ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio that at 80, Blank wants an immediate QB upgrade who could get the Falcons back to the Super Bowl. It wasn’t exactly a report that Blank denied back in 2019, noting that “good is the enemy of great”.

We saw that desperation manifest itself into a failed effort to trade for Deshaun Watson in 2022, ultimately leading in a separation from Matt Ryan and a one-year test for Marcus Mariota. Atlanta stumbled out to a 5-8 record with Mariota and they replaced him with third round rookie Desmond Ridder for the final four games, going 2-2.

Ridder showed some promise but if the Falcons start the season with him as starter, there won’t be many who expect Atlanta to make it out of the NFC, even as weak as the conference appears to be right now.

By all accounts, coming off of a 7-10 season, the Falcons will max out as “good” with Ridder. But “great”, as Blank hopes for? Not likely even though Atlanta has a lot of great pieces around the QB position and as the old saying goes could actually be “one player away” from contending in the NFC.

Curiously though, the Falcons have made no such attempts to upgrade quarterback despite being 12 months removed from a ferocious bid to woo Watson to the NFC.

Falcons immediately “out” on Lamar Jackson

For a long time, the Falcons were thought to be the most sensible fit for Jackson, one franchise that would make a hard push for him if the Baltimore Ravens only gave him the non-exclusive franchise tag. And yet the Ravens did give Lamar the tag and though they would reportedly have sacrificed three first round picks and a loaded contract to Watson, they’ve shown no interest in Jackson.

There are a lot of rumors flying around about collusion and speculation that the Ravens will just match any offer that he receives, but I don’t know if that’s the only reason for this prolonged stalemate between Lamar and Baltimore and the lack of interest around the league. I mean, think about it, if Josh Allen was a non-exclusive franchise tagged free agent asking for a fully-guaranteed contract, you think we’d be having this same lack of interest around the NFL?

No. Owners would be quick to screw each other over if Allen or Joe Burrow or Patrick Mahomes were on the market.

The Falcons have decided that they do not want to be involved in the Lamar Jackson bidding but it doesn’t mean that they have conceded all opportunities to upgrade at quarterback. There is the possibility that Atlanta did receive a call from Les Snead and that the Falcons are potentially waiting for a different post-draft domino to fall that would cost them a lot less to acquire—including being able to keep their 2023 first round pick.

Les Snead has long history with Arthur Blank

Snead was hired as GM of the Rams in 2012 after 13 years in the Falcons organization. Blank became owner of the Falcons in 2002, so a few years after Snead started his front office career there. We saw how a past relationship between Snead and Brad Holmes, the GM of the Lions, played a part in the last Stafford trade and being able to help out a former boss in need.

Falcons can drop a QB into a ready-go offense

The Falcons have shown no interest in Lamar Jackson. They didn’t make any known push for Derek Carr or Jimmy Garoppolo. They’ve been criticized for not doing anything at quarterback other than signing backup Taylor Heinicke even though they’ve also spent considerable cash to keep the offensive line in tact, including a $100 million contract for guard Chris Lindstrom.

Two years ago, the Falcons hired Arthur Smith to be the head coach after a successful run as the Titans offensive coordinator. That year, they drafted tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth pick in the draft. A year ago, they drafted receiver Drake London with the eighth pick in the draft.

A good offensive line and two young weapons picked in the top-10 who are just waiting to blossom if they can just get the right quarterback to pass them the ball. Plus rookie 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Allgeier and wide receiver-running back convert Cordarrelle Patterson. The Falcons also added former Patriots and Titans tight end Jonnu Smith and they hold the number seven pick in the draft.

Everything seems set with Atlanta’s offense except for some reason an impatient 80-year-old owner is going to test the waters with last year’s 74th overall pick at quarterback because he was…”fine” during a short audition? They didn’t want Jimmy G or Carr and they apparently don’t want Lamar.

Falcons don’t seem to make any play for QB in the draft

Though the Falcons had a draft pick advantage over the Carolina Panthers, they didn’t out-bid Carolina in their trade to get the number one pick away from the Chicago Bears. This will probably either result in Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud going to their division rivals. The Falcons have made no play for either of the top-two quarterbacks in the draft. They might not even have a shot at Florida’s Anthony Richardson but if they did, it seems unlikely that he would be the immediate upgrade that Blank could desire and the odds of his game developing into a high-level starter are a huge risk.

The same could be said for Kentucky’s Will Levis, but there’s reason to argue that Ridder is already a better prospect than Levis. In any case, the Falcons have shown no interest in any of the top quarterbacks in the draft and probably know that outside of maybe Young or Stroud, they wouldn’t get immediate help. They won’t get Young or Stroud.

The NFC South could be won by anybody with the right QB

The Bucs won the division at 8-9 last season and then Tom Brady retired. Unless the Falcons think that Brady will un-retire and join Atlanta (which won’t happen), he’s probably not in their plans. At 7-10, the Falcons aren’t far from winning the division and any team that makes it into the NFC playoffs has an opportunity to get hot at the right time.

The Falcons might already be on the cusp of being the best team in the division, they were only a game out last season. The biggest thing that would tip the scales is a veteran QB upgrade.

The Panthers will go with a rookie and Andy Dalton. The Saints will go with Carr. The Bucs will go with Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask. There’s already talk that Stafford could be the best quarterback in the NFC, so he’d definitely be the best quarterback in the NFC South barring a fantastic rookie season by somebody in Carolina.

Stafford goes back to Georgia

It’s not a huge thing, but Stafford’s college history by being a star at the University of Georgia would no doubt be a talking point if he does go to the Falcons. I am sure that he’s still got quite a lot of fans left in that neck of the woods.

Post-June trade saves Rams cap space

Now there’s the question of “How” the Rams could trade Stafford and it all comes down to waiting until after the draft. Though L.A. wishes they could get a 2023 first round pick, his contract makes that impossible. However, both Mayfield and Garoppolo were on the post-draft trade block in 2022, with Mayfield getting traded and Garoppolo re-doing his deal to stay in the 49ers so there is recent precedent for teams being open to trading quarterbacks after the draft.

It will come down to teams officially knowing how their rosters are set and their cap space until after the draft, but mostly the wait is because of how Stafford’s 2022 extension is worked.

Trading Stafford after June 1 saves the Rams $1.5 million in cap space this year but cuts into the cap space a little bit in 2024. That’s fine and more preferable to the massive cap incursion if Stafford was traded now, which is why these are only “rumors” so far. If the Rams could have traded Stafford for cap savings by now, they might have moved him around the same time that they traded Jalen Ramsey when everyone told me that I was wrong about that being an inevitability.

After the draft, the Rams could definitely leverage a team like the Falcons into trading a 2024 first round pick because they will have had no other fallback option at quarterback except for Ridder and Heinicke.

Stafford gets improved 2023 supporting cast for final run

Not long ago, Stafford wanted a better offensive line and supporting cast as he sensed he might not have a lot of time left in his career. Going from the Rams to the Falcons would be a dramatic upgrade in offensive line and though he’d be losing Cooper Kupp, he’d be gaining a cast of potential young stars. He’d also go from a division with the 49ers and Seahawks to one that didn’t have a team with a winning record last season.

Stafford could see a shorter path back to the Super Bowl and be motivated to help the Rams get back a good draft haul and a chance to be better prepared for 2024.

The Falcons would be able to keep their first round pick this year and either draft an edge rusher or cornerback to help out the defense or they could even consider adding another offensive weapon as the team was just 31st in passing yards last year. Going from Mariota to Stafford would supercharge those numbers too.

Rams get 2024 draft capital

Though in this scenario L.A. wouldn’t help their 2023 roster, they would be able to push some credit into the future for once—instead of debt. The Rams would wait until after the draft and then trade Stafford to the Falcons for a 2024 first, a 2024 second, and Desmond Ridder.

The Falcons have a conditional 2024 pick from the Calvin Ridley trade that becomes a second round rounder if the Jaguars sign Ridley to an extension. That gives Atlanta a little more capital to work with in any trade here and the first domino—Ridley being reinstated—has already fallen.

Even if Stafford is 35 and might only have one or two years left, I think the Falcons could be forced to sacrifice capital like this because they have few other options and a rare opportunity to upgrade the position with a recent Super Bowl winner. Atlanta doesn’t have to worry about cap space—they have plenty now and Stafford wouldn’t cost them much anyway—but that’s definitely a bigger issue for the Rams. A reason why they’d be ready to move on.

Will it happen?

Obviously the one thing that could happen between now and June that would make this impossible is the Falcons adding either Lamar Jackson or using their first pick in the draft on a quarterback. Theoretically, the Falcons could still draft a QB and know that Stafford isn’t in it for the long haul, but there are not even any signs towards that happening anyway.

The Falcons could actually be deciding to stick with Ridder, but let’s just say that the reports are true that teams know that Stafford is available after the draft. If that one thing is true, then everything else that Atlanta has done and hasn’t done—specifically what they have avoided doing at quarterback—would make a lot more sense than it currently makes.

He goes back to Georgia. Blank gets the proven quarterback he’s been coveting. Stafford gets a better team for him right now, even if the Rams were the better team two years ago. The Rams don’t risk putting Stafford behind harm’s way. The Rams get cap relief and future draft capital, including a first round pick, at a time when it seems obvious that L.A. won’t be competing for a Super Bowl.

There’s one fit that makes sense for Stafford above all others. And no, that fit might not be the team that he’s currently on.

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