A wild NFL offseason of potential quarterback movement started out with a bang when the Rams and Lions agreed to trade their starting passers in 2021.
Matthew Stafford is headed west to play for Sean McVay in Los Angeles, while Jared Goff ships out to Detroit to operate under new head coach Dan Campbell. The deal won’t go into effect until the new NFL year starts on March 17, but it sets an early tone for sweeping QB change across the league.
Lions new general manager Brad Holmes, who came from the Rams’ organization, reunites with Goff. For McVay and Rams’ general manager Les Snead, they get a little older and better at QB with the 32-year-old Stafford.
The only difference is, the Lions racked up other assets in the swap, while it cost the Rams much more than Goff. Here’s how the trade graded out both sides:
Matthew Stafford-Jared Goff trade grades
- QB Jared Goff
- 2021 third-round draft pick
- 2022 first-round draft pick
- 2023 first-round draft pick
The Rams were thinking about having Goff, the first overall pick in 2006, compete with John Wolford for the starting job in 2021. With that, it made sense to try to get out of his contract and go for a bona-fide veteran starter playing the best football of his career. Stafford makes the Rams a dangerous passing team again with his big arm and weapons such as Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson. McVay’s coaching will get the most out of Stafford and give him a chance to be a playoff-winning QB, which he never has been.
Here’s the rub: On paper, Stafford measures higher than Goff in every which way, but his resume is thin when it comes to putting a team on his back. The Seahawks still have Russell Wilson, while Kyler Murray is a rising leader and superstar in the NFC West. The 49ers also may soon be making a big QB upgrade themselves as recent NFC champions.
Stafford gives the Rams a higher floor and keeps them as a strong playoff contender, but in the big picture of trying to get back to the Super Bowl, has an overrated ceiling. The Rams, who don’t have a first-round pick again 2021, gave up two more over the next two years.
McVay and Snead’s plan of going for it now has had mixed results, and they’re not well-positioned for a looming rebuild in the near future. Stafford’s contract situation is more favorable for free agency flexibility elsewhere, but he also has only two years left on his contract, which means he’s not guaranteed to be in LA long-term, either.
The Rams get points for being aggressive to boost their contending status, but get docked for being short-sighted and giving up a little too much.
Consider Goff as the gravy in this deal instead of the meat: If you’re viewing this trade as Lions choosing to downgrade from Stafford to Goff, then you have the wrong perspective. Instead, Holmes maximized the return for Stafford — a QB and organization pairing which didn’t want to be together anymore — and then some. Goff has been struggling of late for McVay but a change of scenery can help, and he also joins offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, another LA import; Lynn did good work with Philip Rivers and Justin Herbert as Chargers head coach.
Goff gives the Lions a viable option to start now, tabling having to reach for a QB in the 2021 NFL Draft, not knowing if Ohio State’s Justin Fields or BYU”s Zach Wilson would still be available at pick No. 7. The Lions figure to re-sign wide receiver Kenny Golladay for Goff, while also potentially looking to replace older free-agent wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. Running back D’Andre Swift, tight end T.J. Hockenson and an underrated offensive line can all help lift Goff, too.
Goff is a more dependent QB than Stafford, in terms of both system and personnel. To that end, the Lions can still get above-average production from him in a drop-off from Stafford.
Most importantly, Holmes expanded his selections for 2021 and ensured the Lions select in the first round five times over the next three years. The new GM was well aware of his team needing to commit to a rebuild to get the Lions ready to jump the Packers, Vikings and Bears in a few years. Detroit can now accelerate its youth movement and stockpile much-needed fresh talent on both sides of the ball.
The Rams’ acquisition of Stafford came at an expensive opportunity cost. The Lions didn’t want Stafford, got their intended high picks for the long term and a decent QB option for the short term. The Rams can win only so many more games with Stafford, while the Lions can have pride for “winning” the trade.