Three years ago, the Los Angeles Rams changed the landscape of the NFL when they traded away Jared Goff and draft picks to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford. Right now, it might be the most win-win trade in NFL history. The Rams got their Super Bowl ring with Stafford while the Lions were able to accumulate the assets that they needed to accomplish their rebuild.
On Sunday, the Lions will play in the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers. It's an opportunity for the Lions to make their first Super Bowl. Again, the Stafford trade between the Rams and Lions might be the biggest win-win trade ever.
However, it is worth asking the question at this point on whether or not the Rams and Sean McVay should have been more patient with Goff. As Lindsay Thiry of ESPN described it,
“But as the 2019 season progressed without the desired results, McVay began to coach Goff more directly and their dynamic began to slowly unravel...Goff complained to others about McVay and vice versa. The two wouldn’t sit down often enough to hammer the issues out, a league source said. It was a matter of understanding, diagnosing and applying what was coached...McVay told people around him he felt as though he had to call every play perfectly for Goff. And Goff felt increasingly micromanaged as McVay continuously ramped up the complexity of his offense in an attempt to outscheme the defense.”
McVay slowly lost patience with Goff. On the other side of the trade, the Lions afforded him that patience. It can be argued that the Rams and Lions were both in two very different spots. Los Angeles was in position to win now and needed a quarterback that could get them over the hump. Meanwhile, the Lions were 2-3 years away from being in a position to compete. That was the time that Goff needed to become fully developed as a player. The pairing between him and Ben Johnson have been one of the best quarterback-offensive coordinator duos in the NFL.
There’s something to be said about the Lions affording Goff that patience. Goff is just 29 years old and will be 30 next year. If he follows the modern quarterback trajectory, he could have 5-8 good years left. On the flip side, Matthew Stafford is 35 and may only have 2-3 years left. He’s coming off of a good season, but his contract runs through 2026 and the Rams have an ‘out’ after 2025.
By trading for Stafford, the Rams expedited their window. They fast-forwarded the development process. It worked, but it possibly also shortened their competitive window by a few years.
This isn't to say that the Rams made the wrong decision by trading for Stafford. Again, it’s a move that worked out for both sides. Stafford was able to deliver a championship to Los Angeles while the Lions were able to afford patience to Goff while they built up the roster. Both quarterbacks fit their current teams’ team-builds in their own different ways.
Had the Rams kept Goff, there’s no guarantee that the Rams win a Super Bowl with Aaron Donald or a now aging Cooper Kupp. The Lions were able to surround Goff with a cast of younger stars that fit his development path.
If the Lions beat the 49ers, they will face the Kansas City Chiefs who they beat in Week 1 or the Baltimore Ravens who they lost to badly in the middle of the season. Even if the Lions overcome their 7-point underdog status, there’s no guarantee they win on the season’s final Sunday. The Rams had gotten to that point with Goff before and came up short. That’s another reason they made the trade for Stafford.
With the Lions finding postseason success and Goff looking as good as he has, it’s a glimpse of maybe what could have been had the Rams stuck with the quarterback that they drafted number one overall. Should the Rams have given him that patience and did he earn that patience after leading the NFL in turnovers over the course of 2019 and 2020?
It’s also worth noting that Goff likely isn’t the quarterback that he is today without the trade and McVay also likely isn’t the coach that he is. Both have gone through and overcome their own adversity challenges in the three years since they went their separate ways.
The Stafford-Goff trade has ended in a win-win for both sides and now we’ll see if the former quarterback from Cal can break the Lions curse. The Rams certainly won’t be too disappointed in Goff’s success, especially if the 49ers are the team in the way that falls short.