Last night, we learned the Los Angeles Rams had traded Jared Goff, two future first round picks, and a future third round picks to the Detroit Lions for Matthew Stafford. The move was unexpected because we all knew the Rams would have to move Goff’s difficult contract to take on Stafford and there were doubts Detroit would want that, but ultimately the two sides got a deal done.
It’s not just one of the strangest trades in recent memory in the NFL, though it definitely is that. It’s a landscape shifter with massive implications for both teams, the broader NFC, the quarterback-needy teams spread out across the league, and indeed our Atlanta Falcons. This morning, let’s breeze through what this means for all the parties just mentioned.
The Rams: It’s now or never
Les Snead is the final remaining member of Thomas Dimitroff’s front office tree to still hold a general manager job. Where Dimitroff pushed the Falcons back into relevance and came agonizingly close to a Super Bowl before flaming out, and where Dave Caldwell sort of got the Jaguars going again before doing the same, Snead has proven to be the ultimate survivor. He’s now not only made the transition from Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay, a coach he gets quite a bit of credit for hiring, but also survived trading a massive haul up to #1 to take the quarterback he just moved and giving away close to adecade of first round picks in various moves.
It’s hard to overstate Snead and his front office’s appetite for risk, but they are betting heavily on their own ability to evaluate top-shelf talent after the first round and are also betting they’ll be the NFC’s top dog the next couple of years. They saw that the Packers and Buccaneers are reliant on aging quarterbacks and saw Jared Goff’s limitations dragging them down and decided to go for it, getting a clear upgrade at quarterback. All the massive contracts Snead handed out and those lack of first round picks, paired with the team losing their well-regarded college scouting director in Brad Holmes, means their best bet is to win the big one right now and worry about the future later. If they don’t, this trade is going to be viewed unfavorably when they’re not drafting in the first round in 2023.
The Lions: The rebuild starts now
Detroit clearly views themselves as being in the beginning stages of a true rebuild, one that will not wrap up in a year. They now have a pair of future first round picks to go with a brand new coach and general manager, and Jared Goff is either going to be their quarterback for the future or a two year bridge to the future.
Either way, Detroit is stepping back and acknowledging they’re not there and they’re not close to being there. The Packers may well be a couple years away from starting over themselves, the Bears and Vikings have uncertain futures with unsettled quarterback situations, and some of the NFC’s heaviest hitters like the Rams and Buccaneers are reliant on cores that probably won’t stay together beyond 2022. With Goff’s contract allowing for Detroit to get out following that season, the Lions will take an earlier return to contention but likely aren’t expecting to be anywhere near great again until 2023.
Detroit has undergone these kinds of teardowns and rebuilds in the past, but the hope is that they have the right people for it this time around. They’ll also hope that Goff can somehow flourish away from Sean McVay, a bet that only a former Rams personnel guru would make, but if he stinks they’ll stick with their timeline.
The NFC: The balance of power shifts
Who will be the great teams in the NFC a year from now? If Tom Brady doesn’t finally fall apart in the offseason, the Buccaneers figure to be one. The Packers figure to be another, assuming Aaron Rodgers is around and still great. And the Rams are of course putting their nuts on the table for 2021, with the Seahawks figuring to be in the conversation, Washington maybe making a push if they get their quarterback, Dallas if Dan Quinn can un-Mike Nolan the defense, and the 49ers if they also sort out their quarterback conundrum.
There aren’t a lot of great teams on paper right now, though, and the Rams become an early favorite in that power vacuum. They’ll have a very good quarterback still in his prime with a gifted roster and one of the most highly-regarded coaching staffs in the league, albeit one that just lost a hotshot young defensive coordinator. With Tampa Bay and Green Bay having to at least worry that their 44 year old and 37 year old quarterbacks will decline or get hurt next year, Los Angeles is seizing an opportunity and making it clear the NFC could run through them.
Quarterback needy teams: Uh oh
The Panthers and Football Team were among those who reportedly struck out in their pursuit of Stafford. This deal is a wakeup call for those teams, who now see what they’re going to have to shell out.
Obviously Stafford for Goff and picks is an odd trade that won’t be replicated, but it sets a daunting market. If you want Deshaun Watson, you may have to start at three first round picks, given that the Rams surrendered a former top quarterback and two future firsts. If you want Aaron Rodgers, the price will be less steep but still figures to involve multiple firsts. Hell, that’s probably true if you want Matt Ryan, which we’ll get to in a minute.
There are probably 4-5 top quarterbacks in this class teams will view as worthy of a first round pick and a handful of franchise quarterbacks you might be able to swing a deal for. If you’re one of the dozen or so teams that likely wants to upgrade your quarterback situation this offseason, the price you’re going to need to pay to do so just crystallized a bit. Some teams are going to have to wait or paper over their needs for this year, either because they’ll be left behind when other teams swing deals or because they won’t have the assets or the heart to part with assets that will be necessary to take a stab at solving that quarterback need in 2021. If you’re a team that wants to contend now, that’s the big decision you’re facing, and it’s not an easy one.
The Falcons: Sitting pretty
Atlanta’s options are the same as they were a couple of days ago, but their position also got stronger.
Matt Ryan is unlikely to be moved, but it’s clear the Falcons can and would ask for multiple first round picks for him. Ryan is older than Matthew Stafford but is also a former NFL MVP who is aging pretty gracefully, and the idea that the Falcons would ship him out for a future second round pick or some nonsense should be put to bed after seeing this deal. If a team wants to blow Atlanta away and make them consider eating their big dead cap hit to move him, it’s clear what they’ll have to give up, and it’s quite a bit.
In the much likelier case that the Falcons keep him, teams are now just a little bit more likely to blow them away with an offer for the #4 pick. Stafford and Goff were both potential trade targets and are now both off the market, and it’s not clear whether any other veteran quarterbacks worth making a move for are actually on the block. That leaves teams outside of the top 5 picks starting down the prospect of not being able to get one of the top draft-eligible quarterbacks, and if you’re a Broncos team not sold on Drew Lock or a 49ers team getting antsy about Jimmy G, that’s an unfortunate position to be in.
If Atlanta wants to move down, then, and Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones are on the board at #4, they shouldn’t lack for suitors who know they won’t be able to get away with a miserly offer to move up 5 or 10 picks. The Falcons can do with those offers what they will, but they’re as well-positioned to trade down and secure a haul as they’ve been in many, many years.