Why Matthew Stafford trade could be Detroit Lions’ version of famed Herschel Walker deal

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Michael Irvin was in his second NFL season when the Dallas Cowboys pulled off one of the greatest heists in NFL history, trading running back Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for a bushel of draft picks that eventually formed the nucleus of their three Super Bowl championship teams in the 1990s.

The Cowboys got three first- and three second-round picks as part of the deal, and Irvin, now an analyst with NFL Network, remembers sitting around after the trade thinking his team had just won the lottery.

“That’s one of the things I do remember us talking about, and talking about like, ‘OK, let’s make sure we get the right kind of guys in here,’” Irvin said Wednesday at Super Bowl LV. “We were not just talking physically gifted, but immense talent. The kind of guys that want to do something special, want to turn things around, want to change the narrative.”

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The Detroit Lions received a pittance, by comparison, in last week’s trade of Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for quarterback Jared Goff and three draft picks.

But Irvin and former Lions coach Steve Mariucci said that deal could be the Lions’ version of the Walker trade in that it might finally set the franchise on the road to sustained success.

The Lions, weeks into what appears to be a massive franchise rebuild, received a third-round pick in April’s draft and first-round choices in 2022-23. They now have five first-round picks in the next three drafts.

“If I’m in that situation, I’m going in looking for guys that kind of want to make their own mark, and try to bring them in,” Irvin said. “And I’ll take a guy a little less talented but has the right attitude because I know I’m building something. I want a guy that’s going to be vibrant, always on the practice field, always lifting everybody up, because you’re trying to turn something around. And it can work out a great way in Detroit, if they know how to go and find those guys. … Not just physically gifted guys but the right mentality guys.”

Mariucci, the Lions coach 2003-05, said he sees last week’s trade as “win-win” for both the Lions and Rams.

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The Rams get an upgrade at the quarterback position with the soon-to-be 33-year-old Stafford, who Mariucci said should benefit from playing with a top-notch defense and effective running game for the first time his career.

The Lions never ranked in the top half of the NFL in rushing in Stafford’s 12 seasons in Detroit, and had one top-five defense — in 2014, when they went 11-5 and lost a wild-card playoff game to the Cowboys.

The Lions get the additional draft capital they need to foster their rebuild and a quarterback in Goff, who Mariucci predicted “will be fine” in Detroit.

“It’s a heck of a trade for Detroit,” Mariucci said. “When do you ever get a chance to have extra draft picks like that? This is the time for Detroit. It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but when we start drafting these guys, you got to hit on these guys, you got to find starters that show up in the Pro Bowl once in a while, and man, I think they can start turning the corner. This is a good deal for Detroit.”

Goff led the Rams to a 42-20 record the past four seasons, after becoming a full-time starter in 2017. Only Tom Brady (47-17) has more wins in that span.

But he fell out of favor in L.A. after the Rams struggled in a Super Bowl LIII loss to the New England Patriots two years ago. The Rams managed just three points in that game, a 13-3 loss, and Goff has failed to consistently push the ball downfield as a passer ever since.

Goff took to Twitter on Wednesday to thank the Rams for his five seasons in L.A., and he wrote, “I couldn’t be more excited for this next chapter and am ready to attack this new opportunity that lies ahead.”

“Detroit, here I come,” he wrote.

NFL Network analyst Kurt Warner said Goff is like the vast majority of NFL quarterbacks in that he can be successful if he is in the right system.

With the Rams, Goff had his most success as a play-action passer and with a strong running back by his side in Todd Gurley. If Detroit puts him in a similar position, Warner said Goff can win with the Lions.

“If you go back and look at him in L.A., when they do what they do in terms of they run the football, they play-action and they stay in that wheelhouse, when they’re able to play games that way, Jared Goff is really, really good,” Warner said. “When they’re forced to play different ways and they’re forced to play more drop-back football, Jared Goff isn’t as good.

“So that will be the challenge to me for the Detroit Lions is, they got this draft collateral. They have to build this team — if they’re going to keep Jared Goff and make him their guy, they have got to build this team around what he does well and make sure that they stay in that as much as they possibly can, or they have the talent to live in that world as much as they possibly can because when they get out of that, Jared has shown that he’s not as good in those other areas. But he’s a winner, he has done well in this league, and I think he can continue to do well as long as you build a system around him that plays to his strengths.”

CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said he likes the trade from the Lions’ standpoint, too, and expects Goff to arrive in Detroit with a chip on his shoulder that should make him a better player.

“I personally like the young man,” Esiason said. “He actually has played more playoff games than Matthew Stafford, he’s got a winning record. Matthew Stafford, like me, has a losing record.

“I don’t necessarily know that these coaches are ever really truly that patient with the guy that they have behind center, unless of course you have Patrick Mahomes or Tom Brady. … For some reason, it seemed like Jared Goff fell out of favor out in L.A., and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, at least I would have a chip on my shoulder if I were coming to Detroit. So I don’t know if he’s going to knock anybody’s kneecaps off or any of that stuff, but the fact still remains that he’s a quality NFL quarterback and he gives Detroit something that very few teams have in this league, and that’s somebody with Super Bowl experience and that can play in big games.”

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

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