The NFL offseason opened with a bang as the Detroit Lions found a trade partner for their disgruntled long-time quarterback, Matthew Stafford.
With Stafford expressing his desire for a trade to the team’s management, the expectation was the team would likely not receive a fair market value offer. The 32-year old Stafford has two years remaining on his contract at a reasonable cost of $43-million.
Bounty In Return
Instead of sending Stafford packing at a discount, new general manager (and former Los Angeles Rams Director of College Scouting) Brad Holmes, leveraged his ties to the Rams front office. He sent Stafford west to L.A. for 1st round picks in 2022 and 2023, a 2021 3rd round pick, and current Rams quarterback Jared Goff. Goff was the 1st overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Given the significant return to the Lions, the Rams not only paid the Lions to get Stafford, but they also paid the Lions to take on Goff’s contract. It contains $43-million of guaranteed payments over the next two years. Since Goff’s contract does not contain offset provisions, the Rams would not receive salary cap relief by releasing him if he signed with another team.
By trading Goff, Los Angeles incurs a dead cap charge of $22.2-million for the remaining unamortized portion of his signing bonus. They shed his 2021 payouts of $27.8-million but take on Stafford’s 2021 salary of $20-million. The net impact for Los Angeles is an additional $8-million of cap charges.
That is a significant amount for a team that enters the offseason over the cap with some key issues to address. The Rams do not have an impact edge rusher under contract for 2021, and Pro Bowl safety John Johnson enters unrestricted free agency.
Stafford Versus Goff
Head coach Sean McVay and GM Les Snead failed to endorse Goff as the team’s starter for 2021 in recent press conferences. There seemed little chance that he would return as the unquestioned starting quarterback.
However, the team shocked the league by acquiring Stafford for a substantial amount of draft capital. A questionable move by a team that has failed to draft in the first round since acquiring Goff in 2016.
In Stafford, the Rams are acquiring a 32-year old gunslinger with a career record of 74-90-1 with three playoff appearances, zero playoff wins. The Rams view him as a superior quarterback to Goff due to his accuracy, deep ball skills, ability to move in the pocket to extend plays, and ball protection.
When it comes to evaluating the trade, Stafford’s proponents point to a lack of talent on defense and in the running game for the Lions’ failures with him at quarterback.
His detractors would suggest that he has failed to elevate those around him. He has had plenty of talent to work with, from Calvin Johnson to Golden Tate in his prime, as well as Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones over the last several years. Stafford never won a division title and has 10 career wins against teams that finished the season with a winning record.
There is scant evidence to suggest that Stafford has a far better chance to take the Rams back to the Super Bowl and win it than Goff would have, who led the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2018, losing 13-3 to the New England Patriots.
While Goff regressed over the last two seasons, mainly due to his propensity for turnovers. However, after a disastrous rookie season, he led the Rams to playoff appearances in three of the last four seasons, reaching the Super Bowl once. Goff has the highest winning percentage of any starting quarterback not named Tom Brady over the timeframe.
Ultimately, the Rams paid a steep price for a quarterback they expect will lead them back to the Super Bowl, even though he failed to win a single playoff game during his 12-year career.
It is difficult to commend the Rams on this trade after they:
- Gave up two 1st round picks, two 2nd round picks, and two 3rd round picks to move up 15 picks in the 1st round to draft Goff.
- Overpaid Goff on a four year, $134-million extension just 17 months ago despite having two seasons left on his rookie contract.
- Overpaid to acquire Stafford while losing $8-million in 2021 cap space which likely,
- forces them to sign him to a lucrative extension.
The trade can only be graded as a win for the Rams if Stafford leads them to a Super Bowl Championship. Their chances might be better today, but they are not improved enough for the price paid.
For Detroit, Holmes starts his tenure with a huge win, netting two 1st round picks, a 3rd round pick, and a 26-year old former 1st overall selection in the draft.
While Goff comes with $43-million in guarantees, he is only owed $104-million over the next four years. That is an acceptable sum for the veteran quarterback if he reverts to his 2017-2018 form. With four 1st round picks in the 2022 and 2023 drafts, Holmes has plenty of ammunition to draft a rookie if Goff does not revive his career in Detroit.
Better yet, Holmes managed to extract such a large return despite a lack of negotiating leverage. Not only should Detroit Lions fans be excited by this trade, but they should also be excited about Holmes, who appears to be more than capable to turn around this struggling franchise.