Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford trade shows how big a rebuild Brad Holmes has on his hands

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Brad Holmes’ first act as Detroit Lions general manager was to pull off the biggest trade in franchise history, and in doing so, he admitted just how big a rebuild he has in Detroit.

Holmes sent Matthew Stafford to his old team, the Los Angeles Rams, for three draft picks and quarterback Jared Goff late Saturday night.

The Lions get a third-round pick this spring and first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 in exchange for helping the Rams get out of Goff’s albatross of a contract.

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Goff should be the Lions’ starting quarterback this fall, but if we’re being honest, he’s a two-year placeholder for whomever the Lions eventually pick to run their franchise. Goff has $43 million in guaranteed money coming his way the next two seasons, but after 2022, the Lions can get out of his contract at no cost.

By then, with two extra first-round picks to help them maneuver, they should have a replacement in house.

Holmes helped bring Goff to Los Angeles as the No. 1 overall pick in 2016; he was the Rams’ director of college scouting at the time. And Goff helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl two years later.

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But the organization had clearly soured on its 26-year-old quarterback and his ability to run Sean McVay’s offense, using him and his injured thumb as a backup to John Wolford for its playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers earlier this month.

The Lions are taking a flier — an expensive one, considering they will pay Goff about $8 million more than the Rams will pay Stafford this fall — that Goff can be something more than he’s shown in L.A. the past two seasons.

If he is, great. The Lions have an above average quarterback who will help them stay competitive in the early part of their rebuild, and perhaps a viable trade chip somewhere down the road.

If he’s not, no big deal considering this move is evidence the Lions do not fashion themselves as contenders any time soon.

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That is the most logical explanation for the Lions taking the Rams’ backloaded offer of two future first-round picks over other deals that offered much more immediate help.

A league source told the Free Press that the Lions spent all day Saturday mulling “seven or eight” serious offers for Stafford, all of which included a first-round pick.

Most if not all of those offers would have helped jump-start the Lions’ rebuild sooner than the deal they took, though taking the long view might turn out to be the more prudent approach.

In an interview 12 hours before the trade was consummated, new Lions coach Dan Campbell shared that sentiment with the Free Press, saying he did not want a quarterback “you’re just spinning your wheels with” and saw value in the draft capital Stafford could return in a trade.

“Brad and I, I’m not kidding you, we are looking two years out, three years out,” Campbell said Saturday morning. “And so everything to me starts two years out, and it doesn’t start right now. And he’s the same way. Because I think when you look now, right now, of course we want to win and we’re going to make moves that improve this team, but the most important thing is for us to be able to sustain. And if we really want to be a winner in the (NFC) North consistently, we’re going to have to build this the right way.”

[ Stafford traded to Rams, NFL fans shocked at how much Lions get in return ]

That means through the draft, and that means a pair of extra first-round picks — even with the very real chance they end up somewhere in the 20s, if Stafford has anywhere near the impact the Rams hope — trumps the lone first-rounder the Lions could have received this April from Washington or Indianapolis or some other team.

Campbell, an assistant coach in New Orleans the past five seasons when the Saints build an NFC power with a top-flight quarterback in Drew Brees and a dynamite 2017 draft class, cited that approach, plus wise maneuverings in free agency, as the model the Lions are trying to follow.

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“I’m not as concerned about trying to find the high-priced free agent, the No. 1 guy on the board,” Campbell said. “Most teams might do that because that’s the guy that puts them over the edge. As much as I would love to believe that we’re that close, we’re probably not that close. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to win, it just means that we’ve got a ways to go and why would use that capital when we could add a couple of guys that have a little more grit and they fit what we’re doing and maybe they’re not quite as polished?

“But man, you heard me say this, it’s not always about the best guys, it’s about the right guys. And when you get a group of guys together that know how to work together and they mesh and they’re all of the same mindset, you can do some pretty good things. So I think patience, man, is important.”

Patience will be important to this Lions’ rebuild, especially if Stafford goes on to achieve some measure of success in L.A., in a city he wanted to be in — he owns a home in Newport Coast — and playing for one of the NFL’s bright offensive minds in McVay.

The Lions are up to six picks in April’s draft, but they still only have three of the top 88 selections — including No. 7 overall — and myriad holes to fill.

Most importantly, they still need to find a long-term solution at quarterback. Goff’s addition will not prevent them from drafting the position this spring, a team source said, but it should at least stop Holmes from forcing a pick on someone he does not like.

It’s too early to call this trade a win for the Lions, and it does not feel like a loss. They took on a serviceable quarterback with a monstrous contract in order to place an even bigger bet on their future.

Now it’s up to Holmes to make sure that bet pays off.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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