By trading for Matthew Stafford, the Los Angeles Rams have made a major statement to the rest of the NFL: they are in it to win it. To acquire the former No. 1 pick, the Rams sent their 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick, 2021 third round pick and starting quarterback Jared Goff to the Detroit Lions. This season revealed that the Rams have a Super Bowl-caliber defense that is held back by their offense, reinforcing the widely held belief that the Rams win in spite of Goff — and not because of him.
Even though the Rams gave up a ton of assets, adding Stafford improves both the Rams’ floor and ceiling. The Rams can now lean on their quarterback rather than develop ways to protect him, a luxury that head coach Sean McVay did not have with Goff. Stafford’s processing speed, ability to shift in the pocket, internal clock, ability to make plays off-script, toughness, willingness to take risks downfield and arm talent make him a clear and obvious upgrade over Goff. Despite having only four winning seasons of his 12 as a starter, Stafford carries a folkloric narrative that he is an elite quarterback who is consistently bogged down by an inadequate supporting cast. Even though Stafford’s fit with the Rams will almost certainly be more fun in our imaginations than it will be in reality, he makes the Rams a much better team than they were with Goff. With their star-studded defense and Stafford in the McVay offense, the Rams instantly become one of the most complete teams in the NFC if not the entire NFL. For this reason, the trade was a win for the Rams.
At the same time, the Lions won this trade from a value perspective. Despite dealing their franchise quarterback, the Lions received a serviceable transition quarterback and picks which they can use to draft their next franchise quarterback. Given the strength of this year’s quarterbacks, there is a strong possibility that the Lions use their newly acquired picks to move up from their No. 7 pick. Neither of the owners of the No. 2 and No. 3 picks, the Jets and Dolphins respectively, has immediate needs at the QB position which could make them a natural trading partner for the Lions. A hypothetical trade would make it possible for the Lions to select star quarterback prospects Justin Fields or Zach Wilson and then let Goff start until their franchise QB is ready. Also, if they are not enamored with any of the quarterbacks in this class, having Goff gives them the luxury of waiting until they find their guy. Despite parting with the face of their franchise, dealing Stafford provided the Lions with the foundation that they needed for their rebuild.
The Stafford trade allows for an examination of the Rams’ radical team building strategy, in which they have traded seven first-round picks since 2016 to acquire star players such as Brandin Cooks, Jalen Ramsey and now Matthew Stafford. While teams in win-now mode don’t usually stockpile draft picks, no team has purged as many first-round picks as the Rams. In a way it makes sense; the Rams are investing in known commodities instead of unknown college players. First-round picks are not as much of a sure thing as they seem; if they were, then Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes would have been at the top of their draft classes. The ugly truth is that scouting is far from perfect or an exact science and the Rams are using that truth to their advantage. If this strategy leads the Rams to a Super Bowl championship, it could lead to the devaluation of first-round picks and change the entire trajectory of the league as other teams try to replicate the Rams.