In first comments since trade, Stafford calls conversations with Lions 'hardest' of his life
In his first comments since the Detroit Lions agreed to trade him to the Los Angeles Rams, quarterback Matthew Stafford said the conversations with the team prior to the deal were the most difficult of his life.
Speaking with close family friend and WDIV reporter Hank Winchester in a segment filmed with his family at Ford Field days earlier, Stafford reflected on his 12 years with the Lions.
"It's crazy, obviously thinking this will probably be the last time I'm here for at least a long time," Stafford said. "I have a lot of great memories in here. A lot of tough ones, too."
Among Stafford's favorite memories at the stadium, a Christmas Eve victory over the Chargers that sent the Lions to the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years.
On the first play of that game, he connected with wide receiver Calvin Johnson — who was elected to the Hall of Fame over the weekend — on a 46-yard reception. That kickstarted a 373-yard, three-touchdown performance for Stafford in the 38-10 victory.
"I'll never forget the crowd," he said.
As for his least favorite moment, Stafford noted the loss to the Packers on Thursday night, when Aaron Rodgers connected with tight end Richard Rodgers on a Hail Mary with no time remaining in the fourth quarter.
According to a source familiar with the conversations, Stafford initially floated the idea of moving on from Detroit shortly after the end of the season. The discussion was temporarily tabled until the team hired a new coach and general manager, who were both informed of Stafford's interest in being traded during their interviews.
Stafford called the decision to part ways mutual.
"It was probably the hardest conversation I've ever had in my life," Stafford said. "You know? It was a really tough deal. I have to give the Lions a bunch of credit for the way they handled it. I have all the respect in the world for the Ford family."
Less than a week after the team started to field offers, they accepted a package from the Los Angeles Rams that included a pair of first-round picks and quarterback Jared Goff. The deal will be finalized in mid-March, at the start of the new league year.
Stafford admitted he was surprised the Rams were able to make the deal, but appreciated the two sides being able to come together and make it happen.
"It was honestly one of the few teams I didn't think was going to be able to make it happen, if they wanted to even," he said. "The fact they wanted to was huge and the fact they were able to, I think you have to give a lot of credit to the Rams organization, but also the Lions, as well, being creative and figuring out a way to get it done."
Stafford will leave Detroit holding nearly every significant passing record in franchise history. His family has also left a mark on the community, donating $1 million in 2015 to help fund the SAY Detroit Play Center at Lipke Park, adopting multiple families each Christmas and taking a public stance on social justice issues ahead of the 2020 season, among multiple other philanthropic efforts.
As a parting gift to the city, Kelly announced the couple were donating another $1 million to build an education center at the SAY Detroit Play Center.
"The new building will enable the Center to increase its student population who benefit from the center’s academic, athletic and arts programs, and service adults with job training programs, GED classes, and community events," Kelly wrote. "This is the legacy we want to leave behind. We would love for you to be a part of it with us, to be a part of this legacy of making a positive impact in so many Detroiters’ lives.
The Detroit News named Stafford and wife Kelly Michiganians of the Year in 2020 for their local contributions.