Matthew Stafford had long been the face of the Lions.
He was the first overall draft selection in the 2009 NFL Draft after a standout career at Georgia, and he immediately took over as the team’s starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2009 season.
Stafford holds about every quarterback record there is to hold in Detroit. His 45,109 passing yards are nearly 30,000 more than second. His 282 touchdown passses are more than 150 away from second. With 74 quarterback wins, he has 21 more than the next closest QB. His 62.6 completion percentage is better than any QB that has finished at least one full season’s worth of being a starter. Though by no means a mobile quarterback, he even ranks 21st in rushing touchdowns (14) and 33rd in rushing yards (1,198).
That’s why it has certainly been a strange season for Detroit fans to see him out in Los Angeles and a different quarterback under center for the Lions. But why did the team ever move on from the franchise icon? Sporting News dives in to what led to his departure.
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Why did the Lions trade Matthew Stafford?
For all the individual success Stafford found with the Lions, team success was never there.
During his 12 years with the Lions, Detroit had a winning record only four times and reached the playoffs only three times. Each time they arrived in the postseason, the result was the same: an exit in the Wild Card round.
Stafford, 33 years old at the time of the trade, ended the season ranked 17th all-time in passing yards with 45,109 and 16th all-time in passing touchdowns. He was coming off his eighth season with at least 4,000 passing yards. The talent was clearly still there, and even though he was getting up there in age, he has had a sterling legacy. He just needed a real shot at a ring.
Detroit was clearly not going to give him that chance anytime soon. Following a third straight season in the basement of the NFC North, the Lions changed coaches and were preparing for an organizational overhaul.
Stafford decided that he wanted out. After the 2020 season ended, the Detroit Free Press reported that the Lions and Stafford had agreed to seek a trade.
Following his trade to the Rams, he explained to the Free Press that while he never saw himself playing anywhere else, he wanted a chance to play for a championship.
“I’ve always wanted to play in those big games, I feel like I will excel in those situations,” he told the Free Press. “I wanted to shoot my shot.”
Stafford explained that he and his wife, Kelly Stafford, began discussions to leave Detroit before the 2020 season began. He said that once it became apparent that another chance was coming with the general manager and head coach that he felt it was time for him to move on.
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“I shared my disappointment in not being able to bring them what I ultimately wanted, a championship,” Stafford told the Free Press. “It was a tough conversation, probably the hardest one I’ve ever had, but one that I walked out of, frankly, blown away with their support and their understanding. The respect. I mean it was pretty incredible.”
While the Lions could have declined the chance to trade him and keep him in Detroit, where he had two years left on his deal, they agreed to part ways with their franchise quarterback. The deal made sense from Detroit’s point of view as well. With Stafford as the quarterback, they’d likely win enough games to keep them out of the lower draft pick range, and they’d be keeping about $43 million in cap space over the next two years to pay him.
There were several contenders that were interested in making a run at him, including the Panthers, Broncos, Colts, 49ers, Washington and the Patriots, but it was the Rams that ultimately enticed the Lions. Detroit received Jared Goff, an experienced QB who could still win some games and keep the team competitive, first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 and a third-round pick in 2021.
For a rebuilding team like the Lions, that’s a lot to work with, even if the picks will ultimately be a bit lower considering the Rams are expected to be a perennial contender.
And for Stafford, it brought him to an immediate Super Bowl powerhouse that instantly became a favorite pick among many to win the title this year.
Matthew Stafford compared to Jared Goff
There isn’t much of a comparison between how the two quarterbacks have played this season. Of course, it is important to bear in mind that Stafford has the far superior receiving corps with Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods — pre-injury — and now Odell Beckham Jr., as well as a better offensive line.
But simply looking at the 2021 stats of the two quarterbacks, Stafford has far and away been the better QB this season. Stafford has completed 67.7 percent of his passes with 3,014 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns and eight interceptions in 10 games played so far. He ranks fourth in passing yards this season and third in passing touchdowns, and his Rams sit at 7-3, tied for the fourth-best record in the NFL.
Goff and the Lions have struggled. Mightily. Goff has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 2,109 yards with eight touchdown passes and six interceptions in nine games. With Goff as the starter, Detroit has gone 0-8-1. He missed Detroit’s Week 10 game due to an injury, and Tim Boyle was even worse as the starter, passing for only 77 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns in a 13-10 loss to the Browns.