It’s still very early in the new partnership between Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and prolific wide receiver Cooper Kupp. But if the early signs from the Rams’ offseason activities are indicative, it will be a fruitful relationship.
Stafford has had high praise for Kupp and veteran Robert Woods since he was acquired from the Detroit Lions. That trade was historic, the first in which past No. 1 picks changed teams in the same transaction. The Lions took Stafford with the top pick in 2009 in the wake of their 0–16 season. LA traded up to get Jared Goff in 2016.
Cooper Kupp, a former small-college star made good
Unlike the quarterbacks mentioned above, Cooper Kupp was not one of college football’s big names playing at a Power 5 school.
Instead, Kupp found his way to the NFL from Eastern Washington, where he was a superstar. Kupp won the Walter Payton Award as the top FCS player as a junior. He was also a four-time consensus All-American. And he did it all while playing on red turf, so kudos for that.
After catching 428 passes for 6,464 yards and 73 touchdowns in four seasons at Eastern Washington, Kupp went to the Rams in 2017’s third round. He started six games as a rookie and became a full-time starter in 2018. A torn ACL cost him the second half of that season. But he’s come back with 186 catches and 13 touchdowns over the last two years.
Kupp led the Rams in receptions in 2019 and 2020 with 94 and 92, respectively. That came even as Woods got slightly more targets over that span. Woods had a 139–134 edge in 2019, and it was 129-124 last season.
Matthew Stafford put up huge numbers in Detroit
Entering his 13th season, Matthew Stafford has been steadily moving up the NFL’s career leaderboards. He is 16th all-time in both passing yards (45,109) and touchdowns (282). Of course, he also got criticism over those numbers, with one media outlet tagging him with the moniker “Pad Statford.”
If he hits just his average of 23 touchdown passes in 2021, Stafford will move up to 11th on that list. He would be leapfrogging a pretty good list: Johnny Unitas, Warren Moon, Carson Palmer, and John Elway, in that order. An average season in the yardage department (3,759) would move him up to 13th, past Vinny Testaverde, Palmer, and Fran Tarkenton.
But what Stafford is hoping for in LA is some postseason success. The Lions made the playoffs just three times while he was there, losing on Wild Card Weekend each time. (Yes, they should have won at Dallas in 2014, but there’s no way to change that now.)
The trade made sense for the Rams financially. Goff received a massive extension in 2019, a four-year, $134 million deal. Stafford, meanwhile, has two years and $43 million left on the five-year contract he signed in 2017. His contract also includes some cap-friendly terms. The Rams can convert some or all of his base salary into a signing bonus. That bonus can then be prorated up to the remaining length of the deal. If nothing else, it’s a nice safety net for Rams general manager Les Snead.
Stafford’s playoff chances much better now than before
The Rams have made the playoffs three of the last four seasons, so Matthew Stafford has to like his chances. LA reached the Super Bowl after the 2018 season, where they lost to the New England Patriots. Last season, they knocked off the Seattle Seahawks on the road before losing at Green Bay in the divisional round.
After the 2021 NFL draft, LA remained one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl next season. The Matthew Stafford trade prompted a lot of that upward mobility. The Rams went from the top 10 teams before the transaction to the top three afterward. The only teams ahead of them are familiar. The Kansas City Chiefs are the favorites, followed by the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay will be looking to become the NFL’s first back-to-back champs since the Patriots after the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
It was a bold move by the LA Rams to move on from Goff. They were able to bring in a quarterback of Stafford’s caliber, and that had to help the process. But it’s still rare for a coach and a GM to give a guy a nine-figure extension and then trade him two years later.
Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.