There is a big debate going on in town and it’s one that’s been going for a while. Seriously, it just won’t die. Did the Detroit Lions make the right trade when they sent Matthew Stafford to the Rams?
The Lions had many offers to consider when Matthew Stafford hit the trade block in January of 2020. The Denver Broncos reportedly offered up their first round pick and eventually threw Drew Lock into the mix, the Washington Commanders (lol at that name for the 100th time) offered the 19th pick and a third rounder and the Bears got immediately hung up on for obvious reasons.
The pick that Lions fans really go back and forth on was the Carolina Panthers offer. Per reports, the Panthers offered the 2021 eighth overall pick, a later pick that was unspecified and Teddy Bridgewater for Matthew Stafford. There are many Lions fans that feel the Lions should have gone this way over the deal the deal from the Rams. Let’s take a look at both trades and talk about why the Rams trade was the best way to go.
Eighth overall pick, later pick and Teddy Bridgewater for Matthew Stafford
There were some benefits here for sure. To start, Teddy Bridgewater’s contract is a lot easier to handle than Jared Goff’s. This would have set the Lions up to immediately move on since Bridgewater only had one year left on his deal. With that eighth pick, the Lions could have got in on the Justin Fields or Mac Jones conversation and still picked Penei Sewell. Maybe they could have picked Micah Parsons like Parsons said they thought about doing with the seventh pick before Sewell fell.
All that sounds good in theory, but it also requires some revisionist history. It’s hard to know if any of these guys work out in Detroit based off the fact that they worked out elsewhere. With Fields, we still don’t know if that worked out in Chicago. Of course Mac Jones worked out in New England and Micah Parsons might have been good regardless of where he went. Still, you never know if any of them would have worked in Detroit.
Let’s say the Lions go with that eighth pick and take one of the quarterbacks. Regardless of whether or not they worked out, that’s it. The compensation the Lions got for Stafford is gone and this is the quarterback they have to make work. They also have to make that work with what they got moving forward. That means no extra first round picks in the next two drafts and their bridge guy in Bridgwater is gone. The Lions would have jumped a bunch of rebuild steps and went right to the point where they need to exclusively build around this quarterback. If it’s Justin Fields, that scares me. I know everyone thinks he’s super good, but it’s clear he needs time to develop. Does this Lions team win right away with him and his issues that he has to overcome? I don’t think so.
A similar situation happens with Parsons. The Lions get a great defender and then that’s it. I guess the point that I’m making is that the Panthers trade value immediately goes away after a year because the Lions use that value right away.
Of course the major positive though is that the Lions would have themselves in a better cap situation with Bridgewater. His hit on the cap in 2021 would have only been $4.4 million and that would have likely been that. Goff’s contract will affect the Lions cap until at least 2023. So maybe the Lions could have been more active in free agency this offseason and last. Still, the Lions have the 13th most cap space in the league going into 2022. They should still be set to make some moves, just not as many as that maybe could have.
Two future first round picks, a 2021 third round pick and Jared Goff
With the Rams trade, it’s the opposite. The Lions, a rebuilding team, have assets to help them rebuild for the next two years. Not just any assets though, first round assets. First round assets are nice. The Lions have options here. The Lions can either use their acquired assets to get supremely-talented players, or they can use their assets to trade up or down. When you’re a rebuilding team, future assets help you down the road. With the Panthers pick, it felt the Lions would have been almost forced to hit the home run then because they wouldn't get another extra at base in a later inning.
Sure the Goff contract is hard to swallow, but it presents the Lions their best chance to evaluate their future at the position. The Lions can get their quarterback this April, or they can wait till the following draft. Maybe—and it’s a big maybe—Goff works out well enough that he winds up being the future the team is looking for. If he’s not, and the Lions do decide to go get their guy and move on from Goff, they can do that after the 2022 season.
Another point that shouldn’t go unnoticed, and hasn’t, is that the Lions did right by one of their players. After the Quandre Diggs and Darius Slay mishaps and the Calvin Johnson fiasco, the Lions did the right thing for a player that gave them all that he could. They could have easily traded him to Carolina and been done with it, but Stafford reportedly did not want to be a Panther. The Lions made that happen for him and they got a really good deal on their end, too. That sort of thing gets noticed by players both on the team and those thinking about coming to Detroit.
Free agents want to get paid and win championships, but they also want to be somewhere where they’re wanted and they’re being taken care of. This trade shows that they’ll be taken care of while in Detroit and they’ll be taken care of on their way out of Detroit.
At the end of the day, there are pluses and minuses to both deal, but there seems to be more pluses to the deal the Lions took with the Rams over the Panthers deal.
With hindsight, which trade would you have taken?
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