As Detroit Lions close in on top-5 pick, Matthew Stafford-Rams trade looks like win-win

Detroit Free Press

Twenty-two months after the Detroit Lions agreed to trade quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff and three draft picks, the deal looks like a rare win-win for both sides.

Stafford led the Rams to a Super Bowl win over the Cincinnati Bengals last February, the final piece to L.A.’s championship puzzle that had been years in the making.

The Rams’ title was their first in 22 seasons and second in franchise history, and capped an all-in approach that spawned its own catchphrase: “F them draft picks.”

While the Rams’ window for contention appears to have closed in this year’s cataclysmic season, the ecstasy of winning a ring will be worth whatever tough times are ahead. At 3-8, the Rams are tied for the third-worst record in the NFL — behind only the lowly Houston Texans (1-9-1) in the win column and a half-game back of the Chicago Bears (3-9) — and have just two picks in the first five rounds of next year’s draft.

The Lions own the Rams’ 2023 first-round pick as the final piece of the Stafford trade, and right now that pick looks better than the Lions could have ever imagined when Brad Holmes auctioned Stafford off in one of his first acts as Lions general manager.

With six extremely losable games left, the Rams sit third in the draft order. The Texans almost certainly will have the first pick when the dust settles on their pitiful season, but the Rams own the draft tiebreaker with every other three-win team — the Bears, Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers — and most four-win teams based on their lousy strength of schedule.

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If every three-win team loses out, the Lions likely will have the second pick in a draft that, for now, appears to have four stars up top: Alabama pass rusher Will Anderson, Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter and quarterbacks Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud.

Even if the Rams win a game or two — they play three teams with losing records, the Las Vegas Raiders, Green Bay Packers and Broncos, in consecutive weeks before the new year — they seem assured of having a top-10 pick.

The Lions (4-7) are maybe the best of the NFL’s nine four-win teams, and while that probably won’t get them to the playoffs in January, that does give them the luxury of winning games down the stretch and still being able to land a difference maker near the top of the draft.

For a team that never won anything in 12 seasons with Stafford and would have been a long shot to contend had they kept him around, the Lions got exactly what they needed from the trade for their rebuild — high draft capital.

So far, the Lions have gotten meager returns from the deal. Goff is 7-17-1 as Lions starter and the Lions will have a decision to make on his future after this season; Ifeatu Melifonwu, who the Lions took with the 2021 third-round pick they received in the trade, has barely played and is on his second position in two years; and they packaged the first first-round pick they received from the Rams last year to move up and draft receiver Jameson Williams.

Williams has Pro Bowl potential, but he has yet to see the field — that could change this week — in his return from a college knee injury.

While the Rams already have enjoyed their fruits of the deal, and feasted like kings because of it, the Lions have the potential to do the same down the road.

From their perspective, the trade will come down to what becomes of the player they take near the top of this year’s draft, and to a lesser extent Williams, though to be fair, his inclusion widens the scope of the deal.

For bookkeeping’s sake, here’s the trade, all-inclusive of every pick related to Stafford:

Lions gave up: Stafford, No. 32 pick in 2022 (Vikings S Lewis Cine; original Rams pick was traded as part of compensation for Williams), No. 34 pick in 2022 (Packers WR Christian Watson; dealt in Williams trade), No. 66 pick in 2022 (Vikings LB Brian Asamoah; dealt in Williams trade).

Lions receive: Melifonwu, Williams, DL Josh Paschal (acquired as part of Williams trade); No. 1 pick in 2023.

Rams receive: Stafford and a Super Bowl.

More:How Detroit Lions traded up for Jameson Williams: ‘Sometimes the draft gods smile on you’

Mitch Albom:Matthew Stafford’s Super Bowl win looked like Detroit Lions game … until the end

The Rams got exactly what they wanted from the deal, even if their success fizzled a little too soon.

The Lions did, too, and they’ll have only themselves to blame if they don’t capitalize.

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

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