Matthew Stafford steered himself to Rams with Panthers nearly striking deal

When then-Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford started the process of seeking a new team, he spotlighted three top options -- the Los Angeles Rams, the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers. Sources say those were his initial choices, though Stafford kept an open mind.

Yet, in late January, one team jumped to the forefront -- the Carolina Panthers. They were aggressive. Sources said they actually neared a deal by the time they left the Senior Bowl. Several people involved thought they would be the winner of the Stafford sweepstakes.

Sources say that's when Stafford -- who makes his first start for the Rams on Sunday night versus the Bears -- stepped in. After consulting with his family, he made clear that he wanted to go to the Rams and so did his family. Stafford made his voice heard, and the Lions brass listened.

Suddenly, the Panthers -- despite offering a prime first-round pick and Teddy Bridgewater -- were out.

As multiple sources explained for the first time, Stafford ultimately steered himself to Los Angeles. He stepped in and stopped a Panthers deal on the verge of happening and caused the Rams to up their offer to include two future first-round picks and Jared Goff.

The other offers for Stafford were large. Multiple high picks from most teams, including the Colts (with owner Jim Irsay leading the way), the Denver Broncos and the Washington Football Team.

In fact, even the rival Chicago Bears made it clear they were in the mix, knowing they needed to offer more to get an interdivision trade. While the 49ers remained interested, they didn't make a formal offer. Neither did the New York Jets.

And of course, while all this was going down, Rams head coach Sean McVay was in Mexico, where he ran into Stafford. The two had dinner and multiple sources joked about the deal happening while they were in the hot tub in Cabo. The Lions had given teams permission to speak to Stafford and agent Tom Condon, so tampering wasn't an issue.

But as one source described, McVay getting involved and speaking with Stafford ramped up the Rams' interest and drove up the price. By the time the Panthers deal was nixed, the Rams knew their offer needed to be strong. So, they increased it and got it done.

While the Panthers left the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30 to fly home thinking they had a deal, the Rams were finalizing one with Stafford. In truth, Stafford likely would have vetoed any deal that wasn't the Rams, per a source involved with the situation.

In the end, he landed where he wanted. Those in Los Angeles have been effusive about how good Stafford has been, and it all begins for real Sunday night.

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter.

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