After his 12th NFL season as part of the Detroit Lions’ organization, Matthew Stafford and his remaining contract were traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Let’s take a look at Stafford’s contract, the Rams’ salary cap situation after the trade, and what options they have with Stafford going forward.
Matthew Stafford has two years remaining on his contract
In 2017, Matthew Stafford signed a five-year, $135 million contract extension with the Detroit Lions. Stafford’s previous contract was set to run through the 2017 season. Therefore, the extension was set to keep him in Detroit until the 2022 NFL season.
What were the details of Matt Stafford’s contract prior to the trade?
When Stafford signed the contract extension, $60.5 million of the $135 million was guaranteed at signing. However, the final guarantee in the contract ended in 2020. Therefore, heading into 2021, no guarantees were remaining on the deal.
Matthew Stafford restructured his contract in 2019. The Lions and Stafford agreed to convert $13.2 million of his 2020 salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus. The move saved $9 million against the cap in 2020 but increased his cap hit by $3 million in each of the final two seasons. They also added a void year in 2023, which was set to cost the Lions $3 million in salary cap space that year.
How does Matt Stafford’s contract shape up following the trade?
Stafford will now count against the salary cap for both the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Rams following the trade. Let’s take a look at his cap hits with each organization.
The Lions were set to have Stafford count $33 million against their salary cap in 2021. Of that money, $9.5 million was base salary, a $10 million roster bonus due on the fifth day of the league year, and a $500,000 workout bonus. The remaining $13 million was a prorated bonus cap charge due to the signing bonuses, both in the original deal and the restructure ahead of the 2020 season.
The Lions clear the $20 million owed in salary, roster bonus, and workout bonus with the trade. However, Stafford had further prorated bonus cap charges in 2022 and 2023. Those were set to be $3 million each year. Both of those now accelerate onto the cap in 2021.
Therefore, the Lions now have $19 million in dead money on their 2021 salary cap following the trade. However, that is a saving of $14 million on what Stafford would have cost in 2021 prior to the trade.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams’ cap hit with Matthew Stafford’s contract is relatively simple. They take on the $20 million owed to Stafford in salary, roster bonus, and workout bonus. Additionally, the Rams take on Stafford’s contract for 2022, the final year of his deal.
As of now, Stafford will earn $12.5 million in base salary, a $10 million roster bonus, and a $500,000 workout bonus in 2022. Therefore, Stafford’s salary cap number in 2022 will be $23 million. Again, as of the time of the trade, there are no remaining guarantees.
What is the Los Angeles Rams’ salary cap situation in 2021?
Prior to the trade, the expectation is that the Rams would be around $30 million over the projected salary cap in 2021. This includes Jared Goff’s contract that would have counted $34.6 million against the Rams’ cap prior to the trade.
Therefore, trading Goff’s contract for Matt Stafford’s contract saves $14.6 million in active salary cap space for the 2021 season. However, the Rams also incur a dead money cap hit as part of trading Goff.
Goff leaves behind $22.2 million in dead money on the Rams’ salary cap. If we combine that with Stafford’s $20 million cap number, the Rams are paying $42.2 million for their QB in 2021. Therefore, immediately following the trade, the Rams will estimate to be around $35-40 million over the salary cap in 2021.
The current projected base salary cap is $175 million. The Rams will roll over $5.6 million in cap space from 2022, meaning their projected salary cap is around $180.5 million. However, if the base salary cap is higher than $175 million, that will change the amount the Rams will need to clear in the coming weeks.
The Rams do not have many pending free agents they need to pay, and they have a number of options when it comes to restructuring and extending contracts.
What options do the Rams have with Matthew Stafford’s contract?
Following the trade, the Rams have some flexibility with Stafford’s contract. There are no remaining guarantees on the deal. However, given the trade compensation, cutting him is unlikely to be an option. The most likely option is that the Rams will restructure or extend Stafford’s contract in the coming weeks.
What could a restructure of Matt Stafford’s contract look like for the Rams?
The Rams acquired a two-year contract that they can look to restructure to suit their needs. The total remaining value of the contract is $43 million, which the Rams and Stafford can structure how they wish. The Rams have to pay him at least $1.05 million in salary in 2021.
However, the remaining $18.95 million of Matthew Stafford’s contract can be restructured. The usual method would be to convert it to a signing bonus. That would leave around half on the 2021 cap, reducing the number to around $11 million.
The unconventional option would be to guarantee a large chunk of that salary but in 2022. They could then reduce Stafford’s cap number further in 2021 and take a bigger hit in 2022.
For example, let’s say they gave Stafford a $5 million signing bonus and fully guaranteed the remaining $13.95 million in 2022. At that point, Matt Stafford’s contract would count around $4 million against the salary cap in 2021. However, his 2022 cap hit would then balloon to around $40 million.
A contract extension is also a possibility for Matt Stafford
If the Rams are looking at this trade as a five-year window, it would make sense to extend Stafford right now. Yes, he has the leverage because of the trade, but a good year in 2022 could further increase his price. The Rams have him under contract for $21.5 million per year in the next two seasons. Therefore, that acts as a starting price for the negotiations.
The Rams could reduce Stafford’s 2021 salary cap number by around $15 million with an extension. Any signing bonus they give him would prorate across up to five years, spreading the cap hit. They could add void years to the deal to make the total years remaining on the contract up to five. The void years could be an option without adding any active years to the deal.