Could Baker Mayfield realistically stay on as Matthew Stafford's backup?

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- While the Los Angeles Rams feel secure with Matthew Stafford under center for the 2023 season and beyond, the team will have a decision to make at backup quarterback.

What was already going to be an interesting decision, with backups John Wolford (restricted) and Bryce Perkins (exclusive restricted) being free agents after this season, became even more so when the Rams claimed quarterback Baker Mayfield off waivers from the Carolina Panthers for the final five games of the season.

Mayfield, who is playing this season on his fifth-year option, will be a free agent this offseason. He said Wednesday that he hasn’t given much thought to what is beyond the final two games.

“I'm a free agent after this, so I really haven't given it much thought, to be honest with you,” Mayfield said. “Just trying to roll with one day at a time. We'll see. Should be interesting, but all that doesn't start till March anyway, so we'll see how it goes."

And although Mayfield impressed against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, completing 24 of 28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns -- he said he’s not trying to prove anything with these final two games in Los Angeles.

“[Just] continuing the improvement and being comfortable in the system and just showcasing my abilities and just the ability to lead,” Mayfield said.

But as the Rams and Mayfield have discussions about whether he will be back in Los Angeles next season, here are a few factors that will go into that decision.

What Mayfield wants

Ultimately, Mayfield may not want to stay in Los Angeles simply because he has a chance to compete for a starting job elsewhere. The better he plays -- as he did on Sunday against the Broncos -- the less likely it is that he will re-sign with the Rams.

Despite Stafford being in the concussion protocol twice this season and now on injured reserve with a spinal cord contusion, the team isn’t concerned about any effects of that going forward. However, Stafford will be 35 next season, so Los Angeles will likely take his age into consideration along with whether that could affect his ability to play all 17 regular-season games going forward.

But Mayfield may decide, after spending a month-plus in the Rams' system, that he wants to be coached by Sean McVay and his staff and that he'd prefer to back up Stafford than to compete for a starting job elsewhere for a team with less talent around him.

Mayfield's possible salary

Even if Mayfield and the Rams both wanted him in Los Angeles in 2023, what it would take for that to happen from a salary perspective matters. The Rams are currently projected to have $1.7 million in cap space, according to Over the Cap, but the front office has shown in the past that they can be creative enough to find space for moves they want to prioritize.

One contract that could be similar would be the deal the Pittsburgh Steelers gave Mitch Trubisky: A two-year deal for $14 million that could rise to a maximum value of $27 million with incentives. Only $5.25 million of that contract was guaranteed, but Trubisky also signed with a chance to start in Pittsburgh, which won’t be the case in Los Angeles unless Stafford is injured.

It could also look like the deal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater signed with the Miami Dolphins last offseason. Bridgewater, signed to back up Tua Tagovailoa, agreed to a one-year deal worth up to $10 million with $6.5 million guaranteed. That contract is also easier to give out when combined with a quarterback on a rookie deal; in comparison to the $8.25 million Tagovailoa made in 2022, Stafford has a cap hit of $20 million in 2023 and $49.5 million in 2024.

What the Rams need to prioritize

Even if the Rams could create the cap space that would allow them to re-sign Mayfield as their backup quarterback, there’s also the question of whether they want to prioritize that spending on a backup quarterback.

For the past three seasons of Wolford backing up Jared Goff and then Stafford, Wolford had a cap hit of less than $1 million. McVay said when having conversations with general manager Les Snead and the rest of the front office about how to prioritize that spending, it first depends on: “What type of money do we have to allocate?”

“And you always start with your own roster, right?” McVay said. “Re-signing your own guys that are free agents. Then you look at what are the external ways to be able to onboard certain players. What is your draft capital? … As you're really trying to fill out your whole team, you’ve got to understand, alright, how much money do you have that you can allocate to be able to spend in that offseason?”

The Rams could, of course, bring Wolford back if the contract with Mayfield doesn’t work out or they could find a cheaper option. The Rams do have six draft picks -- one in the second round, one in the third, three in the sixth and one in the seventh -- that they could use to find a cheap backup solution for the next few years.