Detroit Lions do right by Matthew Stafford, and themselves, in trade with Rams

by | Feb 1, 2021 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Everybody’s motivated. That’s what makes this Matthew Stafford-Jared Goff deal a good one. Sometimes when a star player seeks a trade, it begins with disgruntlement and ends in disgruntlement, players unhappy, fans unhappy, front office ducking.

Not so this time. Stafford, who did everything he was asked to do here, goes to L.A., where he is motivated to show that his talent was weighed down by being in Detroit, not the other way around. He’s now got a dynamic defense, an innovative young coach, and two contract years to get to the promised land that so eluded him in Motown. I think he’s going to do well there.

Meanwhile Goff, who did everything he was asked to do in L.A., is also motivated — to show that the Rams were wrong to give up on him at age 26. He is, like Stafford, a No. 1 draft pick. And he’s played in a Super Bowl. I’m sure he’s anxious to lift a new team, if only to prove that the first time was no fluke.

Meanwhile Goff, who did everything he was asked to do in L.A., is also motivated — to show that the Rams were wrong to give up on him at age 26. He is, like Stafford, a No. 1 draft pick. And he’s played in a Super Bowl. I’m sure he’s anxious to lift a new team, if only to prove that the first time was no fluke.

Even the Lions might be motivated. Instead of waiting on a rookie passer who is bound to make mistakes and need time to develop, guys like D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson will have a former Super Bowl quarterback getting them the ball, at least for a while. With a No. 7 pick that can now be used to shore up another weak spot, Detroit’s “rebuild” looks a bit less overwhelming.

Deals can work when parties are motivated. They all are in this case. Which brings us to a sentence that is not often uttered in these parts. Dare we say it?

The Lions got one … right?

Worth the (expensive) risk

Well, here’s the case in favor of that conclusion. When news first broke about Stafford being on the market, there was talk that a No. 1 pick and maybe a sweetener would be all the Lions could hope for. A week or so later, they got two No. 1 picks, a No. 3 and Goff. By any stretch, that’s a lot more than most people thought — especially since it was no secret that the Lions had to move Stafford somewhere.

Sure, if the Rams are great the next two years, that first-round pick will be a late-rounder. But it still affords the Lions two first-round selections the next two seasons, which they could use to trade up if a franchise talent should be there.

Meanwhile, they are relieved of the need to automatically use their No. 7 pick this year on a quarterback. Who knows who will be left on the board at that point? Beyond Trevor Lawrence, there are no sure bets. If you don’t think that’s true, just remember the Lions just acquired Goff, the No. 1 pick of five years ago, because his team had soured on him.

Speaking of that, I wonder how fair that was. Goff, like the Rams, had a weird year, with a few headline performances — the playoff win over Seattle, the 38-28 shootout over Arizona, outdueling Tom Brady in a victory over Tampa Bay — and he had some stinkers (the Rams lost to the winless Jets just before Christmas).

But has Goff’s talent really faded that much since he was a back-to-back Pro Bowl selection (2017, ’18), and threw for over 4,600 yards in consecutive seasons (2018, ’19) — more than Stafford has done in any of his last seven?

I don’t think so. Quarterbacks who started Super Bowls at age 24 are generally not washed up by 26, not without significant injury (which Goff doesn’t have). Maybe it was a coach-player thing. Maybe it was the Super Bowl defeat hangover that has plagued other teams. (Hello, Atlanta Falcons?)

But it’s not a reach for the Lions to be giving Goff a second chance. Not hardly. If he plays well, he could be a cornerstone. If he doesn’t, he’s a placeholder while they build a team for the next quarterback. Either way, the only downside is his money. It’s big. Really big. Over $43 million guaranteed over the next two years.

You may not care about that now, but when it handcuffs the Lions from signing free agents, you will.

He’ll love L.A.

Meanwhile, Stafford gets a terrific chance. It was nice that the Lions sent him somewhere high on his list (even if that wasn’t their primary motivation).

At 33, he’ll get to play for a head coach who has recently been to a Super Bowl. The only other time that happened, with Jim Caldwell, Stafford had a Pro Bowl season in their first year together.

Southern California will be fine for the former Lion, almost as good as playing indoors, and in the NFC West, while plenty competitive with San Francisco, Seattle and a rising Arizona squad, he won’t be looking at an automatic second-place-or-worse finish with Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay every year.

Remember this. If Stafford lights it up in L.A., gets to the playoffs, maybe even a championship, fans will be moaning that the Lions blew this deal. They gave away their biggest talent! But talent and team are like man and wife. For the marriage to work, you need good timing. Look at Tom Brady in Tampa. Or Peyton Manning in Denver. The when is as critical as the who.

When Stafford was ready to excel, the Lions weren’t. When Goff was ready to excel, the Rams were. Now both teams will hope for the timing to work once again. There are no sure things in NFL trades — and it’s one reason there are so few of them. But Detroit did OK here. L.A. did OK. And everyone is motivated to prove it.

Or, if it helps to put it in more Lions fans’ vocabulary, it could have been a lot worse.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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