THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — A year later, the Matthew Stafford trade and the swiftness in which it was completed, still almost seems unfathomable.

The ball started rolling just after last season when the veteran quarterback told Lions ownership that he wanted out, but it began in earnest in late January, and just seven days later was agreed upon.

Super Bowl LV between the Chiefs and Buccaneers was still a week from being played, and the first major domino of the 2021 offseason had dropped. It made sense then: the Lions wanted to get ahead of the curve with other quarterbacks potentially set to hit the market.

But in the NFL, where change often moves at a snail’s pace, blockbuster deals can take weeks and even months to execute. But the all-in Rams, who ultimately outbid two other teams, were in a hurry. And in retrospect, their haste paid off.

Three hundred and seventy-eight days after they sent quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round draft picks, and a third-rounder to Detroit for Stafford, the Rams will play the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI, and they’ll do so in Inglewood at SoFi Stadium.

While reaching the title game for the first time in 13 seasons is quite an accomplishment for Stafford — and for any team, of course — Goff and the Rams had advanced that far just three years prior.

But coach Sean McVay had seen his team plateau with the former No. 1 overall draft pick. His comments following the Rams’ second-round exit from the playoffs last Jan. 16 suggested he was ready to move on. But how would that happen?

The Rams, who already sacrificed their 2021 first-rounder and other picks, were built to win now. If they were to find an upgrade, one they believed could propel them over the proverbial hump, it would have to come via trade.

Franchise-caliber quarterbacks aren’t often available. There had been historical precedent, but not to this degree in over a decade. The Jay Cutler Broncos-Bears swap in 2009 would probably be the most recent comp.

“I think it was a matter of a player of his caliber coming available,” McVay said Thursday when asked if the Rams had used a similar trade as a blueprint. “I can’t think of any times since I’ve been in coaching that a player of his caliber has become available under those circumstances, where we had a guy [Goff] who had done a phenomenal job for us.

“It was kind of unprecedented.”

Very few traded-for quarterbacks have ultimately delivered championships. There have been young, unproven commodities who would win titles for their new teams after trades (see: Steve Young, Brett Favre). But many franchises have swung and struck out when a ring was the objective after dealing for a veteran.

That’s a high bar. There have been plenty of quarterbacks who have improved the fortunes of their new teams. But you may have to go back 63 years to find a comparable trade to the above parameters that resulted in a title.

The Eagles, by chance, were the beneficiaries when the Rams dealt disgruntled Norm Van Brocklin in 1958. It took three seasons, but Philadelphia eventually claimed a crown with “The Dutchman” at the controls.

The Eagles have been involved in many significant quarterback trades since they sent a first-round pick and two players (Buck Lansford and Jimmy Harris) to Los Angeles for Van Brocklin. There have been successes (Ron Jaworski, Donovan McNabb) and failures (Sonny Jurgensen, Roman Gabriel).

Just last year, after the Stafford sweepstakes, they moved disgruntled Carson Wentz to the Colts for first and third rounders, which paved the way for Jalen Hurts. The second-year quarterback showed improvement last season and earned a 2022 endorsement from general manager Howie Roseman and coach Nick Sirianni last month.

But the Eagles wouldn’t be prudent, especially with the deal-making Roseman, if they didn’t explore the possibility of acquiring a big-name quarterback. They have the ammo with three first-round picks. Hurts, though, has promise, not to mention a contract that further allows for roster building.

There is still legitimate concern about the 23-year-old’s potential. And if Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson becomes available, or if sexual assault allegations against Deshaun Watson reach some kind of finality, each would qualify as a significant improvement, although not without arguments against.

“For me, I don’t think their position is to win a Super Bowl in the next year or two,” former Eagles president Joe Banner said. “So Rodgers, to me, isn’t really a viable option. Wilson, I’d probably have a reasonable estimation of four years, so that’s viable. [The 49ers’ Jimmy] Garoppolo, I actually like more than most people, but he can’t stay healthy and be consistent.

“Watson will be interesting to me because, when it’s all said and done, there are going to be far fewer teams interested in him than people think, and it may be somebody you can get at a discounted price. Obviously, his cases have to get to a certain point before you could even consider that.”

On Thursday, the 38-year-old Rodgers indicated that he was returning to the Packers after winning his second straight and fourth overall MVP award at NFL Honors. Wilson, 33, has given no such sign about his future, although a year ago around this time, his agent named the teams he would consider being dealt to.

The Eagles weren’t on that list. They also weren’t reportedly on the desirables list of Watson, who also has a no-trade clause. But a lot has changed in the interim, and seemingly anything is possible in the NFL until partners get down to brass tacks.

A collaborative process

The Rams had opposition when the Lions sent out signals that Stafford was on the market. As many as nine teams made inquiries. But only the Rams, Panthers, and Washington made offers, the latter two initially the more competitive.

But Stafford’s preference was also a factor. He had the Rams, 49ers, and Colts on his wish list. Rams GM Les Snead sweetened the pot. And while some thought he gave up too much for the 33-year-old quarterback, those gripes seem trivial now.

“Les and [Lions GM] Brad Holmes did a great job of kind of working out a collaborative process that felt like it was good for both sides,” McVay said. “I think it’s incredible that the Lions were so great to Matthew in that they were able to accommodate Matthew and some of the things that he had asked.

“It was something that came together a lot quicker than, I think, any of us had anticipated. But as soon as people got word that there was interest on our part, it obviously accelerated the interest from some other teams.”

The Eagles had a similar experience when Wentz expressed his interest to play for another team after a dismal 2020. Stafford, though, had paid his dues. He had been to the postseason just three times in 12 seasons and lost each game. And Detroit, with new coach Dan Campbell, was about to embark on yet another rebuild.

The Lions would make the ultimate decision, but Stafford was kept in the loop throughout the process.

“I obviously had dialogue with the Lions, and I guess offers started coming in and people started making their move,” Stafford said Friday. “I had an opportunity when I ran into Sean down there in Cabo and was able to talk to him some, as well.

“It’s kind of a crazy thing to explain and figure out, but I’m here today and happy about it.”

Whether the Cabo, Mexico meeting was coincidental or not, it allowed for Stafford and the Rams to have a chance meeting without necessarily breaking NFL tampering rules. But even before a player gets involved, there is typically a dance among interested teams in which secrecy is of the utmost importance.

But in the case of Stafford, the Lions didn’t have to worry about his feelings or the unlikely chance he would return.

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“Most trades are done with or without the player,” Banner said. “But I don’t think anybody is going to pay a lot for a quarterback that they know won’t want to come to your team. So at some point … if you’re at the stage where you have agreed upon mutual interest, let’s say it’s [Seahawks GM John] Schneider, you say, ‘Can we have permission to the talk to the agent, or could we at least make sure we’re a team he’d want to come to?’”

Wilson, who has two years left on his contract without guaranteed money, would likely want a new deal, as would his new team. But it would be a significant financial investment. As for the compensation, some, like NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah, have speculated that it could take the Eagles’ three first-rounders.

Wilson had arguably his worst season as Seattle finished with its first losing record since he became the starter as rookie in 2012. But he suffered a broken finger, which forced him to miss games for the first time in his career, and the Seahawks roster seems to have reached a precipice with coach Pete Carroll returning for what could be his last gasp.

The Eagles have had their sights on Wilson since the Seahawks spoiled their plans to draft him in the third round 10 years ago. But if they remain interested, and he is obtainable, they may have to argue that last year wasn’t an anomaly if they don’t want to forfeit a significant part of their future.

There could be as many as a dozen interested parties — Wilson confirmed last June that the Cowboys, Saints, Raiders, and Bears were the teams that he would consider — in the nine-time Pro Bowler. And that could drive the price up considerably.

Washington coach Ron Rivera wasn’t shy about his team’s offseason intentions when asked on Friday at the Super Bowl if the Commanders would be willing to pull off a Stafford-like deal.

“Matthew, a veteran guy, has gotten his opportunity and shown people what he’s capable of,” Rivera told Pro Football Talk. “Let’s see what happens the rest of the way. Would we love to have something like that? Yeah. If the right situation is available, we want to get in on it.”

The last time a team surrendered three first-round picks (and a second) for a quarterback, it didn’t end well. The 49ers gave a ransom to the Patriots for Jim Plunkett in 1976, and they would have only two losing seasons to show for the exchange.

McVay may have pushed the envelope for Stafford. Roseman, who bided his time when he essentially had only the Colts’ offer for Wentz, has often done his best work in trade negotiations.

“It’s purely a function of the marketplace,” Banner said. “If [the Seahawks] can create a market with three or four teams, or really just two or three, who are going to bid against each other, then it’s going to be a very high number.

“If I was willing to take the gamble that they don’t have all those offers, and that they’re definitely going to move the guy … you’ve got to have a lot of balls to hold out for a long time to flesh out the best offer because it could end up being for nothing.”

Just felt right

It’s often a two-way street. Wentz wanted the Colts, and Stafford the Rams, and neither had no-trade clauses. The Eagles may have to do some selling if they can enter the ring for either Wilson or Watson.

They have an elite offensive line, a budding No. 1 receiver in DeVonta Smith, a top-5-caliber tight end in Dallas Goedert, and some salary cap space to add another offensive weapon. But they lack receiver depth and their defense has significant holes.

And sometimes certain franchises and markets aren’t a fit for certain personalities.

“It was everything,” Stafford said when asked what attracted him to the Rams. “I knew I was going to be somewhere different. I was a fan of this team from afar. Who wasn’t, the way they were playing offense, they were playing defense, special teams? It’s a special group.

“Then I got the chance to meet Sean, talked to [Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth] a little bit, as well, and it just felt right.”

When Wilson’s agent announced his client’s preferred destinations, the Cowboys had yet to extend Dak Prescott, the Saints still had Sean Payton as coach, and the Bears hadn’t drafted Justin Fields. The Raiders still have Derek Carr, but they now have a new regime headed by coach Josh McDaniels.

The retirements of Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger have the Bucs and Steelers with a vacancy at quarterback. The Broncos and Panthers have an obvious need. The Lions, Dolphins, Browns, Giants, Falcons, Titans, and Cardinals could all be under the radar looking for upgrades or better fits.

Watson is the wild card. He has wanted out of Houston for over a year and didn’t play all of last season, partly because of the impasse but also after 22 women filed lawsuits alleging that the 26-year-old forced or tried to entice the massage therapists to perform sexual acts.

Watson has denied the allegations or claimed some of the sexual activity was consensual.

Some potential suitors will either stay away until there is a resolution, or forever. New York Giants owner John Mara said last month that his team wouldn’t trade for Watson. The Eagles would have to be willing to navigate ground potentially more perilous than when they signed Michael Vick in 2009.

“I just would keep the Eagles in the mix on who could get Watson if he gets traded,” Banner said. “That’s the kind of carefree, bold, willing to overlook some things, but at the same time, aggressive move for me to get him. I personally have a problem with that myself. This is a different group of people making the decisions.”

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The draft is a possibility, but many evaluators don’t see an elite talent in this year’s group. Watson would give the Eagles a likely clear path to a top-five or 10 quarterback for maybe the next decade.

Even if previous comparable trades didn’t net a Lombardi Trophy, there are success stories. There are also cautionary tales for both sides. And there are the occasions when both sides made out. The Lions went 3-13-1 with Goff, but they get to use the first of the two first-rounders in April.

McVay seems to think they’ll pick a winner.

“I think it’s worked out well,” the 36-year-old coach said, “for both parties.”