Stafford spoke to two Detroit media outlets -- WDIV and the Detroit Free Press -- in his first public comments since the Lions agreed to trade their franchise quarterback to the Los Angeles Rams last month for Jared Goff and three draft picks.
Stafford told the Free Press that he and his wife, Kelly, started having conversations about the possibility of leaving Detroit before the 2020 season if there was a regime change.
"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," Stafford told the Free Press. "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 met with team president Rod Wood and owner Sheila Ford Hamp just after the season to have the conversation. The Lions were open to his request and started seeking out trade partners after the team hired Brad Holmes to be general manager and Dan Campbell as head coach.
Stafford told the Free Press he initially thought he would be heading to the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers or Washington Football Team -- all obvious landing spots looking for a quarterback. He actually didn't think the Rams would be a team that could pull off a big trade.
"I'm not a salary cap guru," Stafford told the Free Press. "It kind of got to a point where I'm like, 'OK, I can't sit there and go crazy.' I just tried to let it happen. And L.A. aggressively jumped into it."
Stafford said he and Kelly were in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, when the trade occurred. Just before the deal, he ran into Los Angeles offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, who joked to Stafford that the Rams would "make a run" at him.
Whitworth was right, and within 24 hours, the deal was done.
"We were excited for a new start, excited for the whole process of being on the trading block to be over," Stafford said. "Now we had a place. We knew where we were going. I was excited about their roster and their coaching staff and what they can bring to the table and their recent success.
"But at the same time, it was a close of the door in Detroit. At that moment it was real."
Stafford leaves Detroit as the Lions' franchise-record holder in every major passing category, including yards (45,109) and touchdowns (282). He said he played this past season through a partially torn UCL in his right thumb, a torn UCL in his left elbow, cartilage damage on one of his ribs, a tear in the back of his left knee and a subtalar right ankle sprain.
Now he leaves for Los Angeles and a new start, grateful for how the Lions handled the separation.
"Sometimes it's not the perfect storybook ending in the same place," Stafford said. "But I can leave here knowing that I gave this team every damn thing I had."