Matthew Stafford said his decision to apply for a contract with the Detroit Lions, where he has spent his entire career, was “probably the hardest conversation I’ve ever had in my life.
Stafford spoke to two Detroit media outlets – WDIV and the Detroit Free Press – in his first public comments since the Lions agreed last month to trade their quarterback franchise to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff and three franchise selections.
Stafford told the Free Press that he and his wife, Kelly, have begun discussing the possibility of leaving Detroit for the 2020 season in the event of a regime change.
“It was one of those things where we were hoping. Come on, I hope it works out and we play well,” Stafford told the Free Press. “But if it didn’t, you just knew what was going to happen. You’d break it down and rebuild.
“And every time you change general managers and head coaches, you know they want to bring their guys in, and that’s going to take time. And frankly, I didn’t feel like I was the right person to follow those times.”
Shortly after the season, Stafford met with team president Rod Wood and owner Sheila Ford Hamp for an interview. The Lions were open to his request and began looking for business partners after the team hired Brad Holmes as general manager and Dan Campbell as head coach.
Stafford told the Free Press that his first thought was to go to the Indianapolis Colts, the San Francisco 49ers or the Washington Football Network, all obvious landing spots in search of a quarterback. In fact, he didn’t think the Rams would be the ideal team to make a big deal.
“I’m not a payroll guru,” Stafford told the Free Press. “It got to the point where I thought, ‘Okay, I can’t sit here and drive myself crazy.’ ‘ I was just trying to make that happen. And L.A. aggressively jumped on it.”
Stafford said he and Kelly were in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, when the exchange took place. Just before the exchange, he met Andrew Whitworth, an offensive lineman from Los Angeles, who jokingly told Stafford that the Rams would “go after him.”
Whitworth was right, and the deal was done within 24 hours.
“We were delighted with the restart, delighted that the whole process of joining the trading bloc was completed,” Stafford said. “We had a place now. We knew where we wanted to go. I was excited about their team and their management and what they could bring with their recent success.
“But at the same time, he closed the door on Detroit. In that moment, it was real.”
Stafford leaves Detroit as the Lions record holder in all major passing categories, including yards (45,109) and touchdowns (282). He reported playing last season with a partially torn UCL on his right thumb, a torn UCL on his left elbow, cartilage damage to one of his ribs, a tear in the back of his left knee and a sprained right ankle.
Now he is on his way to Los Angeles to start over. He is grateful to the Lions for the way they handled the divorce.
“Sometimes it’s not a perfect story ending in the same place,” Stafford said. “But I can leave here knowing that I gave this team everything I had.”