Longtime Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford found a new home this offseason in a blockbuster trade to the Los Angeles Rams, where he’s expected to contend for a Super Bowl.
For the first time since the massive deal involving ex-Rams signal-caller Jared Goff went down, Stafford has spoken out publicly about leaving Detroit, his thought process leading up to the trade and how he envisions his NFL future playing out.
Matthew Stafford didn’t want to go through another rebuild
In a lengthy interview with Mitch Albom, much of which the renowned writer featured in an article for the Detroit Free Press, Stafford spoke about how the Lions’ latest regime change and rebuild wasn’t a fit for where he wanted to be a dozen years into his career:
“Anytime you switch GMs and a head coach, you know that they’re going to want to bring their own people in, and that’s going to take time. And I, frankly, didn’t feel like I was the appropriate person to oversee that time. […] I was going to be able to help us go win six, seven, eight games, because I wasn’t gonna let us lose more than that…But I probably wasn’t good enough (by myself) to help us win more than that. And maybe we don’t ever get those top picks that we needed. […] Sometimes it’s not the perfect storybook ending in the same place. But I can leave here knowing that I gave this team every damn thing I had.”Matthew Stafford on leaving Detroit Lions
Stafford also said he was “blown away” by how supportive the Lions organization was when he came to them with a trade request, and felt like the conversation he had with Detroit’s leadership couldn’t have gone any better. The two sides had a mutual understanding, and left on extremely good terms.
“I cannot express how much gratitude I feel towards the Lions for handling it the way they did,” Stafford said.
The 33-year-old field general envisioned a hypothetical retirement press conference years down the road as a career-long member of the Lions. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out that way, as it became clear if Stafford remained in Detroit, neither side was going to make its goal of winning a championship during his tenure.
Matthew Stafford: Los Angeles Rams weren’t an obvious trade fit
Rams general manager Les Snead is known for wheeling and dealing. He sacrifices first-round picks on the regular, with the mentality that his team is in it to win a championship every single season. That’s an admirable mentality, yet it goes against the conventional NFL wisdom of building through the draft and acquiring a plethora of cheaper, younger players on rookie contracts, and then picking and choosing star veterans to acquire.
Although Stafford spoke about how thrilled he was to land in LA due to the coaching staff, led by Sean McVay, and how the team has been to the playoffs in three of the past four years and appeared in a Super Bowl, the Rams seemed like one of the last places he’d go. However, he’s embracing the opportunity to finally win in the postseason, as he explained to Albom:
“I just didn’t know how they would ever be able to (pull it off). You know, I’m not a salary cap guru. […] As much as I’m moving to a place that’s got some pieces that are ready to go, I’m also betting on myself too, betting that I’m the person that can take them there. So this is a big challenge for me.”Matthew Stafford on joining Los Angeles Rams
The Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Football Team were also in the market to upgrade their quarterback situations, and had more salary cap room to do so.
However, Los Angeles wound up outbidding everyone, trading away Goff and two first-round picks for the rights to Stafford. It also helped that a former Rams executive, Brad Holmes, was hired this offseason as the Lions’ new GM and is evidently a fan of Goff’s upside.
Matthew Stafford describes injury-plagued 2020 season
Some people, such as retired New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, have publicly questioned Stafford’s toughness. Some don’t believe he had a burning desire to be great while he was with the Lions.
Well, what about the torn ligament in his right throwing thumb he played through in 2020? Or the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow that, as he described it, needed tons of tape, concealed by an arm sleeve, just to hold his arm in place?
Stafford dealt with broken rib cartilage and a subtlar right ankle sprain, too.
Not tough enough? Didn’t have the “want” to be great? For any of Stafford’s shortcomings in Detroit, those are invalid critiques, because he embodied the spirit of the Motor City with his exemplary ability to gut through injuries. He started all 16 games in nine of his final 10 seasons with the Lions, and has racked up impressive numbers, highlighted by 45,109 passing yards, 282 touchdown tosses and 31 fourth-quarter comebacks.
Can Matthew Stafford deliver the Los Angeles Rams a Super Bowl title?
All that leads us into the next point: it’s a bottom-line business in the NFL, and Stafford, like he said, is betting on himself that he can thrive with a better organization — or at least one more equipped to build a sustainable winner around him.
The Rams play in an extremely tough NFC West division, but do boast an enviable collection of star power. They have three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald in the trenches, All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey leading the secondary, and one of the better receiver duos in the league in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
Oh, and McVay is widely considered the brightest young offensive coach in recent league history. All this creates championship expectations, and considering Stafford hasn’t delivered a playoff win since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2009 and is coming off so many severe injuries, it’s fair to question whether he can get the job done.
It’s not a sure thing in LA. As was touched on before, Snead and the front office are being hyper-aggressive with personnel moves. That could well backfire at any time and send the franchise into salary cap hell and a possible long-term rebuild.
But this is what makes it such a thrill. Stafford is a member of a team that seems like it can back up the bold moves and walk the walk. He’s with a franchise that’s really going for it. The Rams are confident enough in McVay and Stafford that they’ll live with coming up short with them over not taking a chance, cutting ties with Goff and eating a bunch of dead cap money just for the chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
One thing’s for sure: Stafford won’t go down without a fight and will leave everything out there on the field for his new team.
“I’ve always wanted to play in those big games, I feel like I will excel in those situations,” Stafford told Albom. “I wanted to shoot my shot.”