The Detroit Lions finally did right by one of their disgruntled stars.
After watching Barry Sanders sneak off to an early retirement because he was fed up with the organization, and taking some of Calvin Johnson’s money when he retired, the Lions gave Matthew Stafford the fresh start he wanted — and in the place he wanted — even if that was not the primary reason they pulled off Saturday’s blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Rams.
Stafford bought a house in Newport Coast, Calif., two years ago, and when his name first surfaced in trade rumors last winter, his wife, Kelly, made no secret of where she wanted to end up.
“Well if Detroit is done with us … I could stay in Cali,” she wrote in an Instagram story, over the headline of an article suggesting the Los Angeles Chargers were Stafford’s most likely trade destination.
That never materialized, of course. The Chargers spent the sixth pick in last year’s draft on Justin Herbert, and the old Lions regime of Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia never seemed interested in trading Stafford, perhaps because their own jobs were on the line.
Fast forward a year, and with Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell now in charge and Stafford making no secret of his desire to move on from the team that drafted him 12 years ago, the Lions swung a trade that one source familiar with the deal called “a win-win” for everyone involved.
The Lions received quarterback Jared Goff, a third-round pick in this year’s draft and first-round choices in 2022-23, and Stafford gets his wish to perhaps finish his career in California, in one of the NFL’s most creative offenses, where he spends part of his offseason anyway.
Late Saturday night, Kelly Stafford took to Instagram again, tied with former teammate Dan Orlovsky’s Twitter account as the family’s favorite method of public communication, and posted a fan’s mockup of Stafford in a Rams No. 9 jersey to the music of Archie Eversole’s popular anthem, “We ready.”
Later in the same story, she linked a video of Stafford with two of his daughters in the backyard of what appeared to be their California home.
“Pretty excited about all the Cali sunsets in our future,” she wrote.
Stafford, who turns 33 next week, has a chance to ride off into his own California sunset in part because the organization finally realized it is good business to listen to — and not just employ — your stars, even if what they are telling you is not what you want to hear.
Campbell told the Free Press early Saturday morning, before the trade was consummated, that Stafford had done his part to make sure this was going to be an amicable split, and the Lions were “mindful of trying to give him what he wants,” knowing they ultimately had to make the best deal for the team.
Stafford was helpful when Campbell called him a week ago, a few days after he reiterated his trade request, not to try to recruit him to stay but to get insight into what had gone wrong with the organization the past dozen years.
“He’s been nothing but a pro, he’s a stud,” Campbell said. “I understand why he wants to do what he wants to do. I get it 100%.”
As trade talks grew “hot and heavy” Saturday and Holmes spent the day sifting through seven or eight offers, Lions president Rod Wood and Stafford remained in constant communication, talking what one source estimated was “five or six times.”
Every offer the Lions received included a first-round pick, the source said, and suitors emerged from every corner of the league.
The Lions did not exactly give Stafford his choice of trade destinations. Rather, the source insisted, the best deal happened to be with the team he was most excited about joining.
Whether the Lions took the right deal won’t be known for several years.
Though it’s unclear the full terms of what teams like Washington, the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers were offering, it’s obvious the Lions chose to delay the return on their trade in hopes of cashing in big when they are more ready to contend (they hope) down the road.
Holmes, Campbell and the rest of the organization have a lot of work to do to get to that point.
Goff played in a Super Bowl two years ago, and at 26 years old, has plenty of prime seasons left in his career. But he is more of a placeholder at the most important position on the field than someone good teams willingly build around. Even if he proves to be the latter in Detroit, he is coming to a team that is suddenly up against the salary cap and with major holes to fill at receiver and across the defense.
The Lions, though, finally did right by one of their stars, and in the big picture there is something to be said for that.
Three decades after the organization drove Sanders to early retirement through its own malfeasance, and five years after Johnson’s career came to a similarly premature end, the Lions gave Stafford the chance to flourish in a place he and his family wanted to be.
That’s good business, and there is plenty of value in that — especially if the Lions can finally pair it with good football on the field.