The first big trade of the season has already been agreed upon and it is a pretty big one
Detroit is dealing QB Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for two future first-round picks, a third-round pick and QB Jared Goff, per sources. Two former No. 1 overall picks trading places in the first blockbuster NFL trade of 2021.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 31, 2021
This is a pretty interesting trade that is more NBA style than NFL style. Because the Rams do not have a first round pick this year the actual 1st round draft compensation won’t take place until 2022 and 2023 and the Goff inclusion feels a bit like when you add in a player just to make salaries offset.
For the Rams to make this trade they had to find a trade partner for Goff and since trades cant be executed until the start of free agency well it pretty much had to be in this trade to make it happen. The Rams will take on $22.2 million in dead money for Goff which is a cap savings of $12.75 million from his current salary cap number. They will take on $20 million in salary from Stafford this year so they will have a net negative of $7.25 million on the cap.
I would expect the Rams to restructure Stafford’s contract as soon as the trade is official (or get the two sides for cap purposes to agree to a joint restructure of both using guaranteed roster bonuses that come in after the trade) by prorating at a minimum his $10 million roster bonus. If they want to go the full void year route they can reduce Stafford’s cap number to $4.86 million, a $15.14 million savings. This would put the Rams overall in a $7.89 million better position than with Goff. Because Stafford is so cheap doing that would only make his cap number in 2022 $26.8 million. This seems like a no brainer move to do and one the Rams could not do with Goff due their uncertainty with him in the future. For 2022 its a major win for the Rams with a $23M salary for Stafford compared to a $26 million salary for Goff. The salary cap differential is about $10 million
One thing that I should point out here is that the Rams likely could not have made this trade had they restructured Goff to the full extent last year which they wisely did not do, restructuring just enough salary to get by rather than going all in. It was a smart play to keep their options open.
The Rams have now all but gutted their opportunity to grab young talent via the top of the draft. In 2017 they traded their first round pick as part of a package to pick Goff in 2016. In 2018 they traded their first round pick to the Patriots for Brandin Cooks. In 2019 they traded out of the 31st pick and into the 2nd round. They sent their 2020 and 2021 picks to the Jaguars for Jalen Ramsey and will send their 2022 and 2023 picks to Detroit.
I love the aggression but this is a hard way to build a team. The Rams are probably better than anyone in the NFL, though, at trading away some bad contracts and at least getting something in return so they will gain more mid round picks through the years. In that respect they usually do well in the getting picks in the 2nd and 3rd round and have access to top 100 talent, just not top 32 talent. I am sure they looked at this as an upgrade on offense that can help them get a bit more vertical and make better use of their receivers while also putting them in a better cap position overall.
I guess it is possible they extend Stafford but given how much they paid Goff they may want to take a wait and see approach on that. Stafford may prefer that as well as the market is only going to increase and he is young enough to take full advantage of it.
Overall this is a must win now trade for the Rams. I have my reservations about Stafford but the Rams had reached whatever peak they could reach with Goff. They were not going to get better they were just going to go in circles of being a 9 or 10 win kind of team that probably had a peak level of 2nd round of the playoffs. But their cost benefit with Stafford ends by 2023 whether due to extension, franchise tag or having to go in a new direction. If somehow the team has a bad season the way Houston did this year its a disaster. That situation is highly unlikely but has to be part of the analysis. It is worth noting that Stafford hasnt been very successful in his NFL career and while some of that is playing for a bad franchise he certainly has not overcome situations the way elite QB’s have in other spots.
For the Lions this is a bit of a gamble. They will carry $19 million in dead money for Stafford which opens up $14 million on the cap. They bring in $28.15 million in cap charges for Goff, so this is a net negative of $14.15 million on the cap (assuming the Lions would have brought in a Taylor type as starter lets call it a $9M net negative). As I write this out that really makes no sense at all especially given the future numbers here so maybe the Rams are going to pick up some of the cost of the Goff contract. Either that or they really love Goff.
Goff already has $15.5 million guaranteed in 2022 and another $10 million is guaranteed for injury. That vests to full in early 2022. Essentially that locks the Lions into a $26.15 million cap hit in 2022 unless they can flip Goff in another trade. Stafford would have cost $23 million.
The Lions can also restructure the Goff deal for cap relief and create up to $20.325 million in cap space without adding in void years. That makes this trade a positive on the cap by about $6 million. It would limit the ability to trade Goff the next year and bring his cap hit into the $33 million range in 2022. If they plan on Goff as starter for at least two years this makes sense. If they do not then I’m not sure if it would be wise to do. Perhaps a smaller restructure.
I do like the future number 1s for a few reasons even though some people will discount them. The Lions already have the 7th pick in this years draft so they already have a top pick. Odds are any trade partner would have landed in the mid 20s. Even if the Lions made an attempt to go from 7 to 2 that pick may be looked at as less valuable than a future 1. The cost for the Eagles to do that trade was the 7th pick, a 3rd round pick, a 4th round pick and a future 1st and 2nd rounder. A trade like this I think gives the Lions better ammunition this year if they were looking to make that kind of move. They also may just look to pick a QB this year at 7 and then figure out how to fill in the blanks in drafts that they will get to scout in a much more traditional manner.
There is also future value in this. The thing I mentioned above about the lack of first round picks can give an eye toward the future. Stafford, for all the hype in his career, has only been to the playoffs three times in his career and his teams have finished with 6 wins or less four times since 2012. Since 2012 the Lions have had just three winning seasons. That should give the Lions two chances to earn a much better pick in the future compared to one in the mid 20s this year and then the chance that the Rams stumble in 2021. This can also be a path to a QB and its more likely given Goff’s contract that this is the way they go rather than looking to draft QB this year as well.
So for building for the future I like this type of draft compensation. It gives the new front office and coaching staff a chance to get their feet wet and get a better feel for what they need rather than going for the immediate rebuild and putting all their eggs in one basket so to speak. It gives the team a year to see if Goff can also revitalize his career giving the team relatively cheap access to a starting QB for four years if this works out.
If the Rams did not pick up any of the salary in this move then I think for this trade to work for Detroit they need to have Goff be a productive starter for the team. My feeling is that Stafford had a good enough contract and was young enough to get two 1st round picks or a 1 and a 2. Maybe Im off base on that but if thats the expectation then there is no need to take on the Goff salary to get the same return unless you really expect something out of Goff.
Goff hasnt been atrocious he just has been under a microscope because of the contract so maybe they do see this as getting your cake and eating it too with two first rounders and a 27 year old former number 1 pick that you have under reasonable cost control for four seasons. If Goff can be productive this is a terrific trade.
The Lions dont currently have any receivers under contract of note so I am curious as to how they now look at Kenny Golladay. Golladay should be a tag candidate that I had assumed they would trade but maybe not now. Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are also free agents. You would think with Goff on the team at least one of those top two has to be back next year.