Matthew Stafford forced a trade and won a Super Bowl — who will be next?
The first play of Sunday’s Super Bowl came 13 months earlier, when Matthew Stafford texted his wife, “Well, here we go,” and walked into a meeting with Lions brass.
LOS ANGELES — The first play of the Super Bowl occurred 13 months before the game Sunday when quarterback Matthew Stafford texted his wife, “Well, here we go,” and walked into a meeting with Lions president Rod Wood and, via speakerphone, owner Sheila Ford Hamp.
The Lions were searching for a head coach and general manager. At 32, Stafford had two years left on his contract and didn’t want to go through another rebuild.
There were great things he wanted to do. He asked to be traded.
The Lions didn’t say no. Instead, they agreed to wait until they’d hired their GM and coach to talk again. Once Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell were in the fold, they held a phone call and agreed to trade Stafford.
“Getting to know Matthew,” Rams coach Sean McVay said Monday morning, “you just realize that he’s one of the few people that could ever pull that off.”
He won’t be the last to try.
Stafford changed the landscape of the NFC North on Jan. 30, 2021, when the Lions — who drafted him first overall in 2009 and later made him the NFL’s highest-paid player — traded him to the Rams for quarterback Jared Goff, first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 and a third-rounder in 2021.
Stafford changed the landscape of the entire NFL on Sunday when he led the Rams to a 23-20 Super Bowl win against the Bengals at SoFi Stadium, completing 26 of 40 passes for 283 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Quarterbacks around the NFL who are dissatisfied with their own situations — and there are plenty — surely took notice. Teams did, too. It’s not enough to draft and develop a franchise QB; the franchise has to then keep him content and the team competitive. (The Bears would love to have that challenge someday if Justin Fields becomes the player they hope he can be.)
Veteran quarterbacks with wanderlust have a month to make a move like Stafford did before the NFL’s legal free-agent tampering period begins March 14.
Aaron Rodgers has vowed to decide his future by then. He has openly flirted with asking the Packers for a trade or retiring outright. On Thursday, he made the latter sound more likely. Given his calculating nature, it’s always hard to decipher Rodgers’ intentions when he speaks publicly. But if he were to leave Green Bay, it would give the Bears their first sustained window to try to dominate the division since Brett Favre started his first game in 1992.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson signed a four-year, $156 million contract exten-sion last year, then demanded a trade within months after he felt the team didn’t listen to his suggestions for a new coach and GM. He has since faced accusations of coercive and lewd sexual behavior from almost two dozen women. He remains with the Texans, although he sat out last season.
Russell Wilson was so ready to leave the Seahawks last offseason that his agent leaked the four teams to which he’d happily be traded. The Bears, one of the four, made an offer in March that the Seahawks rebuffed because Pete Carroll, the NFL’s oldest coach, didn’t want to start over at QB. The Bears inquired about Stafford’s availability, too, but came away convinced the Lions didn’t want to trade him within the NFC North.
Wilson may look to move this offseason. Jimmy Garoppolo definitely will — the 49ers quarterback said earlier this month he expects to be dealt to make room for first-round pick Trey Lance.
If those quarterbacks — Rodgers, Watson, Wilson and Garoppolo — all force their way to new teams, it would be the logical extension of what Stafford (and, with much less payoff, the Colts’ Carson Wentz) orchestrated last year.
Quarterbacks requesting trades — and receiving them — has been relatively rare. Stafford was just the fifth QB not drafted by his team to play in the Super Bowl since 2010, joining the Broncos’ Peyton Manning (twice), the Eagles’ Nick Foles, the Buccaneers’ Tom Brady and Garoppolo.
“I love playing this game for the competition, for the relationships, for the hard times, for the good times — for all of it,” Stafford said moments after Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the Bengals. “This game can teach us so much as people. . . . For 12 years, that goal wasn’t reached. It tore me up inside, but I knew I could keep playing and try to find a way. And the fact that we reached that goal today is so special.”
McVay credited Stafford but also Ford, Wood and the rest of the Lions brass.
“They just did such a great job of facilitating a smooth change — or adjustment, however you want to look at it,” McVay said. “I think that’s just a reflection of two quality people on both ends.”
And if the Lions had told Stafford no?
“I don’t like to think about those things,” McVay said with a smile.