In 12 years with the Detroit Lions, Matthew Stafford grew into the best quarterback the franchise has known in generations.
After being drafted No. 1 overall a dozen years ago, Stafford owns all of the Lions' passing records but never could drag a perpetually rebuilding team over the playoff hump. In three playoff appearances in his career, Detroit won zero postseason games.
In a long-ranging conversation with Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press after the trade to Los Angeles, Stafford said he "never thought I would ever finish my career anywhere else," but with the Lions in another transition -- the fourth of his career -- the star QB wanted a chance for postseason success.
"I've always wanted to play in those big games, I feel like I will excel in those situations," he said. "I wanted to shoot my shot."
With the Lions owners giving coach Matt Patricia and GM Bob Quinn a win-or-else ultimatum Dec. 2019, Stafford knew another tear-down and rebuild could be on the horizon.
"To be honest, Kelly and I probably started talking about it before last season," he said. "It was one of those things where, you know, we were hoping that, golly, let's go, I hope this thing takes off and we play great. But if it doesn't, you just knew what was going to happen. They were going to tear it down and rebuild.
"And anytime you switch GMs and a head coach, you know that they're going to want to bring their own people in, and that's going to take time. And I, frankly, didn't feel like I was the appropriate person to oversee that time."
Stafford said that if he'd stayed in Detroit, the organization might have continued to be marred in mediocrity, never having a roster good enough to compete with the best, but never be bad enough to bottom out.
"In my mind, I felt like I was going to be able to help us go win six, seven, eight games, because I wasn't gonna let us lose more than that, you know?" he said. "But I probably wasn't good enough (by myself) to help us win more than that. And maybe we don't ever get those top picks that we needed."
During Stafford's tenure, the Lions drafted in the top-10 six times, including No. 7 overall this year.
The question in Detroit was never the quarterback's talent, but rather was it Stafford who couldn't raise the boats around him or the organization who failed to build a capable squad buffering the quarterback?
Stafford has a chance in L.A. to prove he is the signal-caller who can win the big game when given a chance to shoot that shot.
"Sometimes it's not the perfect storybook ending in the same place," he said. "But I can leave here knowing that I gave this team every damn thing I had."