Detroit Lions’ new regime impresses by trading Matthew Stafford, emerging with nice options

Detroit Free Press

Jeff Seidel
 
| Detroit Free Press

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It’s the end of an era — the era of empty stats.

Goodbye, Matthew Stafford.

Hello, full-scale, full-blown rebuild.

Let a new era officially begin. And this time, this era begins with an actual plan.

The Detroit Lions traded quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for three draft picks: two first-round picks, in 2022 and 2023, and a third-rounder this year. And that, in itself, is a clear win for this new regime. It’s actually beyond my wildest dreams. Because it gives them so many options at a time when this franchise desperately needs them.

What a fantastic trade for the Lions, even if it was jarring, to say goodbye to someone who has been the face of this franchise for what feels like forever.

But then, you think about the return again. Getting two first-round picks and a third? For Stafford? A guy who is about to turn 33 and has two years left on his deal?

[ Lions QB Jared Goff: Like Stafford, a No. 1 pick, but with playoff wins ]

During a rebuild? Any day of the week.

Wow. The Lions are really doing this. They are really trying to do this the right way. This rebuild is real.

But there is one more thing.

The Lions also picked up Jared Goff in what looks like a salary dump. Yeah. So there’s that. Not exactly crazy about that part. But at worst, he can be a bridge to the next quarterback. In two years, the Lions can cut him and have no dead money on their salary cap.

At best, if he plays outstanding, they could keep him around. At 26, Goff still has an upside.

And, the Lions can still draft a quarterback with the seventh pick in this year’s draft. They can let him sit and develop and learn behind Goff. But here’s the best part: they don’t have to take one. Not if they aren’t in love with one. If they want, they can wait and use Goff in the meantime.

Options are a great thing..

But there are more. Maybe, at some point, they can flip Goff for more picks.

Maybe, they can bundle any of these picks and move up in the draft.

What is that? Five different options? Coming from one trade? For Stafford, a guy who wasn’t going to lead this team a Super Bowl?

That’s a fantastic thing.

It feels so different. For once, the Lions are being bold. For once, they seem to have a plan and they seem to be following it.

For once, they can see what Lions fans have known for years: Stafford can play tough and could pull out some miracles but this team just isn’t good enough to compete right now.

And they just traded him at the perfect time, when his value was the highest.

Hopefully, they can start to build this team the right way: Improve the defense. Build up the offensive and defensive lines. Add talent across the board.

This rebuild is not a quick fix. They have to tear it down to the foundation.

And that’s what this trade did.

They ripped off the roof and started to put down some plans.

It feels like the moment the Detroit Tigers traded Justin Verlander. An official ending.

And this is the end of an era. A Lions era that feels empty. Stafford put up big stats but the team was never good enough to do anything.

And yet, there is an ironic, painful twist to this whole situation. Those Rams first-round picks are bound to be late-first round picks. And with Stafford, the Rams around bound to win more games. Stafford is bound to pull out some of his miracle, come-from-behind victories. The kind of victories that will help the Rams, lessening the value of these picks, and in turn, hurt the Lions draft over the years.

And every time he does it now, it’s gonna hurt the Lions once again.

So be it.

This is a win for this new regime.

Stafford will be remembered for being tough, for being honorable, for playing through pain, for leading this team to wins, and for stacking up all kinds of stats.

But those stats didn’t lead to championships.

They didn’t even lead to a playoff win.

So this new regime did what had to be done.

And they walked away with more than I thought possible.

Lions fans have every reason to remain cynical. They still have to do something with those picks.

But they have options now and a new era has begun. When Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson walked away, the Lions got nothing.

At least, this time, they got something in return.

And that’s the start of a new era that seems encouraging.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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