The Lions of course traded Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams, but the case that a deal to another team would have been better is out there.
When it became inevitable the Detroit Lions would trade Matthew Stafford last offseason, the list of teams with possible interest was long enough to ensure a solid return. He was of course ultimately dealt to the Los Angeles Rams, for draft picks and Jared Goff’s bloated contract.
At one point it was reported the Carolina Panthers offered the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 draft, a fifth-round pick and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for Stafford. Once that deal didn’t happen, with Stafford playing a big role in where he went, Carolina sent Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos and ended up acquiring Sam Darnold. If the Lions had sent Stafford to the Panthers, they would’ve had two top-10 picks in last April’s draft and Bridgewater’s far more manageable contract.
The Lions made it worse regarding Goff when they restructured his contract to virtually assure they’d be stuck with him for two seasons.
Should the Lions have traded Matthew Stafford to Carolina?
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (behind a paywall, so h/t to SI.com), has stated his case that the Lions should have traded Stafford to the Panthers.
"Goff has been a disaster in Detroit, while Bridgewater at least has the Broncos 5-5 and in the playoff hunt. The Lions used the third-round pick they acquired from the Rams for cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu, who has barely played this season because of injury. And the Lions are still in need of a franchise quarterback, which they could have acquired with the No. 8 pick.”"
After using the seventh overall pick last April on Penei Sewell, the Lions indeed could have taken Justin Fields or Mac Jones with the pick right after from Carolina. It’s true the Broncos are in the playoff hunt with Bridgewater under center, but a 3-0 start against soft opponents padded that .500 start. The Broncos might have been in the mix for Stafford themselves, and they had to settle for Bridgewater.
A 2022 draft class that doesn’t have any elite quarterback prospects makes failing to get one in this year’s draft look worse if there was an opportunity. As a stopgap this year, it’s hard to say Bridgewater would be much better for the Lions than Goff has been with what has largely surrounded the quarterback. The difference comes down to the contracts, and that tips the scales toward acquiring Bridgewater and a top-10 pick for Stafford over Goff and what promises to be a late first-rounder in April. The extra draft picks in the mix of the trade and trade offer are not that important in the big picture.
Even though general manager Brad Holmes had no ties to Stafford, trading him to the Rams gives the Lions’ all-time leading passer a better chance to win a Super Bowl than he would have had in Carolina (at least for this year).
Holmes came to Detroit after being the Rams’ director of college scouting for several years. So right or wrong, he may have done his former organization a solid too. A better deal was probably out there from the Panthers, assuming that No. 8 overall pick would have yielded Fields or Jones as the Lions’ quarterback of the future. But hindsight is the only perfect mode of analysis, and we’ll never know how things would look for everyone if Stafford had been traded to the Panthers–or anywhere other than the Rams.