The Los Angeles Rams signed Matthew Stafford to a four-year extension in the offseason in the hope he could be the quarterback to turn them into a dynasty after the franchise’s Super Bowl victory last season.
As it stands, the Rams don’t know if Stafford will even be able to throw pain free come their season opener against the Buffalo Bills on September 8.
Stafford has been dealing with a lingering elbow problem that head coach Sean McVay conceded is unusual and difficult to know how to approach as they prepare to try to defend the Lombardi Trophy.
The injury has been described as elbow tendinitis and asked about that label, McVay— per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times—said: “I don’t know what you would really call it. I just know the elbow issue.
“It is a tricky deal. It’s a little bit abnormal for a quarterback. You know some of this stuff is things that MLB pitchers deal with and so it is something that we’re kind of learning about on the fly.
“It is something I’ve never navigated through as a coach with a quarterback.”
Stafford had an injection in his elbow in the offseason and did not throw during OTAs. He went through limited work during Thursday’s practice at the Rams’ training camp, taking part in individual drills and 7-on-7 work, in which he connected on a 50-yard strike to Tutu Atwell.
But one deep ball will not dispel concerns as his elbow pain persists.
“We tried some things in the offseason, however you want to look at, some of the different treatments that we had tried, and I don’t know that it got different results than what we had hoped,” McVay said. “But I think we were hoping that some of the pain would have been alleviated — and that’s really the goal.
“He’s doing rehab every single day and then, hopefully, I’ll have some clarity on, ‘All right, it’s getting the results that we want, he’s feeling better and we’ll go see our guy do his thing on Sept. 8.'”
The Rams realistically cannot afford to be in a position where Stafford isn’t ready to go for the opener.
A duel between backup John Wolford and Bills star Josh Allen would not be a fair fight and, with games against division rivals the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers, on the schedule in the opening four weeks, the Rams would risk falling well behind the 8-ball without a healthy Stafford. Los Angeles lost three of four regular-season games with the Cardinals and 49ers but beat both in the playoffs.
Stafford is the difference-maker who elevated the Rams over their division foes—and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—when it mattered most last season. He did so through a blend of aggressiveness and efficiency.
He averaged 8.5 Air Yards per attempt in 2021, according to rbsdm.com. Among quarterbacks to average over 8 Air Yards, only Tom Brady finished above Stafford in Expected Points Added per play.
In the playoffs, Stafford’s success rate of 58.8 percent on third and fourth down was the best of all quarterbacks with at least 20 such plays.
On a top-heavy team whose success was unquestionably built on blue-chip players delivering in the clutch, Stafford was the final piece of the jigsaw that put the Rams over the top. The puzzle of how to repeat as Super Bowl champions becomes almost impossible to solve if he cannot stay healthy in 2022.