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Biggest Detroit sports trades in last 20 years: Is Matthew Stafford deal No. 1?

Lions trade Stafford to Rams for 2 first-round picks, third-round pick, Jared Goff

Matthew Stafford, Miguel Cabrera, Dominik Hasek, Chauncey Billups and Justin Verlander have been involved in some of the biggest trades in modern Detroit sports history.
Matthew Stafford, Miguel Cabrera, Dominik Hasek, Chauncey Billups and Justin Verlander have been involved in some of the biggest trades in modern Detroit sports history. (Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Detroit Lions made one of the biggest moves in franchise history over the weekend, sending quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Rams in exchange for another former No. 1 overall QB and three draft picks.

The trade was a major offseason victory for new general manager Brad Holmes, and it gives the new regime a chance to start fresh and rebuild with their own vision.

But where does this blockbuster rank among the most impactful trades in modern Detroit sports history? If we look back 20 years, all four of the city’s professional teams have been active on the trade market.

Here’s a look at some of the most notable trades since 2000.

Detroit Lions

Jan. 30, 2021: Lions trade Stafford to Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff, 2021 third-round pick, 2022 first-round pick, 2023 first-round pick

There’s a tendency to want to dismiss something new from “biggest ever” discussions, but Saturday night’s announcement marked one of the truly massive transactions in modern Detroit sports.

Not only did the Lions finally part with the best quarterback in franchise history, they did so in a move that brought another No. 1 overall draft pick to Detroit in return. How often are two No. 1 picks swapped for each other?

In the NFL, player-for-player trades aren’t very common. The fact that the Lions traded Stafford and got a legitimate replacement in return is an added bonus.

The true prize, obviously, is the draft capital. Two first-round picks will allow the new regime to speed up what promises to be a difficult rebuild. Don’t dismiss that third-round pick in 2021, either. A good front office would turn that into a valuable player.

Oct. 14, 2008: Lions trade Roy Williams, seventh-round pick to Dallas Cowboys for 2009 first-round pick, 2009 third-round pick, 2009 sixth-round pick

The Lions certainly didn’t do much right in 2008. They were the first team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16, and the following year wasn’t much better, at 2-14.

But this trade was a rare positive, as the Lions turned Williams into three picks in the upcoming draft.

Unfortunately, those picks translated to Brandon Pettigrew, Derrick Williams and Aaron Brown. Not an ideal outcome, but not exactly a surprise, either.

Detroit Tigers

You’ll notice this section is by far the longest. That’s what happens when your franchise is run by Dave Dombrowski. Under his watch, the Tigers made more than a dozen successful trades, so here are a select few that really stand out.

Dec. 4, 2007: Tigers trade Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo, Burke Badenhop, Frankie De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern to Florida Marlins for Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis

Dombrowski’s greatest masterpiece was the 2007 deal that brought a legendary bat and future Hall of Famer to Detroit in Cabrera.

Since joining the Tigers, Cabrera has amassed more than 2,000 hits, with 349 home runs and a .931 OPS in 13 seasons. He won back-to-back MVP awards, five Silver Sluggers and a Triple Crown.

During his seven-year stretch of consecutive All-Star appearances from 2010-2016, the Tigers won four AL Central titles and were one of the most consistently competitive teams in baseball.

At the time, Maybin and Miller were elite prospects, and both were thought to be MLB ready. While they never blossomed into superstars, Maybin is still a solid outfielder and Miller developed into a top reliever.

Dec. 8, 2009: Tigers trade Curtis Granderson to New York Yankees and Edwin Jackson to Arizona Diamondbacks in three-way deal for Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke

The Scherzer trade doesn’t get enough love as one of Dombrowski’s best deals. While Scherzer didn’t have as much of an impact on the franchise as Cabrera, the combined value of the three players acquired in this deal was massive.

Scherzer is a Hall of Fame starter who turned his career around in his late 20s with the Tigers, even winning a Cy Young award. In his five years with Detroit, Scherzer posted a 9.6 K/9, 1.197 WHIP and 3.32 FIP across 1,013 innings.

Max Scherzer (AP Photo)

Jackson manned center field at Comerica Park for five years, playing elite defense while slashing .277/.342/.413 at the top of a potent lineup. He quietly finished his Tigers career with 20.1 WAR.

Jackson hit 140 doubles, 43 triples and 46 home runs for the Tigers and stole 78 bases. He was the catalyst for a lineup that was consistently among the best in baseball throughout his tenure.

Granderson was a fan favorite and a truly unique player, considering his ability to do everything on a baseball field. His 20-20-20-20 season is under-appreciated in terms of statistical achievements.

Edwin Jackson was a solid starter, but the Tigers got an eventual upgrade with Scherzer.

July 23, 2012: Tigers trade Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn to Marlins for Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante

Dombrowski was always trying to improve the Tigers at the trade deadline, and this was one of the most successful moves he made in July.

Turner was the No. 1 prospect in the organization at the time, but Dombrowski wasn’t afraid to risk losing a future star to solidify a roster that eventually went on to the World Series.

Sanchez was solid for the Tigers down the stretch that season, but made a turn to truly elite the following year, when he averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings and won the ERA title.

Infante was considered one of the top utility infielders in the league, but took over as the everyday second baseman in Detroit. His second stint with the team ended with him batting .318 with a .795 OPS in 2013.

Nov. 20, 2013: Tigers trade Prince Fielder to Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler

Most people wouldn’t include this among the biggest Detroit sports trades, but it might have been Dombrowski’s quietest masterpiece as Tigers general manager.

The Tigers had signed Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal just two years prior, but he was starting to show signs of diminishing production. His contract was considered near-impossible to move, but Dombrowski found a way, agreeing to pay $6 million per year at the end to shed the rest of the deal.

Ian Kinsler

In return, Dombrowski pillaged Kinsler from the Rangers, and he went on to become the Tigers’ best all-around player for several years. In four seasons with the Tigers, Kinsler amassed 18.2 WAR, 78 home runs and 129 doubles as the primary leadoff hitter and everyday second baseman.

Teams offloading a contract such as Fielder’s aren’t supposed to end up robbing their trade parter of a top-tier player, but that’s exactly what happened.

July 31, 2014: Tigers trade Austin Jackson to Seattle Mariners and Drew Smyly, Willy Adames to Tampa Bay Rays in three-way deal for David Price

The first Price trade was memorable in multiple ways. First and foremost, it represented Dombrowski’s last-ditch effort to bring a World Series to Detroit. The Tigers knew they were nearing the end of their long window of contention, and adding Price to the starting rotation was a last gasp to try to get over the hump.

There’s also the iconic image of Austin Jackson jogging in from center field in the middle of a game. The television broadcast showed him saying goodbye to his teammates in the dugout when they informed him he’d been traded.

Surprisingly, Adames has turned out to be the best player the Tigers dealt that day, in terms of value after the trade.

Price’s stay in Detroit was short-lived. He pitched well that season, but ultimately gave up the Nelson Cruz home run that completed a Baltimore Orioles sweep of the Tigers in the ALDS.

One day short of a year later, it was the Tigers sending Price to a playoff contender at the deadline, as they acquired Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd from the Toronto Blue Jays. That trade just missed this list.

Aug. 31, 2017: Tigers trade Justin Verlander to Houston Astros for Franklin Perez, Jake Rogers, Daz Cameron

In many ways, the Verlander trade is the Tigers’ equivalent of the Stafford trade.

Verlander was a homegrown talent, selected No. 2 overall in the 2004 draft, and rose the ranks to staff ace. He was the one constant from the surprise 2006 World Series run through the four-straight AL Central titles and into the start of the rebuild.

When the Tigers traded him, it was the official waving of the white flag.

Verlander won a Cy Young, a Rookie of the Year and even an MVP award with the Tigers. He made six All-Star teams and struck out 2,373 batters in 2,511 innings with a 3.48 FIP, 1.191 WHIP and 23 complete games across 13 seasons with Detroit.

The Tigers got three highly regarded prospects in the deal, though none have worked out to this point. Perez was a top 50 prospect in the league, Rogers was a top 10 catching prospect and Cameron was a 50-grade outfielder.

Detroit Pistons

Aug. 3, 2000: Pistons trade Grant Hill to Orlando Magic for Ben Wallace, Chucky Atkins

At the time of this deal, Hill was one of the best basketball players in the world. He averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game across six seasons with the Pistons while shooting 48.3% from the field.

Hill was 27 years old and one of the only positives for the franchise at the time. Meanwhile, Wallace was an undrafted fourth-year player who had never averaged more than six points per game.

Well, Wallace laid the foundation of an era that saw the Pistons go to six straight Eastern Conference Finals, win an NBA title and come one play away from another.

He never quite became a double-digit scorer in his first six-year stint with the Pistons, but Wallace averaged 2.8 blocks, 1.6 steals and 12.9 rebounds per game. His high motor on both ends of the court set the tone for a group known for excelling without any superstars.

Atkins was a solid role player for the Pistons, but his main contribution came as part of another trade we’ll discuss later in this section.

Sept. 11, 2002: Pistons trade Jerry Stackhouse, Brian Cardinal, Ratko Varda to Washington Wizards for Richard Hamilton, Hubert Davis, Bobby Simmons

Another savvy move by Joe Dumars to build what became an Eastern Conference power, he sent Stackhouse to the nation’s capital to acquire Rip Hamilton, who turned into the most consistent scorer over the team’s next decade.

Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- could shoot the elbow jumper like Hamilton. He was a nightmare to guard because he was constantly running off of screens and drilling midrange jumpers. Oh yeah, and his face mask was an iconic symbol of the hardworking Pistons.

Hamilton spent nine seasons with Detroit, averaging 18.4 points per game while shooting 45.5% over that span. Without him, the Pistons don’t win the NBA title in 2004.

Feb. 19, 2004: Pistons trade Zeljko Rebraca, Bob Sura, 2004 first-round pick to Atlanta Hawks and Atkins, Linsey Hunter, 2004 first-round pick to Boston Celtics in three-way deal for Rasheed Wallace, Mike James

Speaking of “wouldn’t have won the 2004 NBA title without him,” there’s no way the Pistons would have climbed to the top without Rasheed Wallace.

This deal had all the ingredients of a blockbuster. Three teams. Two first-round picks. Seven total players. Those two first-round picks the Pistons sent to Atlanta and Boston turned into Josh Smith (wince) and Tony Allen.

Rasheed Wallace #30 of the Detroit Pistons looks across the court in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 24, 2009 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) (2009 Getty Images)

Rasheed Wallace averaged 13.7 points, 7 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2 blocks per game for the Pistons in 2004. The following four seasons, he averaged 13.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1 steal and 1.6 blocks per game.

Known for his technical fouls and the “ball don’t lie” free throw outbursts, Rasheed Wallace was the finishing touch to a roster that thrived off of playing with an edge. Nobody knew how to take advantage of the chip on their shoulder more so than Rasheed Wallace.

James was an important player for the Pistons, too, averaging 6.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 19.7 minutes per game off the bench in 2004.

Nov. 3, 2008: Pistons trade Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess, Cheikh Samb to Denver Nuggets for Allen Iverson

Might want to stop now, Pistons fans. This one still stings.

As the incredible “Going To Work” era came to an end, the Pistons made one last epic splash in 2008, bringing superstar Allen Iverson to Detroit, but trading their heart and soul in the process.

Chauncey Billups

“Mr. Big Shot” was the leader of that Pistons team, and even though the pieces were already starting to disperse, this is viewed as the symbolic moment when the franchise went from model of consistency to laughingstock.

Following six straight appearances in the conference finals, this Pistons team limped into the playoffs and got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers. There’s only been one playoff appearance in the 12 seasons since -- another sweep at the hands of LeBron James’ Cavs. No NBA franchise has been more consistently lifeless since Nov. 3, 2008, than the Pistons.

Jan. 29, 2018: Pistons trade Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, 2018 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick to Los Angeles Clippers for Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson, Willie Reed

Detroit’s most recent effort to bring a basketball star to the city came in 2018, when Stan Van Gundy mortgaged the future to land Griffin.

To be fair, Griffin has given Pistons fans a reason to watch the last few seasons, even averaging 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game his first full season in 2018-19. But last year was derailed by injuries, and this season, Griffin doesn’t look at all like his old self.

Meanwhile, Harris has continued to ascend to NBA stardom, and Johnson and Reed were roster casualties in Detroit.

New general manager Troy Weaver is simply waiting out the end of this contract as he tries to fix the mess Van Gundy left.

Detroit Red Wings

July 1, 2001: Red Wings trade Vyacheslav Kozlov, 2002 first-round pick to Buffalo Sabres for Dominik Hasek

Hasek had already spent 11 seasons in the NHL before the Red Wings brought him to Detroit as a 37-year-old in 2001. He was coming off winning his sixth Vezina Trophy and sixth All-Star appearance.

In his first stint with Detroit, Hasek really only played one full season -- appearing in 65 games for the eventual Stanley Cup champion 2001-2002 team.

Hasek led the league with 41 wins that season, saving 91.5% of shots and allowing an average of 2.17 goals per game. He posted five shutouts and finished sixth in voting for the Vezina Trophy.

In the postseason, Hasek went 16-7 en route to the Stanley Cup, saving 92% of shots and allowing just 1.86 goals per game. He posted six shutouts in the playoffs -- the most in the league.

If he hadn’t spent two seasons with Detroit in the early 2000s, Hasek likely wouldn’t have rejoined the Red Wings from 2006-2008, when he helped bring another Stanley Cup to the city.

Feb. 25, 2008: Red Wings trade 2008 second-round pick, 2009 fourth-round pick to Los Angeles Kings for Brad Stuart

Speaking of 2008, Detroit’s most recent championship might not have happened without this trade, as Ken Holland pulled the trigger in late February to add Stuart to a roster already contending for a Stanley Cup.

He only played in nine regular-season games down the stretch, but in the playoffs, Stuart proved his value. He assisted on six goals in 21 games and made his only score count.

Stuart broke a scoreless tie midway through the first period of Game 3 in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Pittsburgh Penguins never scored, and Detroit took a 3-0 lead in the series.

In the six-game finals, Stuart finished with five points and a +/- of nine.

He ended up playing five seasons with the Red Wings, scoring 16 goals with 62 assists in 306 games.

How does Stafford trade rank?

So, considering all these moves, where does the Stafford trade rank?

There’s no denying the importance of the quarterback position. It’s probably the most high-profile in all of sports.

But some of these moves -- the Rasheed Wallace, Hasek and Stuart trades, especially -- directly led to championships. It’s hard to rank this trade ahead of those before we even see it play out on the field.

In terms of immediate reactions, the Stafford trade is probably the biggest. Again, it involved two quarterbacks who were drafted No. 1 overall, as well as two first-round picks and a third-round pick.

Only the Rasheed Wallace trade had so many moving parts.

In terms of iconic Detroit sports figures, probably only Verlander and Billups compare to Stafford on this list. Both spent several years as the faces of the Tigers and Pistons, and they enjoyed more on-field success than Stafford.

Everyone will see this debate from a different angle, but I think we can all agree: At the very least, this Stafford trade belongs in the conversation. In a few years, it’ll be easier to reevaluate how it played out.


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