The new star quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams is finally speaking out about the trade that saw him depart Detroit for the bright lights of Hollywood.
After spending 12 years with the Detroit Lions, Stafford requested a trade from the only organization he's ever known. A few days later, the Lions traded Stafford to the Rams in exchange for two first-round draft picks, a third-round draft pick, and Jared Goff.
In a recent interview with Mitch Albom of the the Detroit Free Press, Stafford discussed in depth his decision to ask for a trade out of Detroit, how the trade with the Rams went down, and his excitement to play in Los Angeles.
Stafford told Albom that his desire to compete in the playoffs was at the forefront of his decision to ask Detroit to trade him, "I've always wanted to play in those big games, I feel like I will excel in those situations. I wanted to shoot my shot."
Stafford is winless in three playoff games with the Lions over the last 12 years. He said his decision to leave the Lions was a difficult one. He had always dreamed of winning multiple Super Bowls with Detroit, but after the team got progressively worse under former head coach Matt Patricia, and with another rebuild currently underway, he saw the writing on the wall.
"Sometimes it's not the perfect storybook ending in the same place," said Stafford, who got married and saw the birth of his four children while living in Detroit. "But I can leave here knowing that I gave this team every damn thing I had. I cannot express how much gratitude I feel towards the Lions for handling it the way they did."
In the story, Stafford said he was worried and apprehensive about speaking with Lions' owner Sheila Ford Hamp and President Rob Wood about his desire to be traded.
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"I shared my disappointments in not being able to bring them what I ultimately wanted, a championship," said Stafford. "It was a tough conversation, probably the hardest one I've ever had, but one that I walked out of, frankly, blown away with their support and their understanding. The respect. I mean it was pretty incredible."
Stafford said he felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders following the meeting.
"I want nothing more than to be able to come back to this place 10 years from now and everybody welcome me with open arms," he continued. "And that was one of the biggest things that was weighing on me as I went in there to talk to them. I was like, 'I don't want anybody to ever feel like I'm giving up on this town, or this city, or this place. I gave it everything I possibly had here."
After the news of Stafford's trade request went public, it was reported that at least 10 teams contacted the Lions with interest in the 33-year-old quarterback. Stafford reportedly told the front office he did not want to be traded to the Patriots, and like most fans, thought he would end up in Indianapolis or Washington. The Rams were never even on his radar.
"I thought all the places that everybody else thought," admitted Stafford. "Indianapolis, San Francisco, Washington…I just didn't know how they [The Rams] would ever be able to pull it off. It kind of got to a point where I'm like, okay, I can't sit there and go crazy. I just tried to let it happen and L.A. aggressively jumped into it."
By now, most fans know that Stafford was vacationing in Cabo San Lucas with other NFL players, including Rams' left-tackle Andrew Whitworth and head coach Sean McVay. Stafford says he walked past Whitworth soaking in a hot tub at the resort, when the veteran offensive lineman told him that the Rams were going to "make a run" at him.
Three hours later the trade was announced.
"Obviously, we were excited for a new start, excited for the whole process of being on the trading block to be over," he said about the moment he heard the news of the trade. "Now we had a place. We knew where we were going. I was excited about their roster and their coaching staff and what they can bring to the table and their recent success."
Stafford and McVay had a celebratory dinner at the resort after the trade was official.
"As much as I'm moving to a place that's got some pieces that are ready to go, I'm also betting on myself too, betting that I'm the person that can take them there. So this is a big challenge for me," said Stafford.
However, it was in that initial moment he found out, as he hugged his wife, that the impact of the trade hit him like a ton of bricks, and with it, a plethora of emotions swept over him. Mostly, that his time in Detroit was over. The place that adopted him when he was just 21 years old. The city that he lived in for over a decade, the city that raised him, that provided him with a bounty of wealth and family memories that will last a lifetime. A city and franchise that saw him break every passing record they had. All of that, would now be left in the rear-view mirror.
"But at the same time, it was a close of the door in Detroit. And at that moment it was real," said Stafford. "But I'm going to miss the hell out of this place."
As a parting gift, Stafford donated $1 million dollars to the nonprofit organization SAY Detroit, to build a new education center that will be named in honor of Matthew and Kelly Stafford. SAY Detroit is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping students from low-income families overcome the challenges of literacy and education inequalities.
Matthew and Kelly Stafford were deeply entrenched in the Detroit community and have made numerous charitable donations to multiple organizations throughout the city.
"There are not enough words to truly express how grateful we are to have lived here for the past 12 years," said Kelly Stafford. "We came here for football, but we are leaving with a sense of home and endearment. Endearment not only for this city and the Lions organization, but a love for the people who make up this community. Detroit has supported our family and not only by showing up on Sundays, but also through our most difficult times. You took us in as your own and made Detroit feel like home and that is what it became, our home.
"It has been our goal to always give back to the city. Detroit and its people have blessed us in so many ways we only hope you have felt our gratitude through our joy of giving back to the city."