NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions dives for the touchdown against Roman Harper #41 and Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints during their 2012 NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
From now until the start of free agency, Pride of Detroit will take a look at each position on the Detroit Lions roster. We begin the series today with a look at the quarterback position.
Under contract: Matthew Stafford (through 2014)
Just like last year, there is no uncertainty about who is the Detroit Lions' starting quarterback. Unlike last year, there is far less uncertainty about if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy. At this time last year, the big question about the Lions going forward was about if they would actually have Stafford for a full season for a change. As you all know, Stafford emphatically answered that question by playing in 17 games for the Lions in this past season -- 16 in the regular season and one in the playoffs.
In 2011, Stafford not only quieted concerns about if he can stay on the field, but he also showed the football world that he can be an elite quarterback. He wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl, but he put up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers by throwing for 5,038 yards and having 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. There were certain points in the season when Stafford dealt with consistency issues, but considering 2011 was his first full season on the field in the NFL and he did have to deal with a broken finger on his throwing hand, on the whole it was an excellent season for the former Georgia Bulldog.
Right now, Stafford is the only quarterback on the Lions roster under contract for next season. His backups, Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton, are both set to become free agents on March 13. The Lions have made it known that they want to re-sign Hill, and Hill wants to stay with the Lions. In all likelihood, he will be back for another season as Stafford's backup, and the hope will once again be that Hill only makes a few appearances in 2012 -- when the Lions are up by a few touchdowns and just need to run out the clock.
As for Stanton, he just spoke about his situation and made it clear he wants the opportunity to be a backup. Considering Hill will likely be back as the Lions' backup quarterback, it seems like Stanton will end up signing elsewhere if given the chance. He sounded open to returning to the Lions if nothing else is out there, but I'd be willing to bet at least one team will give him a chance to be their No. 2 quarterback.
Need going forward?
Assuming the Lions do re-sign Hill, whether or not there is any need at this position going into next season will be based on what happens with Stanton. Even if he does return I would expect the Lions to bring in a fourth quarterback to compete for a spot on the roster during training camp much like Zac Robinson did last year. He ended up landing on the Cincinnati Bengals' active roster and signed a futures contract with them in January, so expect an undrafted free agent or some other younger player to be given a chance to go through training camp.
If Stanton does end up signing somewhere else, the situation will be similar for the Lions. Chances are they will bring in a younger quarterback to give him a chance to go through camp and compete for a spot as the third-string quarterback. I could also see them giving somebody with more experience a chance if Stanton departs this offseason.
In any case, I think the Lions will go into training camp with four quarterbacks on the roster. Stafford will obviously be one of them, and Hill will likely be among the group as well. Stanton seems unlikely to return, and if he can find a backup job elsewhere, he should be all means pursue it. It's certainly nice to have a competent third-stringer like Stanton, but his career wasn't advanced by being inactive all last season, so he deserves to land on a team where he has a legitimate chance to compete for playing time. I don't see that happening in Detroit as long as Stafford and Hill are around and healthy.