In late January, the LA Rams traded two first round picks, a third round pick, and Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford. The two former number one picks swapped cities, but after 12 years of battling for a team that never lived up to what he deserved, Stafford may be leaving behind a more distinct trail of bummed fans in previous home.
I scoured the archives over at Pride of Detroit, SB Nation’s Detroit Lions blog, and here are some posts that I’ve been reading this week about Matthew Stafford and how Lions writers and fans have been dealing with the fact that he is now playing for the Rams. It may give us some insight into what Stafford really meant to the Lions beyond just the stats and win totals.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Stafford meant a lot to them.
Seeing the franchise quarterback traded away could not be easy, but POD’s Jeremy Reisman recently broke down both the talent of Stafford and the silver lining of trading him to the Rams. It is clear though that Lions fans — and GM Brad Holmes — are aware of how special Stafford has been as a quarterback.
For most Detroit Lions fans, Matthew Stafford’s request for a trade was a heartbreaking moment. For the past dozen years, Stafford—and Stafford alone—gave the Lions a chance to win every week, no matter the opponent, no matter the score. He took the Lions to the playoffs three times after a decade-long postseason drought. He showed tremendous grit on the field with his toughness and refusal to quit, even when no one would have blamed him if he did. Without a doubt, the Detroit Lions are a worse football team with him no longer under center.
But requesting a trade may have been one of the best things Stafford did for the franchise, and recent comments from Lions general manager Brad Holmes underscores this point.
Holmes told the Detroit Free Press that when he first interviewed for the Lions GM job, he had no plans to move Matthew Stafford.
“I totally had every intention on that he was going to be the quarterback,” Holmes said. “When I started breaking tape down, I was like, ‘Wow, this dude, he’s a talent,’ which you already knew. But then you get refreshed when you start breaking him down, like, ‘Wow.’”
POD’s Alex Reno gives his favorite Stafford memory, but there are many more in the comments.
My answer: There are too many to choose from and I can’t wait to read all of your responses. But when I think back on the Stafford years (boy, that sucks to say already), the first thing that comes to mind is the miraculous game-winning throw against the Cleveland Browns in his rookie year.
On the final play of the game, and coming back into the game with a bum shoulder, Stafford throws a dime to Brandon Pettigrew to give the Lions their second win on the season.
Stafford might be the toughest son of a bitch in the NFL, and we should have known it from the start. This play epitomized everything that Stafford was to this team, and you knew from then on that he would never lie down and give up.
This was written after Stafford requested a trade, but before he was sent to Los Angeles.
It didn’t hit me right away. I, like many Lions fans, was too busy dealing with the initial blow of Stafford leaving to comprehend the possibilities of what it all means in the end. After spending time reflecting, here’s what I’ve come up with. This is going to be hell on Earth, and it’s going to sting for a while.
Matthew Stafford was the one thing holding this franchise together. He was, by far, the most important Lions player in the team’s history. Some might say it was Barry Sanders or Calvin Johnson. I get that, but I’m not talking about talent here. I’m talking about a centerpiece that made anything possible if it was around. Calvin and Barry were never that. They were the best of a bad situation, not the staple that holds all in place.
Many Lions fans expect Stafford to outperform Goff in 2021, which is not all that surprising.
Those numbers for Stafford seem extremely pedestrian for a guy who is supposed to be the missing ingredient for Sean McVay’s Super Bowl recipe. When you compare them to Goff’s projected output for 2021, at least on paper, this trade would end up being disastrous for the Rams.
It’s in my extremely well-adjusted opinion that Stafford will easily outperform those projections, but I think those numbers for Goff look about right. I could see the interception total being a tick higher and the passing yards substantially greater should the Detroit Lions find themselves trailing more often than not this year. But if Goff’s statistical output is something along these lines, would that buy him a vote of confidence from you and another season under center in Detroit?
Detroit Lions fans may miss Matthew Stafford’s mobility this year
Goff’s passing efficiency under pressure in 2020 produced a -0.66 expected points added (EPA) per pass, meaning on average a Goff pass under pressure averaged 0.66 points in favor of the defense (EPA is fully explained here). Stafford, on the other hand, produced a solid figure at -0.26.
That difference is even more pronounced when looking at scrambling ability. Stafford only had 112 rushing yards, but 12 of his 29 rushes went for first downs, creating an EPA of 0.74—the highest in the NFL. Goff, on the other hand, rushed for just 99 yards on 51 attempts, producing 12 first downs. His scrambling EPA of -0.10 was third-worst in the NFL, only ahead of Joe Burrow and Tom Brady.
Are you rooting for Matthew Stafford?
It can be difficult to root against someone who you’ve been rooting for over the past 12 years, but when that player is traded for future first round picks, that can complicate matters a little.
My answer: I refuse to give a binary answer here. I am a Detroit Lions fan, but I am forever a Matthew Stafford fan, too. He was too good to this city and too good to this team for me to wish him—or his team—any ill will.
And, yes, there will be a part of me that feels vindicated for defending Stafford against hater after hater if he lifts a Lombardi Trophy with a team that was actually capable of surrounding him with talent.
But I’d be lying if I wasn’t drooling at the opportunity for the Rams’ plan to completely backfire. If the Lions were to somehow get a top-10 pick from this haul, that would make this entire transaction a huge win for Detroit. And for as long as Stafford has been waiting to be part of a great franchise, I’ve been waiting nearly three times as long as he has.
That’s all to say, let’s split the difference. The Rams can go ahead and win the Super Bowl with Stafford next year, but then let’s just have everything implode in 2022 for the Rams. The Lions get the 32nd pick next year and the fifth overall pick in 2022.
There. Everybody is happy.
Cutler had a relatively quiet exit from the NFL after his final season in 2017 with the Miami Dolphins. He was less quiet this offseason when talking about Stafford.
Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler told podcast Pardon My Take on Wednesday that Stafford is due for a big year.
“Stafford’s underrated — he’s got a cannon,” he said at first.
“I think so. I think he’s going to blow it up. Coaching staff’s good. He’s gonna have some of the best play calling he’s ever had in his life, he’s still talented so he can throw it. He’s competitive.”
One of the podcast hosts, Big Cat, called Stafford a future Hall of Famer.
“If he plays for another, I don’t know, four or five years, he will be, like numbers-wise, up there with everyone else,” he said.
“One hundred percent,” Cutler replied. “His numbers are going to be ridiculous ... If he doesn’t win a playoff game the rest of his career, is he in?”
Writer John Whiticar predicted a 12-5 record for the Rams next season. Not bad!
I think the Rams will be a very good team this season. While I would love a high first-round pick as a result of their struggles, the success of Stafford would be a good consolation prize to me.
The two extreme situations are fine by me. If the Rams bottom out, the Lions get a great draft pick. If the Rams excel, then we get to see Stafford play some meaningful football. The worst case scenario, in my opinion, is that the Rams are a middling team at around 8-9. This wouldn’t result in a high draft pick for Detroit, but it likely wouldn’t result in a postseason run for the Rams and Stafford.
This article is actually from last December, before Stafford was traded, but I think it says something else about him as a quarterback, a competitor, and a team leader.
“I love the guy, man. He’s a warrior. I feel like I say this every time I talk about him, but you can tell everything means a lot to him. All this means a lot to him — being on the field, being with his brothers, stuff like that. They just don’t make them like that no more,” Jones told media after Sunday’s game.
Stafford spent the week nursing a brutal rib injury. He’s not one to talk about being in pain, but it seemed pretty bad — his wife Kelly Stafford, posting on Instagram: “I would be lying if I said I was pleased he told me he was going to play after what I witnessed in our house this past week.” But Stafford once agains and put up a good fight against the Titans.
“We all know he’s tough, we all know that he could do his thing. Nobody really know how he feels but you can see he’s a competitor at all costs. I would always rally behind him just because he’s proved time and time that he’s dependable and ... tough as nails, and that’s what everybody aspires to be.”
Will the Lions retire Stafford’s number?
Even if Stafford’s 9 isn’t retired, it is still an iconic number for the Detroit Lions. I hope it will be unofficially retired at least. Stafford has done a lot of great things for the Lions franchise and the city of Detroit.