By GREG BEACHAM
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Detroit Lions are trading quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for quarterback Jared Goff, two future first-round draft picks and a third-round pick, a person with knowledge of the deal tells The Associated Press.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity Saturday night because the deal has not been completed and will not become official until the start of the new league year March 17. ESPN first reported the swap, which will include the Rams’ first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 along with their third-round pick this year.
The blockbuster trade of two former No. 1 overall draft picks will provide a fresh start for two durable starting quarterbacks who probably need a change of scenery.
Stafford asked to be traded shortly after the current season ended with the Lions’ third straight campaign with at least 10 losses. He has been one of the NFL’s most prolific passers during his 12-year career spent entirely in Detroit, but has never won a playoff game.
Meanwhile, the Rams’ coaching staff and front office have publicly expressed a clear loss of confidence in Goff in recent weeks, even after Los Angeles earned its third playoff berth and posted its fourth straight winning record during Goff’s four years under coach Sean McVay. Goff also led the Rams to the Super Bowl after the 2018 season.
Stafford, who turns 33 in February, has two years left on a $135 million, five-year contract. After a career spent attempting to escape from the weight of the Lions’ lamentable history, Detroit’s franchise leader in almost every statistical passing category is headed to California to join McVay’s consistent winner.
Goff is about to start a four-year, $134 million contract with $110 million guaranteed. Just like longtime teammate Todd Gurley, he is leaving the Rams before his huge contract extension even begins. Los Angeles likely had to pay a premium in draft picks to persuade the Lions to take on Goff’s deal.
The Lions had several offers for Stafford, and they all included first-round picks, according to another person with direct knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because those details were not announced.
Stafford was made aware of the teams that wanted to acquire him, and the Rams were one of the franchises he was excited about potentially joining, according to the person.
Stafford already has friends and a place to stay on the West Coast: Stafford owns an estate in Newport Coast, southeast of Los Angeles in Orange County, and he is a childhood friend and former high school teammate of longtime Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
Although the Rams didn’t confirm the trade, their official Twitter account tweeted at Kershaw, asking him: “Have you heard from an old friend today?”
The familiarity of these two franchises’ front offices likely helped the difficult deal: New Detroit general manager Brad Holmes just left his job as the Rams’ director of college scouting under general manager Les Snead earlier this month.
Goff was the most recent first-round pick made by the Rams back in 2016. Snead has now traded away his top pick or moved back in seven consecutive drafts to acquire top talent including Goff, receiver Brandin Cooks, All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey — and now Stafford.
The Rams went 10-6 this season and beat NFC West champion Seattle in the playoffs before losing at Green Bay despite a second straight mediocre season from Goff, who hasn’t emerged as an elite quarterback after five seasons in the league. Goff passed for 3,952 yards and 20 touchdowns — his lowest total since his rookie year — with 13 interceptions and six lost fumbles over 15 games.
Stafford appears to be a clear upgrade at the most important position for McVay, whose reputation as an offensive mastermind has taken several hits over the past two years while Goff and a stagnant skill-position talent pool struggled to execute his schemes effectively.
Goff, the fourth-leading passer in Rams history with 18,171 career yards, frequently appeared to be a budding star in his first two seasons under McVay when the Rams ranked first (2017) and second (2018) in the NFL in points scored. He hasn’t built on that success: Goff’s 38 turnovers over the past two seasons are the second-most in the NFL, and the Rams’ inconsistent offense was largely carried this season by its defense.
During the 2020 finale, Stafford surpassed the 45,000-yard mark in the 165th game of his career — the fewest games an NFL player needed to reach that total. He threw three touchdown passes in that game against Minnesota, raising his career total to 282.
Like many of Stafford’s accomplishments in Detroit, they were marred by a loss as the Lions fell to 5-11 for their third straight double-digit loss season and his career record dropped to 74-90-1 in the regular season.
Shortly after last season, Stafford asked to be traded and spared from another rebuilding project. The Lions asked him to wait until they hired a new general manager and coach, but luring Holmes from the Rams to run Detroit’s front office and giving New Orleans Saints tight ends coach Brad Campbell a shot to be a head coach again didn’t change his mind.
Detroit drafted the strong-armed Stafford out of Georgia with the hopes he could end the Lions’ drought of just one playoff victory since winning the 1957 NFL title.
Stafford became one of the NFL’s most productive quarterbacks, but went 0-3 in the 2011, 2014 and 2016 postseasons.
Indianapolis, Washington, New England and San Francisco were among several teams believed to have expressed serious interest in acquiring Stafford, who earned his only Pro Bowl selection in 2014. Goff is a two-time Pro Bowl selection.
Stafford was AP’s Comeback Player of the Year in 2011 after bouncing back from an injury-stunted start to his career. He is No. 16 on the league’s career list with 45,109 yards passing and 282 passing touchdowns while playing on just four winning teams and no division champions.
Playing for a team that was often trailing, he led 31 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career and earned 38 victories with game-winning drives.
Detroit drafted Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah last year No. 3 overall, passing on quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert.
The Lions have the No. 7 overall pick this year, and now that they have a veteran quarterback, they may draft a player to improve an awful defense. Detroit’s defense set franchise records by allowing 519 points and 6,716 yards last season, breaking marks set by its winless team in 2008 and ranking among the worst ever in the league.
The Lions will face the Rams next season at SoFi Stadium.
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.