Baker Mayfield joining Los Angeles Rams could avert NFL scheduling disaster | Opinion

The Los Angeles Rams have done the NFL's schedule makers a solid.

Thursday night, they'll host the Las Vegas Raiders in a matchup of two of the league's most disappointing teams – hardly the kind of showcase new streaming partner Prime Video would have hoped for.

And, sure, the Raiders (5-7) remain on the fringes of the AFC wild-card hunt, the Silver and Black riding an improbable three-game winning streak that includes two overtime escapes.

But the Rams?

Their 3-9 record represents the worst 12-game start ever by a reigning Super Bowl champion. They're guaranteed a sub-.500 record, the first time that's happened to a team following a Lombardi lift in nearly two decades (2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 7-9).

And maybe just as bad? They're virtually unwatchable.

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Baker Mayfield appeared in seven games with the Carolina Panthers before being released.
Baker Mayfield appeared in seven games with the Carolina Panthers before being released.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford (neck, spinal cord contusion) and Super Bowl 56 MVP Cooper Kupp (ankle surgery) are on injured reserve, along with most of the offensive line. All-universe defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who'd never missed a game due to injury in his nine-year career, is about to sit out his second consecutive game with a bum ankle.

So the stars are sitting, the stakes are low and even the fantasy implications the Rams might provide are slim to nil. Yet this team, projected as a virtual playoff shoo-in before the season in what appeared a weak NFC, is about to be force-fed to NFL viewers over the next four weeks: tonight against the Raiders; at Lambeau Field against the nearly as abysmal Green Bay Packers on "Monday Night Football" in Week 15; a Christmas afternoon date with ... the coal-in-our-stockings Denver Broncos; and a meeting with the crosstown Chargers on New Year's Night – the only one of those games eligible to be flexed into an afternoon slot.

Yet just when it seemed the league would have to resign itself to a prime-time ratings lag when so much is at stake throughout the NFL, where nary a team has clinched a playoff berth, a gift from the waiver wire.

Enter Baker Mayfield.

In what felt like a fairly surprising move, the Rams claimed the former No. 1 overall draft pick Tuesday after the Carolina Panthers let Mayfield go. It was most definitely a surprise that no other team put a claim in for a player not two years removed from leading the Cleveland Browns to their first postseason win in more than a quarter century.

And the best part for the NFL, Amazon and tight end Tyler Higbee's fantasy owners? Mayfield might just play against the Raiders.

"So, as far as his status for tomorrow, we're working through that kind of stuff," LA coach Sean McVay said Wednesday. "He literally just got here last night."

Why the possibility of dropping a quarterback, of all positions, into the starting lineup with not even 48 hours of prep time? Well, Stafford's not the only injured Rams passer. Backup John Wolford is dealing with a neck injury, too, and is a game-time decision.

"I would lean towards that he'll be active," McVay said of Mayfield, perhaps an indication of Wolford's health.

Bryce Perkins, who made his only NFL start two weeks ago, and practice squader Case Cookus are McVay's other options.

"Whether or not that means that he would play – or he would be available in an emergency setting – is something that we're going to continue to work through," McVay continued in regard to Mayfield, stressing that the concepts and verbiage in the Rams playbook are similar to systems Mayfield has already run in the NFL.

"There's so many things that a quarterback's responsible for, so how do you really try to package enough information to be able to allow him to go play well without overloading him with unnecessary stuff is kind of that balance. I mean it would be unprecedented, from my experiences – because of everything that a quarterback's asked to do – to bring him in in such a short period of time and have him go out there."

Enough said, Sean.

With the likelihood Mayfield will at least be in uniform, you can count on Amazon's cameras being trained on the fifth-year vet in an unfamiliar No. 17 jersey previously worn by former LA wideout Robert Woods.

Yet you can also bet there will be plenty of interest in watching Mayfield play, and not only from Rams fans. As McVay noted, the circumstances are totally wild. Yet with the litany of injuries suffered by Stafford, including an offseason elbow issue, it's understandable why McVay might be assessing a more experienced Plan B QB than Wolford and Perkins.

"He is a tough competitor," McVay said of Mayfield, admitting he didn't study him that closely prior to the 2018 draft given the Rams, who advanced to Super Bowl 53 months later, thought at the time that Jared Goff was their long-term quarterback.

"There's so many things that a quarterback's responsible for, but what I've always liked is he's got the ability to be able to make the throws in the pocket, out of the pocket. He can throw on platform, off platform. He's got great upper body twitch. He's got the ability to be able to create with his legs.

"(R)eally smart, sharp, cerebral player that has a great competitiveness to him that you can't help but like.”

McVay also admitted a significant part of the organization's evaluation of Mayfield will come from watching him at practices, in the meeting rooms and interacting with his new teammates.

Of course, Mayfield hasn't been quite the same since that magic carpet ride with the Browns at the end of the 2020 season, when Cleveland nearly knocked off the Chiefs in Kansas City to advance to the AFC championship game. Injuries to his left (non-throwing) shoulder and knee undermined Mayfield's 2021 campaign – McVay credited him with trying to play through the ailments – but ultimately led to the Browns' successful pursuit of Deshaun Watson as their new quarterback.

Mayfield's seven-game stint with the Panthers this year hardly set him up for a huge payday in the 2023 free agent market. But perhaps a strong showing with the Rams can resuscitate his stock – if not for McVay, then perhaps for teams in a bind under center. The New York Jets and Giants or Washington Commanders, for example, may all have to consider new options next year with their current starters (including the Jets' Mike White) playing on expiring deals.

Mayfield's latest audition for his next job will occur in the city where his college coach, Lincoln Riley, now works. The current USC boss, who had the former Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, reached out to McVay as soon as Mayfield was claimed and could be another resource.

And then there are the fans of the San Francisco 49ers.

As it turns out, their team never bid for Mayfield – and wouldn't have been awarded him anyway given the Rams were well ahead of the Niners on the waiver priority list – despite what appears a season-ending broken foot for Jimmy Garoppolo and the prospect of the NFC West leaders hoping seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy can get them back to the promised land. Speculation of a Mayfield-49ers reunion ran rampant Monday as word leaked he was leaving Charlotte.

Now, Niners fans can only look on and wonder what might have been – knowing no rookie quarterback has steered a team further than the conference championship round. But little point in getting mad at McVay, who addressed the notion that the Rams claimed Mayfield in order to hinder the championship pursuits of their archrivals.

“That's not true," he said. "If it was maybe a different circumstance for where our team was at, then maybe that would be something.

"We were going to need to add somebody to that quarterback room regardless. And he happened to come available, and that's a good thing.”

So get ready to tune in as Mayfield embarks on his third NFL act and maybe even gives Progressive new ideas about his potential custodial responsibilities around SoFi Stadium. But expect him to be throwing quite a few passes for a bad team that's about to be featured for at least the next three weeks in front of a national audience.

McVay, for one, is characteristically enthused.

"What I can say in all sincerity is that there's an excitement about being able to work with (Mayfield) for what we know is five more weeks," he said.

"Whether he plays in five games or four games is to be determined, but I'm excited about that."


Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baker Mayfield starting? Rams, QB could avert NFL schedule disaster