By Greg Beacham
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Matthew Stafford realizes he almost certainly could have gotten more money in a contract extension after his outstanding debut season with the Los Angeles Rams.
After 13 NFL seasons and well over $230 million in earnings, Stafford admitted his priority isn’t more dollars.
It’s more rings, and he believes his new four-year, $160 million deal through 2026 gives him the best opportunity to win them with the defending Super Bowl champions.
The 34-year-old Stafford recognizes the absurdity of considering a deal with $135 million in guaranteed money and a reported $60 million signing bonus to be some sort of discount, yet that’s what it is for a proven veteran quarterback of Stafford’s talents.
The concurrent restructuring of the final year of Stafford’s current contract clears nearly $10 million in salary cap room for the Rams to put more pieces around Stafford this fall. His less-than-top-dollar salary over the following seasons will free up money that will go to other players as well.
After 12 mostly tough seasons in Detroit led to one magical year in Los Angeles, Stafford wants to keep this good thing going.
“I just had so much fun playing with this team this year, playing for this organization, this coaching staff,” said Stafford, who set a franchise record with 4,886 yards passing and tied the team record with 41 TD passes in the Rams’ 17-game regular season. “I wanted to make sure that I was able to do that for a long time.
“I know what the future looks like for me and for our team,“ he added. “So it’s an exciting thing to know where you’re going to be, be able to put some roots down and really go try to make something really special for a while.”
Stafford knows the Rams won’t look the same around him next season for their title defense.
They’ve lost three defensive starters, including midseason rental Von Miller. They’ve lost two starting offensive linemen and cornerstone receiver Robert Woods, who will be traded to Tennessee.
But they’ve also made some significant retentions and one big addition: The Rams signed veteran receiver Allen Robinson to a three-year deal.
Robinson was one of the top free agents at his position, and he chose to team up with NFL receiving leader Cooper Kupp and the Rams because of Stafford and coach Sean McVay _ and to seek the team success that has mostly eluded him.
After eight NFL seasons, Robinson has never won a playoff game. But neither had Stafford and Odell Beckham Jr. three months ago.
“It’s a special opportunity to be amongst this group coming off a Super Bowl run,” said Robinson, who has three career 1,000-yard seasons. “It was everything across the board that as a veteran, you want to step into. A team that’s contending, with them coming off the Super Bowl and being able to make another Super Bowl run, that’s why I’m here.”
Although left tackle Andrew Whitworth retired and right guard Austin Corbett signed with Carolina, Stafford’s offensive line should have decent continuity. Los Angeles re-signed left tackle Joseph Noteboom and center Brian Allen, putting experienced Rams in at least four of the five starting spots _ and possibly all five, if the Rams promote from within at right guard.
Noteboom and Allen were both Rams draft picks in 2018, and both say they were eager to stick with the organization after winning rings.
“There’s going to be some new faces in our building this year and some new coaches, but our standard never changes,” Allen said. “I know the Rams have big goals in 2022. We have a lot of work to do, a lot of stuff we want to build and improve on. I want to get back with the guys and really see how far we can take this thing. Last year was obviously a great year, but we really do want to get better.”
Noteboom, a four-year backup and spot starter behind Whitworth, feels added motivation both from his prominent new role and from the disappointment of his late-season injury. He missed the NFC championship game and the Super Bowl with a pectoral injury.
“Definitely bittersweet,” Noteboom said of the Rams’ final two games. “Literally my whole football career led up to that moment in the Super Bowl. Not being out there, it was definitely very hard.
“It’s a good feeling (to be back),” he added. “The best part is knowing the coaches have the confidence in you to sign you back to a contract and put you at that spot. It’s motivating me more than ever to be the guy.“