The Matthew Stafford era in Detroit is officially over.
The Detroit Lions announced their long-awaited trade of Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday for Jared Goff and three draft picks.
The trade was consummated in January, after Stafford asked the Lions to explore trade options following a third consecutive losing season, but could not be processed until the 2021 league year began at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
By waiting till Thursday to finalize the deal, the Rams are responsible for paying Goff a $2.5 million roster bonus that was due on the second day of the league year.
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Both Stafford and Goff will be introduced by their new teams in video conferences Friday.
Stafford, the first pick of the 2009 NFL draft, threw for 45,109 yards in 12 seasons with the Lions. He led the franchise to three playoff appearances, but never won a postseason game, and did not want to go through another rebuild this fall at 33 years old.
He told the Free Press last month, “I never thought I would ever finish my career anywhere else,” but that he needed a fresh start for his good and the good of his family.
The Rams are coming off a 10-6 season, have made three playoff trips in four years and view Stafford as the potential missing piece to a Super Bowl run.
[ WATCH: Matthew Stafford’s emotional farewell video to Lions and Detroit ]
“To be honest, Kelly and I probably started talking about it before last season,” Stafford said. “It was one of those things where, you know, we were hoping that, golly, let’s go, I hope this thing takes off and we play great. But if it doesn’t, you just knew what was going to happen. They were going to tear it down and rebuild.
“And anytime you switch GMs and a head coach, you know that they’re going to want to bring their own people in, and that’s going to take time. And I, frankly, didn’t feel like I was the appropriate person to oversee that time.”
The Lions fired Bob Quinn as general manager and Matt Patricia as head coach in November and replaced them in January with Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell, their third GM and fourth head coach since 2009.
Holmes engineered the trade with his old team — the Lions received a third-round pick in next month’s draft and first-rounders in 2022-23 in the deal — and started a domino effect of quarterback change across the NFL.
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The Philadelphia Eagles traded Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for a pair of draft picks in a deal that became official Wednesday. Drew Brees retired after 15 seasons with the New Orleans Saints. Washington released quarterback Alex Smith. The Chicago Bears signed Andy Dalton to be their new starter. And Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson have hinted at their desire for or outright demanded trades from the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks, respectively.
Stafford’s departure from the Lions, while hastening the organization’s wholesale rebuild, was done on much friendlier terms.
The Lions, in conjunction with Stafford, released an emotional 9-minute tribute video on Wednesday — Stafford wore No. 9 — and the quarterback told the Free Press it was bittersweet to leave the city where his four daughters were born and he came of age as a player.
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“I want nothing more than to be able to come back to this place 10 years from now and everybody welcome me with open arms,” he said. “And that was one of the biggest things that was weighing on me as I went in there to talk to (Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp and president Rod Wood about a trade). I was like, ‘I don’t want anybody to ever feel like I’m giving up on this town, or this city, or this place, I gave it everything I possibly had here.’”
Beyond his statistical accomplishments — he is the Lions career leader in every meaningful passing category, and one of eight quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season — Stafford will be remembered in Detroit for a toughness that endeared him to teammates and fans, and for the charitable work he quietly did around the city.
After missing most of the 2010 season with a shoulder injury, Stafford made 136 straight starts before a fractured back sidelined him for the second half of 2019.
He played through thumb, elbow, rib, knee and ankle injuries last season, when he started all 16 games and topped 4,000 yards passing for the eighth time in his career.
Off the field, Stafford and his wife, Kelly, donated $1 million to refurbish a recreation center in 2015 and pledged another $1 million last month towards an education center. The couple routinely adopted needy families around the city and spearheaded other charitable giving.
[ Matthew Stafford gave the Lions ‘every damn thing I had,’ still torn over exit ]
Several teammates have posted heartfelt goodbyes to Stafford on social media since the trade, and Stafford said in his tribute video Wednesday it was “an honor for me to be the quarterback of this city.”
“Sometimes it’s not the perfect storybook ending in the same place,” Stafford told the Free Press last month. “But I can leave here knowing that I gave this team every damn thing I had.
“The way that they handled it, I think it’s worked out for everybody, and I think it will in the future. I cannot I cannot express how much gratitude I feel towards the Lions for handling it the way they did.
“As much as I’m moving to a place that’s got some pieces that are ready to go, I’m also betting on myself too, betting that I’m the person that can take them there. So this is a big challenge for me.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.