It was two Januarys ago that a perfect storm of events transpired that allowed a handful of people to get exactly what they wanted thanks to one agreement: The Detroit Lions would agree to trade Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for two first round picks, a third rounder, and Jared Goff.
Stafford was tired after a 12-year career with the Lions that only resulted in four winning seasons and an 0-3 playoff record. A former number one overall draft pick who often played well enough to be better than the sum total of his career wins, Stafford wanted to prove that a separation from that organization could lead to a Super Bowl and was immediately proven right.
Sean McVay wanted to prove that with a quarterback upgrade, he could lead the Rams back to the Super Bowl and score more than three points. He was proven right.
New general manager Brad Holmes wanted to prove that he could execute a blockbuster trade just like his old boss Les Snead and that he could turn around Detroit’s fortunes in far less time than his many predecessors. The Lions got a draft pick haul of near unprecedented value and for the first time in a long time there are many people who believe that Detroit could be the best team in their division. The Lions haven’t won their division since 1993 but they were a top-5 offense last season and now Aaron Rodgers is in the AFC.
Even Goff got what he wanted. Often told that he’s “only good because of McVay,” Goff also separated himself from the organization that picked him first overall and despite a tough initial season in Detroit, the Lions may now see him as the quarterback who they wanted all along. His stats in 2022 were virtually the same as they were in 2018, when Goff helped L.A. reach the Super Bowl and over the last 10 games, he had 17 TD/1 INT for an 8-2 team.
McVay, Stafford, and Snead won a Super Bowl.
If we’re just looking at the trade from the beginning of the 2021 offseason to now, everybody wins. The L.A. Rams got a Super Bowl championship out of it and the Detroit Lions got hope (plus essentially receiver Jameson Williams and running back Jahmyr Gibbs) out of it. That’s exactly what both teams wanted and everybody wins that trade.
However, that was January and February of 2021.
It is now 2023 and that means reassessing where each organization and individual is at in their career arc today, not “back then”. We can ignore and forget and hopefully most of all, move on from “back then”.
In January of 2021, Stafford was on a 5-11 team and he didn’t want to spend more time helping an organization rebuild from the bottom to the top. He was 33 and coming off of a season in which he missed no games. Despite how bad the Lions were at just about everything else, one thing they did do for Stafford was build a great offensive line, using first round picks on Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, and T.J. Hockenson, and finding a third round steal in Jonah Jackson.
But Stafford no longer wanted to deal with the struggle of elevating a team with a bad defense, lacking depth at receiver, or trying to climb up the standings again, and who could blame him? Stafford deserved his opportunity with the L.A. Rams, or some organization that was ready to win, and he proved himself as the missing piece.
What’s he out to prove now?
At 35, Stafford is coming off of his first injury-riddled campaign that caused him to miss games since 2019. That year, a back injury cost him half of the season and when he returned for a 5-11 campaign in 2020 he had decided he had enough with the Lions. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. He is coming off of his first losing season since 2020. He’s coming off of his worst statistical season since 2018. He’s coming back to a team that is open about the fact that they’re “stepping back” this year out of necessity to repay the debt owed from moves like the one to acquire him.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
That’s the season that Stafford is coming out of, one very similar to the team and situation that he asked to be traded away from in 2021. Now what about the season that Stafford is stepping into next?
The Rams are promoting Van Jefferson as if he actually is Robert Woods, rather than as a receiver who has yet to hold onto a starting spot through three years. Past Cooper Kupp, it can’t feasibly be controversial to say that the receivers room is packed with uncertainty, at best. It can’t be controversial to say that L.A.’s offensive line was a nightmare for everybody involved last season. It can’t be controversial to say that the left tackle position is a depth chart of injury concerns or that both guard spots are going to be held by players with no experience.
Forget about predicting “Good”, “Bad”, “Underrated”, “Overrated”, “Surprising”, or any other descriptors for the future possibilities. The only thing we’re looking at today is the same thing that Stafford is looking at, which is that two years ago he was worried about playing for a team with Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, and Jonah Jackson (then drafted Penei Sewell) on the offensive line and he hadn’t missed any games. Now he’s 35, he missed a lot of games, had concussion scares, and the Rams offensive line has been ranked by some as one of the worst in the league.
Don’t ask me who said that Stafford “could barely throw last year”, ask the person who reported it: NBC’s Matthew Berry:
“Asking about Matthew Stafford, I was told ‘The guy could barely throw last year. Retirement is still not out of the question.’ “ https://t.co/oLarRkS7V9— NFL Beat Writers (@32BeatWriters) March 7, 2023
Two years ago, Stafford was leaving a team that had the worst defense in the NFL. Now at 35, Stafford is returning to a team that could have the worst defense in the NFL.
Before getting mad at the writer, just remember I’m not doing anything other than making the same observations that anybody could make and who few rational people could disagree with. The Rams were indeed 5-12. The Rams do indeed have an inexperienced, oft-injured offensive line. The Rams do in fact have a defense in which Aaron Donald is the only player who has played more than one full season as a starter; again, AD is the only player with multi-season starting experience, as Jordan Fuller has one season as a full-time starter, and Ernest Jones has not made more than 11 starts in either of his two campaigns.
You think the Rams are going to bounce back? That’s fine! But they do have to bounce back from something. If Stafford was making all of his decisions with visions for a future and not with current expectations, then he might still be on the Detroit Lions.
So just imagine that the Rams open Week 1 with the same roster that they have now, including Stafford, AD, and Kupp. What will you want the L.A. Rams to do if they are 1-4 after playing the 49ers, Bengals, Eagles, Seahawks, and Colts to open the season? What do you think the Rams and Stafford and Donald will want if the Rams are 1-4 after playing the NFC Champion, a team in the NFC Championship game, a team in the AFC Championship game, and another playoff team in four of their first five games?
Will they stay the course and be content with trying again in 2024, if they are unable to climb out of a 1-4 or 2-3 hole?
Two years ago, that was the opposite of what Matthew Stafford wanted to do. Two years ago, Sean McVay and Les Snead were willing to sacrifice the future to win right now. The future is here. Should all parties proceed like it’s the past or will they soon be looking to the future?