Sean McVay knows the football world thinks the Rams paid too much for Matthew Stafford, just as football people thought when the Rams paid too much for Jalen Ramsey and got too little for Marcus Peters. Knowing McVay, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t care, because he got the quarterback he really wanted for 2021—and he can now enter the offseason designing plays and deep shots for a quarterback he thinks can win a Super Bowl. Recently, when the subject of trying to land Stafford came up inside the Rams offices, McVay gave the Perspicacious Quote of the Week: “It’s not about winning the trade. It’s about winning the Super Bowl.”
This is a trade I really like for both teams. Very good for the Rams from 2021 to, say, 2024; very good for the Lions in, say, 2023 to 2026. The details: Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff plus a third-round pick this year (89th overall) and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023. The deal got done Saturday evening but cannot be processed or made official till the start of the NFL league year in mid-March.
The forces that made it happen, why the Rams were the perfect partners for the deal, and why it made too much sense to not happen:
• The Lions wanted to do right by Stafford, and Stafford’s preferred team was the Rams. The Lions didn’t want another disaffected star (Calvin Johnson) leaving the organization all ticked off. Ownership and the front office were determined to try their best to accommodate Stafford and send him to a team where he’d have a good chance to win. The Rams were number one. The Colts would have been an amenable option. The Niners too. Though the Stafford family has a home in Newport Beach, 42 miles south of SoFi Stadium, this was not about being in a comfortable and familiar place. It was about a 33-year-old quarterback (as of next Sunday) knowing his career has an expiration date and knowing he’d never been on a division winner or won a playoff game in his 12 NFL seasons. It was about wanting to have a chance to play meaningful January games.
• Money didn’t matter to Stafford. He told the Rams they didn’t have to re-do his deal. For Stafford, this was not about money—he made $219 million during his Detroit years—but rather about football, exclusively. He’ll happily play this year at $20 million, and we’ll see if the Rams, or he, will want to extend his contract after the last season on his deal, 2022, when he’s due to make $23 million.
• Goff must have very mixed feelings. It was clear the Rams had lost faith in him (“Jared Goff is a Ram at this second,” GM Les Snead said a week ago), so Goff gets to go to another team in a starting role that will pay him like a franchise quarterback—$28.15 million, $26.15 million, $25.65 million over the next three years. The Lions just gave new coach Dan Campbell a six-year contract, a sign they know they’re starting from scratch. It’s a long way from the second round of the playoffs to a total rebuild for Goff. And for this California kid, it’s 2,314 miles from L.A. to Ford Field. It might seem longer when that Michigan weather hits after Thanksgiving. To his credit, Goff went out classy, telling NFL Media’s Mike Silver on Sunday he’s excited by the new start in Detroit.
• The contenders. Indianapolis was interested. I am sure owner Jim Irsay wanted Stafford to follow in the recent footsteps of Manning, Luck and Rivers. But I also knew when the price got past the Colts’ first-round pick (21st pick overall) in 2021, that was going to be tough for GM Chris Ballard, who’d already lost the youth and cost-control of a first-round rookie last year when the team traded for DeForest Buckner. Maybe the Colts would have done a first and a third, for example, but not two first-rounders.
I hear San Francisco and Washington were in it. I hear Carolina and Denver were aggressively into it, and if Detroit liked its incumbent QBs more than Goff, maybe one of those deals would have been close. Carolina could have offered the eighth overall pick this year plus Teddy Bridgewater, and Denver could have offered the ninth overall pick plus Drew Lock. (I don’t know if either of those offers were firmly made, but those teams had to have known Detroit wanted a starting quarterback in return.) Stafford was far more keen on the Rams than the Panthers or Broncos.
• What the Lions thought. New coach Dan Campbell and new GM Brad Holmes had this in common: They both wanted Goff, and not just as a bridge quarterback. As director of college scouting for the Rams when Goff was picked in 2016, Holmes favored him inside the Rams draft room—and still does, I’m told. Campbell, I’m also told, liked Goff not just as a bridge quarterback but as the Lions quarterback of the future.
• How it changes the Rams. Just watching the Rams this year compared to 2018 is really startling. I remember the Goff coming-out party. It happened on a September Thursday night in the Coliseum. Goff shredded the Vikings with all kinds of throws, starting with a beautiful deep ball up the right seam to Cooper Kupp for a long TD. And the best ball I remember ever seeing Goff throw—I can still see it now, a 47-year TD bomb dropped right over the coverage of Trae Waynes, a gorgeous throw launched 58 yards in the air straight down the middle of the field. I would bet Goff didn’t throw three of those balls in all of 2020. The aggressiveness disappeared from the L.A. offense, and not because McVay wanted it to vanish. He loves poking and prodding and testing a defense from the first throw. I never saw it anymore. I think we’ll see from the first throw of the 2021 season with Stafford.
• The value of the trade. Highly interesting. The Rams are okay with moving first-round picks, and the Lions lust after them as currency in forming a new team. The Rams have confidence in their scouts identifying strong day two draftees, and so they’re okay with trading ones for great value. Since they last had a first-round pick (Goff, 2016), they’ve found current important contributors John Johnson, Cooper Kupp, Joe Noteboom, Taylor Rapp, Cam Akers and Van Jefferson in the second and third rounds. But when L.A. started with Goff plus the 89th overall pick in discussions with the Lions, that created issues. If Detroit knew it could get the eighth or ninth pick in this draft from Carolina or Detroit, likely with a current starter, and L.A.’s offer started with this year’s 89th pick, how could the two sides square that? The Rams were fine with giving their 2022 first-rounder, but it didn’t seem enough, given that the Rams pick could well be in the mid or even late-twenties.
One more thing here. When Jimmy Johnson took over in Dallas in 1989, the Cowboys created a draft-trade value chart, assigning numerical values to all slots in the draft. Unofficially, Johnson also believed that the value of picks in future years weren’t worth as much as in the present year. “We would discount one round per year,” Johnson said Sunday. “Like if we traded a third-rounder to someone, we’d want a second-round pick next year. But I would say in this case, it’s a little different. I probably wouldn’t discount those future picks in the same way, because Detroit doesn’t really need them as much right now—they’re rebuilding. So I’d say for Detroit, that one next year is probably worth a late one in 2021, and the one in 2023 is probably worth, like, a mid-two.”
It seems sensible to value future picks as having lower value today, because the Lions won’t have use of one till 2022 and the other till 2023. So let’s take Johnson’s estimated value. The Rams traded, in Johnson’s eyes, Goff plus the 89th pick this year, and future picks with current values around the 30th and 48th picks, to Detroit for Stafford. Of course, if Stafford plays well and gets the Rams to another Super Bowl, the value of those picks will be out the window; the deal will be well worth it to the Rams. At the same time, the Lions have to be thrilled that, over the next three drafts, they have five picks in the first round, three in the second and four in the third. It’s a great building-block move for Detroit—with a GM who’s been solid on second-day picks.
• FYI. The Rams were not the only team to offer two first-round picks to Detroit for Stafford. Not sure of the team, but I know there was at least one other offer with two ones—and that offer did not stretch the first-rounders out as far as L.A.’s proposal.
• Cap implications. The Lions have a slight disadvantage here when it comes to starting-QB financial commitments. That’s what I’ll call the dead cap money of the departed QBs on each team. Including each player’s dead cap money in 2021, the starting quarterback will cost Detroit $45.95 million in 2021 and $26.15 million in 2022. The starting quarterback position will cost the Rams $42.2 million and $23 million over the next two years. Advantage Rams, by about $3 million per year.
Fascinating story. Balancing the scales this morning, I believe the deal is quite fair for both teams.
Read more in Peter King’s Football Morning in America column