NFL trade grades: Clearing up who really won the Lions-Rams Matthew Stafford deal

Even if the trade is close, there has to be a winner and there has to be a loser. Those are the rules.
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Los Angeles Rams v Detroit Lions
NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Los Angeles Rams v Detroit Lions / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

When it comes to quarterback trades in the NFL it always feels like there’s a winner and a loser. The Colts traded for Carson Wentz and they were the losers. The Denver Broncos traded for Russell Wilson and they were the mega losers. The Cleveland Browns traded for DeShaun Watson and they were the ultra-mega losers. It feels like someone is always getting fleeced.

Then we have the Los Angeles Rams and the Detroit Lions trade from March 18, 2021. The Lions sent Matthew Stafford to the Rams, and the Rams sent Jared Goff, a 2021 third-round pick, and both their 2022 and 2023 first-round picks to the Lions.

Given what we now know and how history has played out so far, this certainly doesn’t feel quite like the one-sided swindling that we’ve seen in the past. 

The Stafford and Goff trade from 2021 is one of the fairest trades in recent NFL history, but there has to be a winner and a loser

You’d think you would have to look at the stats when it comes to this trade but it turns out both Stafford and Goff have been freakishly similar since they swapped houses.

That means we just have to look at the outcomes for the franchises, which makes life a whole lot easier than trying to decipher and assign value to completion percentage vs. success rate, which no one wants to do.

The argument for the Rams winning this trade is simple: They won a Super Bowl with Matt Stafford. That’s literally every single team’s goal. If you make a trade for the most important position in professional sports and use that player to win a championship, it is a great trade and you get an A+.

Who cares what happens after that? Yeah, the Rams had a disastrous season in 2022, going 5-12 as the defending Super Bowl Champions, but that was to be expected. Stan Kroenke and his lackeys sold their souls for a championship and it worked.

The Lions’ side of this is a little more complicated because of the draft picks and their history of being, simply put, a loser franchise. 

The Lions used the third-rounder from 2023 (which ended up being the 101st pick overall) and drafted Ifeatu Melifonwu, a defensive back from Syracuse. In his first three seasons in the NFL, he’s averaging just 35 percet of the defensive snaps in a much-maligned defensive backfield. That’s not great. 

Through a series of trades, they turned the 2022 first-rounder into Jameison Williams, a wide receiver from Alabama, who has yet to play a full season in the NFL due to an injury and a gambling-related suspension. You can see he has potential as a burner, but we’ll see if that comes to fruition.

The Lions also turned the 2023 first-rounder into Jahmyr Gibbs, a running back from Alabama, and Sam LaPorta, a tight end from Iowa. These are two dead-to-rights studs who are going to be a staple in the Lions' offense for the near-to-distant future. 

Then there’s the Jared Goff of it all… the quarterback who just signed a four-year deal with Detroit, worth up to $212 million ($170 million guaranteed). This is the player who led the Lions to the 2023 NFC Championship Game, gave them their first playoff win in over 20 years, and stole the hearts of Lions’ fans. Hell, he got Lions fans to boo Stafford on his homecoming. That’s the part that swings the trade in favor of Detroit.

There are Rams fans... There might not be a lot of them but they do exist and they are passionate. It’s just that Los Angeles is not the Rams’ town, whereas Detroit IS the Lions’ town. Matt Stafford won a Super Bowl, but Los Angeles didn’t care. Jared Goff brought the Lions to the playoffs and the 2023 season reinvigorated Lions’ fans. 

That’s the trump card here. You can’t rationally disparage Stafford’s 2021 season or devalue the Rams’ Super Bowl (although that defensive holding call on Logan Wilson was ticky-tack), but Jared Goff cured Lions fans of a metaphorical football leprosy. Hell, he got Lions fans to boo Stafford on his homecoming.

The Rams get an A+, but we’re talking about a 98 percent A+. After the trades, the talent acquisition, and the amount of reinvigorated football love, the Lions get a 99 percent A+. It’s ruthlessly close, but you have to ask yourself, ‘What’s more important: a Super Bowl for LA, or this old guy?