Why Matthew Stafford holds the power in contract issue with Rams ahead of camp

Rams coach Sean McVay talks with quarterback Matthew Stafford at the last day of OTA practice at Cal Lutheran University.

The Rams were all smiles Tuesday as they completed offseason workouts on a beautiful final afternoon in Thousand Oaks.

Everyone connected with the organization appeared upbeat.

But make no mistake: A pall hangs over the Rams and their sunny disposition as they enter a break before reporting to training camp at Loyola Marymount on July 23.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford went through the voluntary offseason workout program at odds with the Rams over his contract. Coach Sean McVay gave no indication Tuesday that the team and the 16th-year pro are close to finding common ground.

Asked after the workout if there was progress with the Stafford situation, McVay demurred.

“If you had to guess,” he said, “what would you say my answer is going to be?”

Read more: Rams wave goodbye to their Cal Lutheran era, say hello to camp at LMU

Does he anticipate that Stafford will report for the start of training camp?

“That’s my expectation,” McVay said.

How will McVay’s summer go with the Stafford situation hanging over his head?

“I’m just going to think about this every second,” he said sarcastically, adding, “I think, like I said, we’ll keep things internally.

“I couldn’t be more impressed with the way that he’s handled it. The way he’s led — been here every single day doing his thing and that sure means a lot to me.”

But what does it mean for the Rams?

After unexpectedly making the playoffs last season, they are regarded as a potential Super Bowl contender. That projection only rings true, however, if Stafford is under center.

Stafford, 36, has three years remaining on the extension he signed in 2022 after leading the Rams to a Super Bowl title. He is due to carry a salary-cap number of $49.5 million this season, but does not have guaranteed salary in 2025 and 2026, according to

During the NFL draft, NFL Network reported that Stafford wanted his contract adjusted to include guaranteed salary beyond this season. McVay acknowledged the report the next day, though not the specifics of what Stafford desires.

Rams quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone talks with Matthew Stafford as Stetson Bennett (13) and Jimmy Garoppolo look on.

“There’s nothing that’s more important than making sure that he feels appreciated,” McVay said at the time, “and he knows how much we love him and want him to lead the way and, you know, I think that the commitment that I think he wants to have can be reciprocated and we want to work toward figuring that out.”

Still, it is not clear exactly what Stafford wants. An adjusted contract? A massive raise like the one recently retired defensive lineman Aaron Donald received after the Super Bowl victory? A new deal?

Stafford has not addressed reporters who cover the Rams since their playoff defeat at Detroit in January. Unlike teammates, Stafford was not made available to the media during the offseason program.

Coaches and players said Stafford operated as usual and showed no sign that he was affected by the contract situation.

The quarterback market has continued to rise since Stafford signed his deal 14 months after the Rams acquired him in a 2021 trade that sent quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round draft picks and a third-round pick to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Stafford.

It’s worth noting that in May — four months after he helped the Lions defeat the Rams in the NFC wild-card game that doubled as Stafford’s homecoming — the Lions awarded Goff with an extension that includes $170 million in guarantees.

Read more: NFL 2024 schedule: Rams open with chance to avenge playoff loss to Jared Goff and Lions

Stafford has given no indication that he will not report to training camp but he seemingly has leverage if he opted for that route.

New back-up Jimmy Garoppolo is a proven veteran, but he is suspended for the first two games against the Lions and Arizona Cardinals for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy while he was playing for the Las Vegas Raiders.

Stetson Bennett is essentially a rookie after sitting out last season to deal with what he has acknowledged were issues that fell under the umbrella of mental health.

McVay on Tuesday praised Garoppolo and Bennett for their progress during the offseason program. Both will be at training camp, McVay said.

Do the Rams really want to go to Detroit with Bennett conceivably making his first NFL start?

McVay and the Rams have experience with a star player holding out because of a contract dispute. In 2017 and 2018, Donald did not report to camp and the Rams managed just fine. The future Hall of Famer’s absence enabled then-defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to experiment with other combinations before Donald showed up.

A missing starting quarterback would be entirely different. It would be a disaster.

So the Rams cannot relax until the Stafford situation is resolved.

Get the best, most interesting and strangest stories of the day from the L.A. sports scene and beyond from our newsletter The Sports Report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.