The Los Angeles Rams have made a substantial upgrade at the quarterback position, trading Jared Goff and a couple of first round picks for longtime Lions QB Matthew Stafford:
I’ve written on this site before about how I think Stafford is an incredibly underrated QB. For the past few months it has been rumored that the Lions would begin a full rebuild and allow him to move on, and I’ve been very excited about that. I wanted to see Stafford get out of Detroit, a city the media doesn’t care about, and away from the Lions, a horrendously bad football organization that has largely wasted his talents for 12 years.
Detroit has consistently failed to surround Stafford with the requisite talent and competence to win in the NFL. They’ve only had a good defense once during the Stafford era (2014, they went 11-5 and made the playoffs). They’ve had one 1,000 yard rusher since 2004 (Reggie Bush in 2013, who ran for 1,006 yards). And they’ve had three different coaches since Stafford was drafted in 2009, none of them particularly good (Jim Schwartz, Jim Caldwell, Matt Patricia). Stafford had Megatron, sure, but Megatron retired at the early age of 30 because of how bad the Lions organization was.
Now Stafford has a great coach in Sean McVay. The Rams appear to be a competent organization. They’ve got a good running game with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson. They’ve got an elite defense.
The Rams definitely upgraded in moving from Goff to Stafford.
But Stafford upgraded even more. The dude went from driving a 2004 Chevy Cavalier to a Mercedes.
The Rams are now all-in. They’re one of the most win-now teams in the league. They have no first round picks. They traded them all away. First it was the Ramsey trade, now it’s the Stafford trade.
After this trade, the Rams will not have a first round pick until 2024–and this is on top of them not having made a first round selection since they took Jared Goff in 2016:
They traded their 2017 first rounder with Tennessee so they could move up and take Jared Goff in 2016 (if you’re curious, the Titans turned that pick into Corey Davis).
They traded their 2018 first-rounder to the Pats for Brandin Cooks (Pats turned the pick into Sony Michel).
In 2019, it was the Falcons trading up for the Rams’ #31 overall first round pick so the Falcons could take Kaleb McGary. The Rams got a 2nd and a 3rd round pick in that year’s draft in return.
And then they traded their 2020 & 2021 first-rounders to the Jags for Jalen Ramsey. Now their 2022 & 2023 first-rounders belong to Detroit.
Will it all come back to bite the Rams eventually? First-round picks are the lifeblood of most teams in the league. They need to hit on those picks consistently to get and stay good. Teams’ fortunes tend to rise and fall based on the success of their high draft picks. Just look at a team like Cleveland: their incredible turnaround since the winless 2017 has been led by Baker Mayfield (1st overall pick in 2018), Denzel Ward (4th overall pick in 2018), Myles Garrett (1st overall pick in 2017) and Nick Chubb (early 2nd-round pick in 2018).
First round picks are insanely valuable in the NFL. I can’t overstate it enough. So it’s entirely possible we’ll end up looking back on the Rams trading away seven straight first round picks as an all-time blunder.
But that’s only if they don’t win a Super Bowl. If they win one Super Bowl, then it will all have been worth it.
And in the Rams’ defense, though a lot of those trades haven’t worked out (trading up for Goff, trading for Cooks), they have targeted the most important positions on the field with their trades lately. They got a then-25 year-old Jalen Ramsey, arguably the best cornerback in the league. And now they have a guy in Stafford who I believe can be a top 5-7 QB in the league.
If you look at it from the Rams’ perspective, they’re assuming their first round picks in 2022 and 2023 are going to be at the end of the first round, in the 29-32 range. Are they really going to find a QB comparable to Stafford with a pick in that range? They are in win-now mode, and so is Matthew Stafford. They don’t have time to develop a young quarterback. In my view it’s way riskier to try assume you’re going to find the next Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert or Patrick Mahomes at the end of the first round than it is to trade that pick for a good QB. Even with Josh Allen, it took a few years for him to develop into the player he is today. Same with Baker Mayfield. They don’t have time to wait for a young QB to develop.
Same logic applies to the Jalen Ramsey trade: are they likely to find a player as good or better than him with either of those two first round picks? Even if they do, it takes a bit to develop a rookie. Jalen Ramsey is a special talent, and guys like him don’t come around very often. He’s still young, too. They decided to flip their draft picks (which represent nothing more than a potential future asset) in exchange for a superstar (a proven current asset). You can take a guy in the first round and hope he becomes a superstar in 2-3 years, or you can get Jalen Ramsey, who you know already is a superstar. Seems like an easy decision in my eyes.
Obviously the Rams had given up on Jared Goff. They had come to the conclusion that they were not going to win a Super Bowl with him. They had the best defense in the league this year and it wasn’t enough with Goff at the helm. So clearly they needed to upgrade the QB position. Once you reach that conclusion about your QB, you have to move off of him ASAP (somebody please tell that to the Chicago Bears). You can’t waste any more time. You’ve got guys like Aaron Donald and Robert Woods who aren’t getting any younger. You cannot afford to waste those guys’ careers.
As with the Jalen Ramsey trade, the Rams swooped in at the right place, right time. The Jags were looking to rebuild and flip Ramsey for future picks, and the Rams took him off their hands. The Lions are looking to rebuild and decided to part ways with their longtime QB, and the Rams had picks to offer.
So if you can’t already tell, I’m a huge fan of this trade for the Rams.
With that defense and now Stafford, they can win a Super Bowl. I am a firm believer that Matthew Stafford is one of the most underrated QBs in the league and doesn’t get anywhere near the recognition he deserves. Just look at what Matthew Stafford’s peers have to say about him:
And this was Aaron Rodgers on Stafford back in November:
“A guy who doesn’t get anywhere near the credit, he wears #9 and plays in Detroit. That dude, what he does with the ball, it’s impressive. It’s really, really impressive. I know Dan Orlovsky highlights some stuff he does from time to time because they played together and they’re good friends, as he should. But that dude is throwing crazy no-lookers all the time. And he can throw from any arm angle. I don’t think he gets–maybe it’s Detroit, I don’t know.”
The football world is about to get re-introduced to Matthew Stafford. No longer is he going to be playing in exclusively-local, early-window games on Sunday where the national audience only sees him on RedZone. Maybe people saw him play a bit on Thanksgiving Day over the years, but even on Thanksgiving, the Lions game is always the afterthought behind the Cowboys game and whatever the night game is. He’s going to be playing in LA now. He goes from a forgotten media market to the second-largest in the country. He goes from a team that never played in primetime games to a team that plays at least a quarter of its games in primetime, nationally-televised broadcasts.
I’m so happy for the guy because it feels like he’s finally getting the “big break” in his career. It sounds silly to say because he’s already in the NFL, after all, but he’s flown under the radar his whole career.
Guys can be in the NFL and still be overlooked. For instance, how many casual NFL fans do you think know who Geno Atkins is? He’s one of the NFL’s very best defensive tackles, making 8 Pro Bowls in his 11 seasons. The only seasons he didn’t make the Pro Bowl were this year, 2013 and 2010. This season he missed 8 games due to injury, in 2013 he missed 7 games and in 2010 he was a rookie. Basically, if he’s healthy, he’s a Pro Bowl lock. The dude is an outstanding football player. He was named to the 2010s All-Decade team and he’ll be a Hall of Famer one day after he retires. But most casual fans–and even lots of self-proclaimed serious fans–probably don’t know who he is, because he plays for the Bengals. Sure, he plays a largely unheralded position, but I honestly believe Aaron Donald would be as relatively unknown as Atkins (i.e. to everyone outside of hardcore film study football nerds) if he didn’t play for the LA Rams, who are usually good every year.
Stafford is inherently more well-known because he’s a quarterback, but it’s the same type of situation in my view.
Not anymore. The football world is going to realize they’ve been sleeping on Matthew Stafford all these years.
Lots of sports fans think that because the Lions have sucked then that means Stafford sucks. They believe that if he was actually that good, then the Lions would have won more with him. But football is a team sport. There’s only so much a QB can do. I think people are starting to realize that nowadays, at least I hope. But after Tom Brady went from looking old and washed up in New England in 2019 to looking like Prime Tom in 2020 with the Bucs, I think it finally started to dawn on people, “Oh, wait, I guess surrounding talent actually does matter.”
Tom Brady would not have 6 rings if he played for the Lions the past 20 years. He might not even have one.
I think the Rams now have the third-best QBs in the NFC. Rodgers, Brady and Stafford are my top three. Yes, I have him ahead of Russell Wilson. Not by a lot, but ahead.
In terms of age, Russell Wilson will turn 33 in November. Stafford turns 33 on Super Bowl Sunday. So they’re just about the same age, surprisingly enough, even though Stafford was drafted in 2009 and Wilson was drafted in 2012. Look, I like Russell Wilson, but I think people have this belief that he is still somehow an unknown quantity, or that he still has potential to improve. He is what he is. He’s 32 years old. It’s not like he has all this potential yet to be unlocked. People are still expecting him to take gigantic leaps as a QB as if he’s 24 years old. He’s never thrown for more than 4200 yards in a season. Sure, he had 40 TDs this past season, but here’s the issue: he had 28 TDs through his first 8 games, then just 12 in the back-half of the season.
Seattle “Let Russ Cook” to start the season, but then for whatever reason, he stopped cooking.
I like Russell Wilson, but let’s be honest about what he is: he’s a B+ to A- level QB. The “Let Russ Cook” season turned out to be pretty par for the course when compared to his past several seasons, maybe a bit better. But it’s not like we saw some massive difference. If you go and look at his stats over the past few seasons, 2020 doesn’t really stand out a whole lot:
Russ and Stafford are pretty close to one another, honestly. But I think that with the team change, the upside with Stafford is greater. Even though Stafford has been in the league a long time, I think he can reach greater heights in 2021 due to the change of scenery.
All in all, I’m very bullish on Stafford & the Rams looking ahead to 2021. They have $110 million of their salary cap committed to Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald, Matthew Stafford, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, so they’re not going to have a lot of room for free agent signings unless they restructure some contracts. But as long as the team stays largely intact, I think they will be one of the best teams in the league. They’ve got all their top players locked down for next season.
As for Jared Goff, yikes. He was born and raised in California, went to Cal for college, and wound up playing for the LA Rams as a pro (although he did spend that one season in St. Louis before the move).
Now he moves to Detroit, and he’s going to play for Dan Campbell, a coach who is about to instill a culture of biting off opposing players’ kneecaps.
Doesn’t seem like the greatest fit, IMHO.
The bigger problem for Goff is that I think most of his production was a result of good playcalling and coaching. McVay made him the best QB he could possibly be, and it still wasn’t enough. Without McVay, I think Goff might be in trouble. If he’s thrown out there and asked to just make some plays and improvise (like Matt Stafford was in Detroit), I think he’s going to struggle.
While Goff wasn’t horrible, he was also one of the most babied quarterbacks in the league. It felt like everything he did was a result of good coaching and scheme, and the guys around him. The training wheels were on the whole time. Will he be able to succeed without the great coaching, defense and supporting cast? I don’t know.
To Goff’s credit, he’s saying the right things. He said he just wants to play somewhere he’s wanted, and if that’s really how he feels, then that’s great because that’s the right mentality. Attitude is hugely important, not just in football, but in life in general. Every situation is what you make of it.
Look, the QB doesn’t necessarily need to match the overall culture of the team. Motor City Dan could instill a gritty, blue-collar culture on that team but they could still have the California Cool pretty boy QB. It could work. It worked in Remember the Titans…
This Stafford trade has ramifications beyond just the two teams involved, too. For one, it immediately ramps up the pressure on the 49ers to upgrade at QB. I view Jimmy G and Jared Goff as pretty similar QBs, and I think it’s evident now that San Fran needs to upgrade just like LA did. Garoppolo is now clearly the worst QB in the NFC West behind Stafford, Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
San Fran needs to go out and get DeShaun Watson. Before the Rams got Stafford, the 49ers didn’t need to go out and get Watson, but they would have obviously greatly benefitted from doing so.
Now, they need DeShaun Watson. I really believe that. They’d go from having the worst QB in the division to having probably the best QB in the division.
They’ve got the 12th pick in the draft this year, and obviously Houston would prefer a higher pick (like, for instance, the Jets’ #2 pick, the Dolphins’ #3 pick, Atlanta’s #4 pick, Carolina’s #8 pick or Denver’s #9 pick). So San Fran is going to need to throw an absolute motherlode of an offer at Houston in order to get Watson. If Stafford was worth Goff plus two first round picks and a third, then Watson is going to be worth at least three, maybe even four first round picks. Or three firsts and a two second rounders, but probably more than that.
The Rams not only acquired a QB capable of taking them to the next level, but they also just put the 49ers, their biggest rival, in a tough position. The 49ers now need to answer, but the problem is that since the Rams made their move first, the 49ers are going to have to give up a lot more in order to get a guy like Watson. The fact that the Stafford trade happened before the Watson trade is bad for every team that missed out on Stafford, which, from what I gather, is a hell of a lot of teams. Because now in order to get Watson, they all must pay an even higher price than the Rams paid for Stafford. Plus, since Stafford is already off the market, that leaves Watson as basically the only top-flight QB left on the market, and so there will now be like 10-15 teams trying to get him. There’s no other options. So it will probably turn into a bidding war.
The DeShaun Watson trade situation just got a lot more interesting. The clock is ticking for the 49ers.