The Falcons weren't in the market for a franchise quarterback in 2009, having drafted Matt Ryan third overall a year earlier, but their then-director of player personnel Les Snead went to the University of Georgia to check out a promising signal-caller named Matthew Stafford at its pro day anyway – even if they wouldn't be picking low enough to select the future No. 1 overall pick – given the proximity of Georgia's campus to the Falcons' facility.
"I wasn't at the Sam Bradford pro day, but probably the best pro day from a quarterback standpoint," Snead, now the Rams' general manger, recalled during a video conference Friday morning. "I just remember that pro day that ball was coming out of his wrist with a lot of velocity, a lot of accuracy in it, and it's something that is stamped in my brain for and it's still there. You could feel that ball, you're like, 'Okay, this is different. This is different.'"
Twelve years later, Snead has a front-row seat to Stafford's skillset once again: This time, as the Rams' new starting quarterback after they sent his predecessor, Jared Goff, and future draft picks to the Lions.
According to Rams head coach Sean McVay, the dialogue surrounding a potential trade for Stafford started quickly after news broke of Stafford wanting one. Snead said he called current Lions general manager, and former Rams director of college scouting Brad Holmes, that afternoon, but more to tell him "welcome to the GM club, per se" than talk trade. Still, both Snead and McVay said it occurred quicker than anticipated.
The decision to make that change was driven in part by Rams head coach Sean McVay being able to work with backup quarterback John Wolford in Week 17 and seeing what the element of mobility added to their offense.
"I would say that was with John leading the way. You saw us activate some different ways to run him and take advantage of his athleticism," said McVay, when asked what can be learned from Week 17 with Wolford at quarterback, during the same video conference. "I think really the play that got John going in that game was the scramble on the third-and-long creating with his legs, and so Matthew brings the ability to extend plays and create with his legs, but in a lot of instances, some of the unique things he's done are creating off schedule by moving, manipulating and staying in the pocket, but he still can put it down and be able to make plays with his legs."
While McVay evaluated Stafford's body of work dating back to Stafford's college days, he – like Snead – also had an up-close look at Stafford's skillset many years ago.
In 2016, when McVay was the offensive coordinator for the Washington Football Team, Washington scored a go-ahead touchdown to go up four with 65 seconds remaining, only to see Stafford lead the Detroit Lions on a game-winning drive punctuated by a touchdown pass to wide receiver Anquan Boldin with 16 seconds left.
Although McVay said Stafford "broke my heart" that day, he still respected and appreciated the resilience and competitiveness Stafford showed.
"The way he's able to see the field, you see (Packers QB Aaron) Rodgers, (Chiefs QB Patrick) Mahomes have done an outstanding job of being able to move and manipulate coverage and change their arm slots and Matthew has done a lot of those same things," McVay said. "So, I think he's got great wide-field vision, sees the field. He's able to speed it up if he has issues. You're watching a guy that if you watch the film, the game makes sense to him and I really respect the lens that he sees it through."
McVay said the change at quarterback wasn't a reflection of not respecting and appreciating what Goff did for the Rams. Acquiring a player of Stafford's caliber was a rare opportunity they felt they needed to take advantage of.
"Put simply, chance to bet on going from good to great at that position," Snead said. "And especially from where our team was, our core group of players, where they were in their career, the coaching staff we have, felt like it was just too good of an opportunity to pass up."