| The Detroit News
And just like that, it’s over.
On Saturday, the Detroit Lions agreed to trade quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff and two future first-round picks, according to ESPN and the NFL Network. The Detroit News has not independently confirmed the reported trade.
The deal won’t be officially processed until the start of the new league year on March 17.
The trade, which had been expected since the team put Stafford on the block at his request last month, will end a prolific 12-year run with the franchise.
Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, has completed 63.4 percent of his career pass attempts for 18,171 yards, 107 touchdowns and 55 interceptions in 69 career starts for the Rams.
Detroit drafted Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 to help save them from the franchise’s lowest point, a winless season. Not everyone was sold at the time. Many fans wanted the team to take Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, going as far as to chant his name when the team unveiled an updated version of its logo months before the draft.
It took seven months for Stafford to win his detractors over.
In what would have otherwise been a forgettable November game between two of the league’s worst teams, Stafford suffered a separated shoulder after a thunderous hit by Cleveland Browns defensive tackle C.J. Mosley.
It should have been the game’s final play, but a penalty in the end zone gave the Lions one more shot — an untimed down with no time on the clock. And despite being in obvious pain on the sideline as the training staff hovered over him, Stafford lobbied his way back into the game, throwing a touchdown that would propel the Lions to victory.
The highlight, voiced over by play-by-play man Dan Miller, remains a signature moment that continued to be shown during home games more than a decade later.
That would be Stafford’s final throw of his rookie season as durability proved to be an issue his first couple of seasons. In addition to missing the final four games of his debut campaign with that shoulder issue, he was sidelined two earlier contests with a knee injury. He then suffered another shoulder injury in the season-opener of his second year, which cost him 13 more games.
Adding literal insult to injury, teammate Zack Follett publicly questioned Stafford’s toughness, calling him a “china doll” in a radio interview during the offseason.
Of course, Stafford once again would prove his detractors wrong. After 2010, he wouldn’t miss another game for nine years, an ironman streak of 136 consecutive starts that is one of the longest in NFL history at the quarterback position.
Follet, who suffered a neck injury prior to his Stafford comments, was cut by the Lions the following August and never played again.
During those next nine seasons, Stafford would obliterate every meaningful passing record in franchise history, while slowly climbing many of the league’s all-time charts.
In 2011, while leading the franchise to their first playoff berth in a dozen years, he became just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards. A year later, Stafford attempted an NFL record 727 passes, helping wide receiver Calvin Johnson set the league’s all-time, single-season receiving yardage mark at 1,964.
Stafford has long since blown past most of Detroit’s career marks. His 45,109 yards is nearly triple Bobby Layne, the next man on the list, while Stafford’s 282 touchdowns exceed Layne by more than double. For passers with more than 500 attempts, Stafford also holds the franchise marks for highest completion percentage and quarterback rating.
In addition to his durability and gaudy statistical output, Stafford built a reputation for late-game poise, leading 38 game-winning drives and 31 fourth-quarter comebacks. Both rank among the top-10 in the Super Bowl era. Detroit’s eight fourth-quarter rallies in 2016 coincided with Stafford’s third and final playoff appearance with the Lions.
And that is the shortcoming of Stafford’s tenure with the team. Yes, they qualified for the postseason three times, but never made it beyond the first weekend of the tournament. The Lions didn’t host a playoff game with Stafford at the helm because they’ve failed to win the division, despite a couple of prime opportunities.
It’s easy to point out Stafford has rarely had the support around him to achieve the team success his Hall of Fame-bound peers have during this era. In 12 seasons, the Lions only had a top-10 defense once, while finishing in the bottom half of the league eight times. The running game has been equally, if not more putrid, finishing no higher than 17th during Stafford’s career and bottom-three four times.
In recent years, the injuries have started to catch up to Stafford once again. He’s finished the last three seasons in bad shape and his ironman streak was snapped in 2019 when a broken bone in his back landed him on injured reserve. In 2020, he once again played all 16 games, but had to fight through a torn ligament in his throwing hand thumb, damaged rib cartilage and a sprained ankle to do so.
Turning 33 years old in February, Stafford didn’t have the heart to go through another rebuild. After playing for three head coaches and four offensive coordinators, it was time to try something different. That’s why he approached ownership shortly after the season and proposed a mutual break, freeing both sides to try to discover success without each other.
Despite rookie general manager Brad Holmes framing it as a retooling, the Lions clearly will enter a true rebuild for the first time since drafting Stafford. The quarterback, meanwhile, will head to the Rams, who went 10-6 last season before losing to the Packers in the playoffs.