Sean McVay pondered many uncertainties about himself and his team before deciding to return for a seventh season as the Rams’ head coach.
But quarterback Matthew Stafford’s fitness was apparently not among them.
McVay said Tuesday that there would be “no limits” on Stafford when the Rams begin offseason training on April 17.
Stafford, a 15th-year pro, played through tendinitis in his right elbow and returned from concussion before suffering a season-ending spinal bruise that sidelined him for the final seven games of the Rams’ embarrassing 5-12 season.
“It’s been a long time since he’s been healthy during the offseason where he’s been able to throw,” McVay said at the NFL owners’ meetings. “I was with him the other morning, he was there working early so he could do things that fit in with the preparation for the season.”
Stafford, 35, star wide receiver Cooper Kupp and star defensive lineman Aaron Donald will be the pillars of a team that isn’t on the road to bolstering its offseason additions.
Kupp, 29, is coming off season-ending ankle surgery. Donald, 31, missed the final six games of last season with an ankle injury.
The usually headline-grabbing Rams are in a major financial backlog heading into 2024 and building through the draft.
So they’re counting on Stafford to get them into playoff contention.
In 2021, the Rams sent quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round picks and a third-round pick to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Stafford, the first pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Stafford won the deal by passing for 41 touchdowns in the regular season and leading the Rams to victory in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.
But last spring, Stafford didn’t throw a pass in offseason workouts and was limited in practice to avoid aggravating tendinitis in his right elbow. Stafford’s limited participation affected his ability to form a relationship with new receiver Allen Robinson, among other things.
Rams wide receiver Allen Robinson dives but can’t catch it against Dallas in October.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Stafford passed for just 10 touchdowns before his season ended in 2022 after a fumble against the New Orleans Saints.
“Last year, there was such a unique combination … of things that prevented him from being able to play the way he’s capable of,” McVay said. “I think there’s a lot of guys on our team with a renewed sense of urgency and appreciation for going out and competing.”
Robinson could be one of those players, though he remains in something of a limbo. The Rams want to trade the player for $10 million in guaranteed salary and $18 million in salary cap space, according to overthecap.com.
Last season, Robinson caught just 33 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns before suffering a season-ending foot injury.
“Allen’s a great person, he’s been a great player for a long time,” McVay said of how he would handle the situation if Robinson is on the roster when preseason practice begins. “And so you talk to him and say, ‘This is an opportunity we’re looking at where we can move. But if we don’t, I want you to know that I’m going to throw everything I have as a player into helping you reach your highest potential, make sure you like coming to work. that you have a pleasant experience.’
“And so that’s exactly where we left it. And so I don’t think it’s uncomfortable because it’s the realities of the situation. And here is the excitement. And if not, wish him the best at his next stop.’
The Rams played Odell Beckham Jr. for the second half of the 2021 season. They are interested in signing free agent receivers. Beckham injured his knee in the Super Bowl victory and did not play last season.
“Love Odell,” McVay said. “There are certain parameters that limit what we can do. But if that’s the situation we’re presented with, I know we’d be a better football team if we were able to do that.”
The Rams have 11 picks in the draft, though none in the first round.
McVay looked to 2017, his first season, when the Rams drafted players like Kupp, tight end Gerald Everett, receiver Josh Reynolds, safety John Johnson and linebacker Samson Ebukam.
“There were a lot of guys from that draft that became the foundation of what we did going forward,” he said. “And then you add and hit the guys you get.
“And so that will be the key for us, that we have to hit those places in the right way. We have to have a vision for the players we will accept and then let’s see how quickly they develop”.
With Stafford the only quarterback on the roster, “we have to be able to direct in some way or another” who will be the backup, McVay said.
The Rams could sign a rookie for the first time since drafting Goff in 2016, sign a veteran, or do both.
“You know without a doubt that’s going to be part of what we have to do going forward,” he said. “Whether it’s somebody with experience or not, we’ll see.”