Five lessons the Bears can learn from the Matthew Stafford trade

The Lions sent Stafford, who’d asked for a trade, to the Rams for first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, a third-round pick this year and quarterback Jared Goff.

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The Lions’ deal sending quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams has lessons the Bears can learn from.

The Lions’ deal sending quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams has lessons the Bears can learn from.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Lions started the Week of the Quarterback a day early.

As the NFL was set to turn its attention to a Super Bowl matchup pitting the best quarterback of his generation, Patrick Mahomes, against the most accomplished one of all time, Tom Brady, the Lions agreed to trade their own signal-caller late Saturday.

They sent Matthew Stafford, who had asked for a trade, to the Rams for first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, a third-round pick this year and quarterback Jared Goff. The inclusion of Goff, who fell out of favor with the Rams, got the Lions more in return. Goff’s contract — worth $43 million over the next two years — makes him a liability, not an asset.

The trade won’t be official until the new league year starts March 17.

While the Rams have upgraded the position, the Bears still are looking for their own quarterback. Here are five lessons they can learn from the blockbuster deal:

Watson will cost a fortune

If Stafford was worth that haul, what would the Bears have to give up for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson? Three first-round picks, the naming rights to Willis Tower and a lifetime supply of Al’s Italian beef?

Watson is in a different stratosphere from Stafford. He’s 7½ years younger, already better and, at 25, can be the face of a franchise for at least another decade. He’s signed through 2025.

The Lions got a draft haul for two reasons: They were willing to wait a year to cash in on first-round picks, and they were open to taking on Goff’s onerous contract. Still, the strong return set the bar impossibly high for any quarterback trade, be it for Watson or for someone in a middle-class group that includes the Falcons’ Matt Ryan, the Raiders’ Derek Carr and the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo.

Houston Chronicle reporter John McClain wrote Sunday that the Texans don’t want to deal Watson, who has asked for a trade because of his frustration with his franchise, and will try as long as they can to persuade him to stay. Should that fail, McClain suggested the Texans wait until around the draft to make a trade. He pitched a starting asking price: two first-round picks, two second-round picks and two young defensive starters.

The Bears have young defensive starters in second-team All-Pro inside linebacker Roquan Smith, two-time Pro Bowl safety Eddie Jackson and rookie cornerback Jaylon Johnson. But the timing of a trade and the draft compensation it would require are bad news for the Bears.

For one, they need to fix their quarterback problem during the free-agent period, which starts about six weeks before the draft. For another, their first-round pick — No. 20 overall — doesn’t have nearly the value of the first-round picks held by the Jets (No. 2) or Dolphins (No. 3). The Bears simply can’t add more first-round picks to the haul, either. NFL teams are allowed to trade selections only from the next three drafts.

Creativity matters

To get the best possible return, the Lions agreed to an NBA-style trade that attached additional picks as incentive to take on Goff’s bloated contract. That part of the trade was reminiscent of the Texans adding two draft picks to quarterback Brock Osweiler in a 2017 trade with the Browns. The Browns cut Osweiler before he could play a snap; the Lions will use Goff as a starter in 2021.

The Rams paid a steep price, but they were able to trade a contract that some around the league considered immovable. That’s a valuable lesson for Bears general manager Ryan Pace, who has vowed to be aggressive in acquiring a quarterback.

The Bears, like the Rams, figure to be up against the 2021 salary cap. They have their own veteran quarterback that the league has soured on — Nick Foles — though his contract is more palatable than Goff’s.

Pace still can find a way to get a trade done.

It’s fair to wonder whether the Eagles would consider adding draft picks to move quarterback Carson Wentz, who was drafted one spot after Goff in 2016 and has a similarly pricey contract.

Supply still won’t meet demand

The Bears respect Stafford’s skills — NFL Network listed them among the teams who inquired about his availability — but the Lions were unlikely to deal him to another NFC North team. The Bears’ best hope was that Stafford would end up on a team whose current starter would have represented an upgrade for the Bears.

Had he landed with the 49ers or Raiders, the Bears could have pursued Garoppolo or Carr immediately. In the game of quarterback musical chairs, though, the Bears didn’t see any new space open up. Even worse, all the other teams with obvious quarterback needs — the Jaguars, Jets, Colts, Patriots and Panthers — still need a passer.

Where the QB wants to live matters

Stafford and his wife, Kelly, own a home in Newport Coast, California, near Los Angeles. Last offseason, Kelly Stafford posted a story on Instagram speculating her husband could end up with the Chargers, writing: ‘‘Well, if Detroit is done with us . . . I could stay in Cali.’’

The Lions didn’t take less in return so they could satisfy the Staffords’ California dreams — the quarterback told them he would go anywhere but the Patriots, according to NBC Sports Boston — but their willingness to go to the Rams certainly helped. Is there a quarterback who feels that way about Chicago?

Watson, of course, can control his own destiny with a no-trade clause.

The Lions are rebuilding

The Lions hinted at it when they gave new coach Dan Campbell a six-year contract and confirmed it Saturday: They’re rebuilding and might be truly awful in 2021.

That means more for the Bears beyond two walkover games next season. Drafting seventh, the Lions might join the ranks of teams that consider selecting a quarterback. Or, considering how much time it might take them to rebuild, the Lions may opt to push that draft desire a year into the future, when they might pick even earlier and own the Rams’ first-round pick.

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