Pat Caputo: Why Lions need to trade down, hoard draft picks


There is no such thing as winning a trade, draft or news conference. Nor is there a guarantee that short-term success will lead to long-range triumph.

Bob Quinn’s first team began 9-4. The Lions were 11-5 in Jim Caldwell’s initial campaign. Steve Mariucci wasn’t named Lions’ head coach as much as anointed at a royal-like gathering on the turf at Ford Field.

How many times have the Lions supposedly gotten it right NFL Draft weekend?

So while I absolutely love the Lions’ haul from the Rams in return for Matthew Stafford, if they don’t pounce on this rare opportunity with astute decision making in the aftermath, it will mean little.

Jared Goff has won multiple playoff games, taken his team to the Super Bowl and as recently as 2018 and 2019 was ranked the NFL’s 38th- and 32nd-best player by his peers.

His career passer rating is slightly better than Stafford’s. But like Stafford, ill-timed turnovers are part of his quarterback DNA. Also, Stafford has been significantly more efficient than Goff in terms of downfield passing the last two seasons.

The Rams are putting all their eggs in Stafford’s basket by dealing two first-round selections, and a third-rounder to acquire him.

Yet, the only way Stafford can top Goff in LA is to win the Super Bowl.

Stafford has not, frankly, reacted well to heightened team expectations in the past.

It was a terrific trade for the Lions. Goff fell out of the favor of Rams’ coach Sean McVay. New Lions’ general manager Brad Holmes was honed by the Rams. Obviously, he knows Goff well.

It’s a move that gives the Lions much-needed draft capital, and enough flexibility at QB not to be panicked into selecting the wrong one. There is a possibility Goff, 26, is the answer. If not, the Lions can either move on from him for draft capital or simply be left with two first-round selections and a third-rounder.

Stafford’s performance in LA is relevant to the Lions. The worse the Rams perform, the better the trade will be from the Lions’ perspective because of upgraded draft capital.

The key to the Rams turning around their program was selecting Aaron Donald, Todd Gurley and Goff in the first round of consecutive drafts. They hit with some draftees such as Cooper Kupp and Cam Akers since unloading first-round selections at an unprecedented rate, and going the veteran route. The McVay coaching hire was an unquestioned success.

Holmes, realistically, needs to hit in that manner, and deeper into the draft.

John Dorsey, the former Chiefs’ GM brought in by the Lions as an advisor, was in charge of drafts that secured the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Mahomes had limited experience and was a wildcard at 10th overall. Kelce, a third-rounder, had just 59 college receptions. Hill, a fifth-rounder, was a gamble because of serious off-the-field issues.

The Lions have a terrible history drafting beyond even the first round, let alone later rounds.

But they have never really taken the path of hoarding draft picks, which would work if Holmes, Dorsey and their staff are proficient, and the new coaching staff has a grasp on developing young players.

The more selections a team has increases the odds it will hit with picks, even in late rounds.

Think about the 2011 draft when the Lions threw in a little-noticed fifth-round selection while trading up with Seattle for running back Mikel Leshoure. The Seahawks flipped that selection into Richard Sherman, arguably this generation’s best cornerback. Seattle’s own fifth-rounder, safety Mark LeGree, never played in the league. By the way, the Seahawks took Byron Maxwell in the sixth round. Sherman and Maxwell were the starting cornerbacks when Seattle won the Super Bowl after the 2013 season.

At seventh overall, the Lions are in good position to trade down -- if they don’t want a quarterback that's still on the draft board. Their roster is hollow. The more picks the better at this point.

Maybe it’s the Rams being stupid more than the Lions’ being wise, but Holmes and Co. have nonetheless been presented with a running start in that regard.

Perhaps they will make the most of it.​