SF 49ers: How a trade for Lions QB Matthew Stafford could work

Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The SF 49ers could be looking for an upgrade at quarterback, and the Lions’ Matt Stafford is a talked-about name. Here’s how a trade works.

With the SF 49ers now officially out of the playoffs, there’s little reason for head coach Kyle Shanahan to rush injured quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo back into the fray to alleviate all the woes from backup quarterback Nick Mullens down the stretch.

In fact, losing out might be the best thing for the 5-9 Niners, at least in terms of bettering their 2021 NFL Draft position.

Paralleling that storyline, of course, is Garoppolo’s future with San Francisco and the decision Shanahan will ultimately make about his under-center situation in 2021 and beyond. There are reasons why Jimmy G could stay, of course, but there are arguably more why Shanahan wants someone else to helm his offense to help a team poised to win a Super Bowl now.

One such name thrown around is Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Niner Noise already suggested the idea not long ago, yet the buzz about a possible Stafford-to-San Francisco deal has only gained steam since. An article from NBC Sports Bay Area suggested Stafford is the only clear-cut upgrade currently available over Garoppolo this offseason, and there’s additional speculation out there suggesting Stafford’s next landing spot could be in Northern California.

Particularly in the wake of ESPN’s Adam Schefter’s comments about Stafford’s future on Denver’s 1043 The Fan (h/t KNBR 680):

"Knowing what I know, I don’t think he’s going to have the stomach to go through another rebuilding job. He might want to go on to play for a team that is ready to win right now, or closer to winning than that team, [Detroit], would appear to be. I think that’s an unsettled, fluid situation."

Schefter is right about one clear thing: Detroit going through a major offseason rebuild after firing their head coach, Matt Patricia, and a revamped Lions front office might be wanting to shake things up anyway.

Or, just as reasonably as Schefter suggested, the 32-year-old Stafford simply might not want to go through yet another regime change in Detroit.

Matthew Stafford Passing Table

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 12/21/2020.

There are some other caveats in the mix here. For starters, Garoppolo is due $26.6 million in 2021, but the Niners moving on from him could generate $24.1 million in much-needed cap space, according to Over the Cap. Stafford, meanwhile, would cost Detroit $19 million in dead money if traded this offseason before June 1. The team trading for Stafford would then assume $20 million owed to Stafford in 2021 ($9.5 million in base salary, $10 million roster bonus and a $500,000 workout bonus) and $23 million in 2022 before Stafford would hit free agency in 2023.

While San Francisco isn’t exactly flush with cap space, the numbers are much more workable than those of Garoppolo.

How SF 49ers engineer a trade for Matthew Stafford

There have to be a few givens here. For starters, one has to assume the Lions actually want to trade Stafford, either to start fresh or to permit the veteran to go to a team ready to win now.

The other is Garoppolo wanting to forego the no-trade clause worked into his contract. For that given, let’s simply assume his old team, the New England Patriots in need of a quarterback, come calling and offer up a compensation package for Jimmy G.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick gets his former protege quarterback back at the cost of two mid-round picks, one of them conditional and increasing to a third rounder if Garoppolo starts all 16 games in 2021.

San Francisco has then cleared all but $2.4 million in cap space and has enough draft assets to help acquire Stafford.

The folks over at Pro Football Focus paralleled a would-be Stafford trade to the 2018 trade of quarterback Alex Smith from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Washington Football Team for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick.

With 40 pending free agents, the SF 49ers may not have enough under-contract assets available to move back to Detroit in a deal, likely meaning mere draft compensation would have to get the job done.

A first-round pick, particularly if the Niners end up selecting in the top 10 in 2021, is all but out of the question. But things get a bit more interesting when considering Rounds 2 through 4. San Francisco doesn’t currently have a third-round selection (thanks to the 2020 trade for left tackle Trent Williams). If another team hires defensive coordinator Robert Saleh as head coach this offseason, though, a new rule rewarding the development and eventual hiring of minority head coaches would reward San Francisco with two third-round compensatory picks, one in 2021 and another in 2022.

Let’s not yet assume that, however, even though Detroit could easily be a landing spot for Saleh.

Still, for a Lions team looking at a massive rebuild, some added draft compensation in exchange for Stafford could go a long way.

San Francisco’s second-round selection is going to be pretty high in 2021, of course, and the added draft capital from the Patriots in exchange for Garoppolo sweetens the immediate return the Lions would get right away.

But to secure the deal and convince Detroit moving on from Stafford is the right move, it would take a little more.

A 2022 third-round pick is the likely deal-sealer. And hopefully, by that point, the SF 49ers would be drafting late in each round anyway.

Going this route wouldn’t completely mortgage the Niners’ future, rather it would give Shanahan and Co. a highly competent and effective quarterback for at least the next two years while still being afforded the opportunity to draft and groom someone in the meantime.

Next. Exploring 4 options 49ers have for Jimmy Garoppolo in 2021. dark

If only such deals were as easy as typing them out, though.