Just when you thought the NFL might take a breather before the Super Bowl 55 hype machine cranks up in earnest Monday morning … welp. A seismic deal shook the league Saturday night, and it didn’t even involve Deshaun Watson switching teams.
The Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions agreed to a blockbuster that sends veteran QB Matthew Stafford from Motown to Tinseltown, while the Rams ship QB Jared Goff and a bundle of draft picks, including two first-rounders, to Detroit.
It’s a fascinating transaction that should bolster both franchises, even if it might leave some initially scratching their heads.
Let’s break it down by looking at the winners and losers of this first NFL megadeal of 2021:
Stafford: It isn’t hard to find former Lions who swear by Stafford’s toughness, talent and personality. However those traits and 282 career TD passes earned the No. 1 pick of the 2009 draft three wild-card appearances but nary a win. (Detroit’s last playoff victory occurred at the end of the 1991 season.) That isn’t to suggest Stafford has been Aaron Rodgers-lite marooned in Motown. But he’s orchestrated plenty of spectacular moments and solid seasons for a franchise that’s been in near-constant flux – Stafford played for four coaches, including interim boss Darrell Bevell in 2020. He hasn’t had elite teammates since Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh left.
Now? Joining the Rams effectively ensures Stafford will be supported by the best running game, best offensive line, best defense and – most important – best play caller, head coach Sean McVay, he’s ever had in the NFL. The Rams won one more playoff game this year than Stafford ever has – should be fun to see what the marriage can produce.
New Detroit GM Brad Holmes: Well, hello sir. Hired by the Lions just two weeks ago – incidentally, from the Rams (he was their director of college scouting) – Holmes didn’t need much time to make his presence felt in Michigan. Under his guidance, the club quickly telegraphed its intent to part with Stafford, the Lions’ all-time leader in every significant passing category – and by a country mile. Holmes found a taker in his former boss, Rams GM Les Snead, who’s never afraid of taking a big swing.
Some are marveling at the massive compensation Holmes wrangled from L.A. (first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 and a third-rounder this year). But this seems to resemble what happened four years ago when the Texans traded Brock Osweiler to the Browns – for whom Osweiler never took a regular-season snap – only on a grander scale. (Cleveland absorbed Osweiler’s pact a year after he signed a four-year, $72 million agreement, Houston sending the Browns a second-round pick as part of the package in order to offset the salary dump.)
On the heels of three consecutive last-place finishes, Detroit just added ample juice to its rebuilding plan, partially because Snead is essentially rewarding Holmes with extra draft capital because he’s taking Goff’s massive extension off the Rams’ books. Trading Goff is going to cost L.A. about a $22 million cap blow – however cutting him would’ve meant an untenable $65 million hit in dead cap dollars. Was Stafford worth two first-rounders in a vacuum? Almost certainly not. But Holmes found a creative way to boost the veteran’s value to the Lions one last time.
Rams’ Super Bowl hopes: Stafford, who turns 33 on Super Sunday, certainly has to prove he can win big with better players around him. But it’s hard to imagine him not improving an L.A. attack often hindered by Goff’s inconsistency. McVay wasn’t even willing to commit to Goff playing in the Rams’ divisional round playoff loss to the Packers earlier this month until it became clear that John Wolford, who was injured in the wild-card win at Seattle, wouldn’t be available. And no one will forget how Goff and this offense went to pieces in Super Bowl 53, managing 260 yards and three points on a day when 14 points would have beaten the Patriots.
Stafford and McVay will surely have to adapt to each other, but the veteran’s experience and electric arm talent should further diversify an offense with depth at all the skill positions, including two 1,000-yard receivers (Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp) in 2019. If Snead can add a deep threat, too, there’s no telling how creative McVay might get. And given the state of the NFC East, Drew Brees’ expected retirement and Tom Brady’s advancing age (right?), the Rams are likely to be considered one of the conference’s Super Bowl front-runners going into next season.
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Rest of the NFC West: The Rams reached the playoffs despite Goff’s uneven play – lowlighted by a loss to the previously 0-13 New York Jets. Now the division champion Seahawks, break-even Cardinals and injury-riddled 49ers appear like they’ll be dealing with a much tougher beast in 2021.
Rams’ long-term future: The last time L.A. drafted in the first round? How about 2016, when Goff was the No. 1 overall pick. As it stands now, Snead and McVay won’t be picking in Round 1 again … until 2024. But heck, with so much now invested in Stafford – he’s under contract through 2022 – DL Aaron Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey, can’t blame L.A. for mortgaging the Sunset Strip in order to compete now … though it must be noted this team has done a nice job procuring players despite sitting out the draft’s first night on an annual basis.
2021 QB draft prospects? The Lions are scheduled to pick seventh in the first round of this year’s draft. With Stafford on the way out, they’d seemed a likely destination for a young quarterback like BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. That may still be the case, though any quarterback drafted by Detroit will likely now be stuck on the bench for at least a year. There’s also a chance the Lions will now bypass QBs altogether, meaning one or two of these players could find themselves slipping down the board and earning less money.
Goff: Oof. Five years ago, he was the top pick of the draft. Two years ago, he was in the Super Bowl. A little more than one year ago, he was signing his now-infamous four-year, $134 million extension. A few weeks ago, he was gamely running onto a playoff field with pins holding together his thumb less than two weeks after it had been surgically repaired.
But now? A 26-year-old who made the Pro Bowl twice after McVay came to L.A. seems like damaged goods and unlikely to be more than a placeholder for the rebooting Lions. Goff may not even get to play with WR Kenny Golladay, whose contract is expiring, and – after being backed by the league’s top-ranked defense in 2020 – must now make do with a D that ranked last in the league. Not the best circumstances for a guy hoping to resurrect his career.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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