Detroit just pulled off one of the most unique trades in NFL history, as the tanking Lions dealt their franchise player Matthew Stafford to the Rams in exchange for two first-round picks (in 2022 and 2023), L.A.’s 2021 third, and Jared Goff. The deal is right out of the NBA’s playbook, especially as it pertains to Goff’s contract. In addition to giving new GM Brad Holmes a five-year deal and HC Dan Campbell a six-year pact, the Lions are clearly looking long-term and trying to add as much future draft capital as possible to rebuild their roster.
Right when rumors started swirling that the Lions were going to deal Stafford quickly, he was immediately tied to four logical landing spots: Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Washington, and Carolina. Washington (19th overall) and the Panthers (8th) would have needed to part ways with their early picks in the upcoming draft to land Stafford while the Colts didn’t make a first-round pick last year after trading San Francisco for DeForest Buckner.
Then there are the Rams.
L.A. hasn’t made a pick in the first round since it moved up to take Jared Goff first overall in 2016. In that original deal for Goff, the Rams traded their 2016 and 2017 firsts to the Titans. The very next year, they traded their first-rounder to the Patriots for Brandin Cooks. In 2019, L.A. traded their 31st overall pick in a pick swap with the Falcons, then turned around a few months later and shipped off their 2020 and 2021 first-round picks to Jackonville for Jalen Ramsey. The background of the Rams past trades is what makes this deal so much fun. GM Les Snead is a complete madman.
The Rams are like the guy in your dynasty league who trades all of his picks every year for established veterans. It can work … but he better be right. Snead clearly nailed the valuation for Ramsey, but the Goff deal (and extension in 2019), Cooks trade, and Todd Gurley extension were objectively failures.
Is the Matthew Stafford trade an attempt to “make up” for the mistakes of extending both Goff and Gurley and putting the team’s cap space in jeopardy? Absolutely. But, unlike so many teams that are just fine with mediocrity and cashing checks, the Rams are going for Super Bowl wins. Even though they arguably had the best defense in football last season, the offense was clearly their Achilles’ heel. Goff is a fine quarterback when he’s given a clean pocket, but it’s clear that he’s extremely limited when the play doesn’t go perfectly to design.
Even though it feels like Stafford is a 16-year veteran, he’ll be 33-years-old in February and he’s playing better than ever. Over the past two seasons, Stafford is tied for 10th in passer rating (99.8) and ranks 8th in yards per attempt (8.1). Meanwhile, Goff ranks a mediocre 24th-of-40 qualified QBs in passer rating (88.1) and 20th in YPA (7.3) in this span. Keep in mind, Stafford’s play-caller over the last two years was Darrell Bevell, who inarguably held the Lions passing offense back with a slow-paced, “balanced” attack (perhaps at the behest of Matt Patricia, of course, given Stafford is reportedly fond of Bevell).
Before we get into the fantasy impact, this deal 100% works for both sides.
The Rams get a massive upgrade in Stafford who can take this offense to new heights. Just as importantly, L.A. also gets to dump Goff’s bloated contract. According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the Rams are only on the hook for $22M this year with the Lions picking up the tab for the $106.6M remaining on Goff’s deal.
On the Lions side, they now have two first-round picks to stash in 2022 and 2023 to help with their rebuild. Though, to be fair, both of those picks will be late selections if Stafford stays healthy. But, the Lions have much-needed ammo to do this tear down right over the next 3-5 years. Much like when Sashi Brown acquired as much draft capital as possible back when he was rebuilding the Browns in 2016-17, that included taking on Brock Osweiler’s awful contract from the Texans in exchange for a second-round pick in 2018. Goff’s remaining contract is by no means a value, but it undoubtedly played a part in the Lions getting two firsts for Stafford.
Stafford’s fantasy impact on the Rams
HC Sean McVay undoubtedly worked in lockstep with Snead on the Stafford deal. Unlike Goff, Stafford still has an uncanny ability to move in the pocket and extend plays outside of structure, make ridiculous throws from impossible angles, and is an upgrade for what the Rams base their offense around: play action.
Since McVay took over as the Rams play-caller in 2017, L.A. has used play action on a league-high 32.6% of their passing plays. For reference, the next closest team in play-action rate in this span is the Ravens (29.8%) and the league-average is 23.9%.
As far as play-action passing goes, Stafford is a clear upgrade over Goff. Here are their respective numbers on play-action passes dating back to the start of the 2017 season:
|Player||EPA per attempt||On-target throw%||Passer rating|
|Matthew Stafford||0.248 (3rd-best of 30 QBs)||76% (12th)||104.7 (10th)|
|Jared Goff||0.182 (10th-best of 30 QBs)||69% (29th)||96.0 (22nd)|
(Note: EPA = expected points added. All data is from SIS.)
I’m excited to see what McVay and Stafford cook up with a whole offseason to work together. One thing that was missing from the Rams offense last year was a down-the-field attack and Stafford is also unequivocally better than Goff at stretching the field.
Last year, Stafford was one of the league’s best passers on throws of 15+ yards downfield, ranking 5th-best out of 29 qualified QBs in on-target throw rate (67%) and 6th-best in passer rating (121.4) per SIS. Meanwhile, Goff ranked a lowly 27th in on-target passes (50%) on throws that traveled 15+ yards downfield. Only Mitchell Trubisky (47%) and Carson Wentz (43%) were worse. Goff’s 85.2 rating on these attempts ranked 20th.
Obviously, Stafford’s presence is a huge boost to receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp outlooks in 2021. Kupp (15.5) and Woods (15.4) rank as the WR15 and WR16 in fantasy points per game over the last two combined seasons and both have borderline WR1 ceilings with Stafford. I’ll be aggressively targeting both of them in the late-3rd and early-4th rounds of best-ball leagues this spring and summer and obviously looking to stack them up with Stafford.
If the Rams are indeed more efficient offensively with Stafford under center, it’ll only lead to more scoring chances for the entire offense as a whole and should be seen as a slight boost to Cam Akers’ stock as well. However, we were collectively all-in on Akers already. Our consensus staff best-ball ranks have Akers shaking out at 15 overall.
For dynasty, keep in mind that the Rams did extend both Kupp and Woods this past year, but digging a little bit deeper into those contracts reveals that the team essentially front-loaded their extensions and they can easily get out from underneath those deals in 2022. Woods will be 29 in Week 1, while Kupp will be 28. It’s hard not to love both of them for 2021, but the Rams desperately need to add a deep threat and they have Van Jefferson waiting in the wings. If you’re a contender and can get Woods and Kupp at decent prices, I’d be all about it. They’re easy sell-highs if you’re looking to tank in dynasty. Meanwhile, Akers’ stock is on a rocket ship to the GameStop moon.
As for the Lions…
No one was really excited to draft Jared Goff last summer and I can’t imagine that he’ll be anything more than a late-round QB2/3 for bye weeks in best-ball leagues. Goff was the QB23 in fantasy points per game over the last two seasons — which is one spot behind Derek Carr — and there is so much up in the air on what this offense is going to look like in 2021 with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola all hitting free agency.
It’ll be interesting to see where Fantasy Points favorite T.J. Hockenson’s ADP shakes out in drafts and if there is any dip in his perceived value with Goff under center, I could easily see a scenario where we recommend him as a target. Goff is a downgrade from Stafford, but he’s more than capable of keeping his receivers afloat for fantasy. Hockenson was criminally under-utilized last season and being a former tight ends coach, Dan Campbell will hopefully know to feed his best receiver.
As for D’Andre Swift, I really don’t think this changes his short- or long-term outlook too much. We already knew the Lions weren’t going to be a high-scoring juggernaut on offense in 2021 anyway and the addition of Anthony Lynn as Campbell’s OC might actually be a slight boost to Swift’s value. Lynn has never called plays before at the NFL level and routinely mismanaged the Chargers in crucial situations over the past few years, but he did do one thing well for fantasy purposes: feed his running backs.
In Lynn’s first season as HC of the Chargers, Melvin Gordon got 83 targets and then Gordon and Austin Ekeler went on to combine for 119 and 153 targets in 2018-19. And last year when he was healthy, Ekeler averaged a ridiculous 7.1 targets per game across his nine full starts — which shakes out to be a 114-target pace over 16 games.
Swift was an excellent receiver and pass protector when I profiled him in Yards Created and I obviously think he would excel in a high-volume passing down role. Still, at the end of the day, it’ll just come down to how much competition the Lions have on the depth chart behind Swift in 2021. Right now, it’s just Kerryon Johnson. The veteran Adrian Peterson is a free agent once again.