In first big move as GM, Lions' Brad Holmes pulls off blockbuster in Matthew Stafford trade

In dealing Matthew Stafford, Lions new general manager Brad Holmes has shown his ability to get a mammoth deal completed. Detroit Lions via AP

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes might not like to use the word "rebuild." Consistently during his opening news conference, he moved away from using that R-word in favor of another one: retool. This was before it became public his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, wanted a trade.

Not the easiest way for Holmes to begin his tenure. But within his first two-plus weeks on the job, Holmes showed he is capable of putting together a blockbuster. That’s the only way to adequately describe the deal, which becomes official at the start of the league year March 17, made between the Lions and his old team, the Los Angeles Rams, on Saturday night.

Stafford heads west to Los Angeles and receives a chance to play for an immediate contender. The Lions get back two first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, a third-round pick this year and quarterback Jared Goff to help create a new iteration of the team.

This might not have the sexiness of a second first-round pick this season, but making the trade shows Holmes and the franchise are taking a longer-term view with how they are building this team.

Detroit knew it had to deal Stafford, who had spent over a decade with the Lions and had been through three head coaches, a couple of general managers and many, many offensive changes.

And as he turns 33 next month, the opportunity for a fresh start -- in a place his family has grown comfortable with in Southern California, no less -- is a win for the Lions’ all-time leader in every major passing category.

That Detroit was able to get that much from Los Angeles shows potential and shrewdness on the part of Holmes in his first big move as general manager. This move -- and what comes from it -- will be one he’ll be judged on at least for his first few seasons as general manager.

Yes, the Lions had to take on the massive contract of Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016 who completed 67% of his passes last season for 3,952 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

In some ways, Goff is the least important piece of this deal for the future of the Lions, although if he can regain his form from 2017 and 2018, when he was a Pro Bowler, he could end up being a part of their long-term plans. Goff does give the Lions a quarterback for the immediate future while Detroit tries to construct a team for sustained success, whether Goff is a part of it or not.

A source familiar with the situation told ESPN trading for Goff does not preclude the Lions from taking a quarterback in this year’s draft. But what this does is offer Detroit more flexibility with what it wants to do with the No. 7 overall pick because the job Holmes and first-year head coach Dan Campbell have in front of them is more than a one- or two-pick fix.

This move will jump-start the Lions' rebuild because they face more than a retooling. With many holes on the roster -- every position needs at least some sort of depth or an upgrade in starting talent -- Detroit could use as much draft capital as possible over the next few seasons.

And that’s really what this has been about anyway. A source familiar with the negotiations said this was the best deal the Lions had on the table. It gives them a quarterback to evaluate in the short term and more picks over the next three years.

And those picks could be even more valuable in future years since scouting for the 2021 draft has been so different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Evaluations will be tougher this year, and for a first-year general manager getting to know his scouts while they adjust to him and studying the board, Holmes made a smarter play. Having extra first-rounders in his second and third years as general manager, when his scouting system is fully implemented and -- along with football and the world -- hopefully reclaims some of its normalcy, was a smart move.

While it’s possible the picks acquired from the Rams end up being toward the back of the first round if Los Angeles thrives with Stafford running the show, the trade still creates more capital with which Holmes can maneuver. He has more assets to package if he wants to move up and more potential options if he elects to move back in a draft.

But for now -- or at least when the new league year begins in March -- the Lions can officially begin their post-Stafford life. It’ll be weird. It’ll be different. It likely could have multiple bumps along the way to what Detroit hopes is some sustained success.

The Lions will see Stafford soon enough, though. The Lions and Rams face off in the upcoming season -- in Los Angeles.