Grading the Matthew Stafford blockbuster trade

A Super Bowl LV play has yet to be snapped, and already there has been movement from other NFL teams vying to reach the pinnacle of football championships once more. 

The Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions put together a weekend blockbuster heading into the month of February, as (former) Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford will switch shades of blue and play in Los Angeles for the Rams. 

On the surface, the trade, even before it was agreed to in principle, was definitely possible, if not probable. Stafford was craving to play for a championship-caliber team, the Rams were yearning for a crack at another Super Bowl and the rebuilding Lions were hungry for more coveted assets to reinforce their rebuilding efforts. 

All seems fine and dandy here, but with the transaction fireworks past us and the knee-jerk reactions digested, it is time to grade the transaction from both sides of the deal. Let’s look into it. 

Date of trade: Jan. 31

Teams involved: Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions

Los Angeles receives: QB Matthew Stafford 

Detroit receives: QB Jared Goff, 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, 2021 third-round pick

Ever since their underwhelming 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 53, the Rams’ offense has sputtered, as has the relationship between Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay and Goff, the team’s former first-overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. To really show this, just look at Goff’s regular season production leading up Super Bowl LIII (2016-18) and after it (2019-20). In 39 games played (38 games started) spanning from the 2016-18 regular season, Goff compiled 9,581 yards (245.7 passing yards per game) for an overall completion percentage (Cmp%) of 62.1% (772-1,243). He additionally logged 65 touchdowns, 26 interceptions and 25 fumbles (10 lost) for a 94.7 Quarterback Rating. While his Super Bowl performance left a lot to be desired (19-38 for 229 yards, no touchdowns and one interception), some credit should still be given – the 24-year-old Goff was one of only 15 quarterbacks in history to start in the Super Bowl at the age of 24 or younger. The raw youth, combined with the fact he was up against Bill Belichick, created a perfect storm that eventually surged against the up-and-coming Rams. 

No matter, however. Goff’s production for Los Angeles created such promise that, to reward his service, the latter gifted the former a four-year, $134 million contract extension right before the 2019 NFL season was set to premiere. Unfortunately for Goff and his team, the production just was not there at the level it was previously. When combining the 2019-20 seasons together (31 games played), Goff threw for 8,590 yards (277.1 passing yards per game) and a 64.9 Cmp%, in addition to 42 touchdowns, 29 interceptions and 17 fumbles (nine lost) for a 88.1 quarterback rating. While certainly not terrible, it was a step in the opposite direction of what Los Angeles intended. Goff looked choppier and did not sync up with the calls McVay was wanting to go with. Add in the injury issues and benching during the 2020 NFL postseason, and the situation just continued to boil over. Given the draft situation the Rams continually found themselves in as more trades were made (more on this in a second), the fit between the player and club continued to sour, as the urgency to reach the Super Bowl once more grew and grew. 

As for what the Rams are getting in Stafford, well, the track record speaks for itself. The 32-year-old signal-caller already ranks in the top 20 all time in passing yards (45,109) and passing touchdowns (282). His career 89.9 quarterback rating additionally ranks 21st. While the age is definitely higher than Goff, the consistency is there, and his budding relationship with McVay bodes well for when the pair take to the gridiron in actual games. While this is definitely a solid win-now move for Los Angeles, the capital given up, coupled with the age and lack of blue-chip draft capital moving forward (as of right now, Los Angeles will not pick in the first round until 2024 at the earliest), keeps this trade just out of the “A” range. Oh, so close, but yet so far. 

Los Angeles grade: B+ 

A change of scenery for Stafford correlates with a concrete change of direction for the Lions, as newly minted head coach Dan Campbell is fully committed to shedding the team from the signal-calling position down. A rebuild, however, does not stop with shedding players. It also coincides with collecting upside players and top-tier draft selections. For the Lions, they were able to collect both. To start, the Lions get a (still) young quarterback in Goff who already has a taste of postseason action and can now develop chemistry with an up-and-coming squad under far less pressure than he did under the lights in Los Angeles. 

The upside, however, only increases with two first-round selections added to the fold. While they both do not come in the upcoming draft, they still provide a solid opportunity in quantity to collect more quality atop the draft. Should Detroit make significant leaps over the next season and show signs of competing now, they can even leverage those picks into players that have already proved themselves at the NFL level. 

The return package Detroit received definitely fit the bill, and it only aids toward their future plans. While they could have gambled and held onto Stafford until losers in a potential Deshaun Watson sweepstakes bid for the services of the veteran, the likelihood of a smaller return remained on the table, should Houston had (hypothetically) went with a weaker offer than many assumed they would get. Detroit making a deal now eliminated that possibility, and still netted them solid pieces that will only strengthen the franchise as their rebuild continues. 

Detroit grade: A

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