| The Detroit News
The Detroit Lions agreed to trade Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams last week, scoring a bountiful return for the franchise’s longtime starting quarterback. But was it the best the Lions could have done?
Let’s explore some details about competing offers that have leaked in recent days.
First, let’s look closely at the deal with the Rams.
In exchange for Stafford, the Lions got back not one, but two, future first-round draft picks, along with a third-round choice this year and a competent starting quarterback in Jared Goff. In terms of what both teams were looking for, it certainly looks like a win-win, with the Lions being universally praised for the return.
About the only reasonable objection being raised is Goff’s contract, which averages $26 million the next three years. But as has been previously noted, the Lions have a reasonable out next year and there’s no dead money remaining in 2023, assuming it ends up being a two-year experiment.
From the Rams’ perspective, Stafford strengthens their case as a Super Bowl contender. Only a handful of oddsmakers have released projections on next year’s champion, but the Rams’ line improved significantly on news of the deal.
The better the Rams do the next two years, the worse those two first-round picks will end up being for the Lions. The playoff qualifier with the worst record selects 19th, and if the Rams were to win the Super Bowl, the Lions would end up selecting 32nd that year.
On the flip side, the best laid plans have a way of going sideways in the NFL. The Houston Texans probably didn’t expect to have the third-worst record in football when they shipped a future first-round choice to Miami for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil in 2019.
Now, here’s what Detroit reportedly passed up.
On Sunday, multiple reports alleged the Washington Football Team’s offer would have been better for the Lions this year. According to Sports Illustrated, Washington was offering Detroit their first-round in 2021 (No. 19), along with a third-rounder. It’s unknown which of of Washington’s two third-round choices (No. 74 or No. 82) was on the table, but each are better than the No. 88 pick the Lions are getting from the Rams.
Obviously, that provides the Lions more immediate impact, and is competitive with the Rams offer. The difference is Goff. Not only does he give the Lions a talented bridge to the future, with the potential to be the long-term answer at quarterback, but by taking his contract off the Rams’ hands, it netted that second first-round pick. That’s a rebuild accelerator.
The next offer reported by Sports Illustrated involves the Carolina Panthers sending Detroit their first-round pick this year, No. 8 overall, along with an additional late-round selection.
That’s unquestionably compelling. Generally speaking, it’s a typically a different tier of prospects that early in the draft. But there are reasons why the Rams’ package could have been perceived as better.
First, there’s an air of uncertainty around this draft class, specifically for the Lions, but also overall. With a new, first-time general manager, it’s going to take some time for him to get the front office on the same page as he marries new hires with the scouting department carryover.
On top of that, this was a college football season unlike any other, with the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out entire seasons for some teams and multiple games for others. And prospect evaluation limitations will carry into the offseason, with the scouting combine and in-person visits being reimagined.
In an ideal world, college football, and the scouting of it, returns to normal starting next season. That would give the Lions an opportunity to have more complete evaluations on prospects for future drafts, compared to this one.
The Lions had conversations with multiple other teams, notably Indianapolis, San Francisco, New England and Chicago. According to Sports Illustrated, at the time Detroit accepted Los Angeles’ offer, at least three of those franchises hadn’t shown a willingness to include a first-round pick, which was a non-starter.
Additionally, an NBC Sports report surfaced this weekend that Stafford had no interest in going to the Patriots, and the Lions were of the mindset they didn’t want to trade him somewhere he’d be unhappy.
As for Chicago, a trade within the division never was preferred or likely.
In the end, the Lions got three compelling offers, from Los Angeles, Carolina and Washington. All three would have helped the team, but given the number of roster holes, and the two-to-three-year window the team is looking at for its rebuild, general manager Brad Holmes chose quantity of assets over a single, higher-quality asset.