Since being taken first overall in 2009, Matthew Stafford has always been a divisive figure in Detroit sports. Some lauded the pick when it happened, while others angrily lamented passing on generational talents like Aaron Curry and Jason Smith. Others still thought the Lions should have taken Mark Sanchez out of USC instead, but whether you love or hate Stafford I think we can all agree the team made the correct selection with that particular pick in 2009.
Stafford struggled mightily on a near talentless team in 2009 and was injured in 2010 after showing some early promise. He would storm back in 2011, posting a statistical fantastic season and leading the Lions to the playoffs as he won Comeback Player of the Year. Now the Detroit Lions record holder in nearly every passing category, why is it that we’re looking now at the possibility of seeing him traded to a new team in 2019? It’s not as simple as one NFL exec makes it sound, but we’re going to take a look anyway.
Simple math first, what would Matthew Stafford be worth on the open market? The biggest trade of 2018 saw an elite pass rusher, a second-round pick, and a fifth-round pick for two future first round picks, a sixth round pick, and a third round pick.
As for quarterbacks, we’ll start by looking at Carson Palmer in 2011 who was traded for a first and second rounder from the Bengals to Raiders, coming off his 31-year-old season where the threw 20 interceptions. 28-year-old oft-injured Sam Bradford would go from the Eagles to the Vikings for a first and fourth-round pick in 2016. Jay Cutler, then 25, was coming off his first and only Pro Bowl season, but was shipped from the Broncos to Bears for two first rounders, a third, and failed fourth-round pick in Kyle Orton.
Stafford, now 30, would be entering his 11th year in the NFL, and while 2018 was a statistical down season for him, he is still nursing one of the longest starting streaks in the NFL. After his first bout with injury, he has been remarkably consistent, remaining healthy and playing through what injuries he has had. Your starting point for trade value would likely be higher than Carson Palmer’s 1 and 2 as Stafford’s down season hasn’t been nearly as disastrous as Palmer’s was, and there is no threat of retirement like Palmer had.
Likewise it will easily clear Bradford, who was already looking at a third team after suffering repeated injuries for his first two teams. I’d doubt he’d go for what the Bears had to give up for Cutler, as he’s five years older and not coming off a Pro Bowl year, but we’re still looking at a first-round pick and a second high pick, coupled with a mid rounder or two with a pick or two going the other way.
Educated guess at trade value:
Lions give Matthew Stafford, a 2019 4th round pick
Receive 2019 1st round pick, 2019 2nd round pick, 2020 5th round pick, 2020 7th round pick
This is where things get a bit dicey. Numbers per Overthecap.com.
2019 estimated cap space: $38,087,722
Estimated cap space after Stafford Trade: $37,587,722
The Lions will eat the entirety of Stafford’s 2019 cap plus an additional $500,000. This means that there are no savings at all from a cap perspective, so the team will have to use their existing cap space—without the additional money needed to sign two more high draft picks— on any free agents they were hoping to bring in.
It’s not chump change, but it’s also not rebuilding type of money. It would signal not only that the Lions are in full on rebuild mode, but that it’s not a short-term turnaround. Bringing in a new quarterback, however they do it, will take time, and the team will need to be very careful with both length and size of their contracts, and much more so than they already should be, as it won’t take many wrong moves to put the team into a very poor cap situation. You don’t want to be in cap purgatory as well as quarterback purgatory.
Who replaces Stafford?
Tyrod Taylor: A mobile quarterback who holds onto the ball way too long, Taylor is an adequate bridge quarterback but the risk of injury due to his play style is high. He won’t be cost prohibitive, but it won’t be cheap to bring him in, either.
Josh McCown: He hasn’t played bridge for every team in the NFL just yet, so why not bring in an often-injured old dog and let him play, gambling on which week your rookie or next reserve will start?
Teddy Bridgewater: Likely to be a crown jewel for somebody in the 2019 free agent class, Bridgewater is likely to find a decent pay day, making him an unlikely option, but one of the only free agents that could have a long-term future starting.
Mark Sanchez: Why not pull in a 2009 QB first-round pick to replace one for a bit?
Trevor Siemian: Starter experience, though obviously not a long-term option, he could bridge for a year or even two if the team opted to get a QB from the stronger 2020 class instead of 2019.
Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State: With Justin Herbert going back to school, Dwayne Haskins is likely the top quarterback in the class after receiving a first-round grade from the Advisory Committee. Should he declare, he’s probably the top guy. Haskins has a one-year resume of prolific college production in the Big Ten, a prototypical pocket passer with a live arm and proper accuracy who has a projected strong athletic profile.
Drew Lock, Missouri: After chatting with some of my draftnik friends, this is probably going to be the most polarizing prospect of the bunch. Depending on who you ask, you’re looking at Ryan Tannehill or Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck or EJ Manuel. One generally common thread is that he’s probably going to be overdrafted, which is generally a poor sign.
Daniel Jones, Duke: The comp I keep seeing for Daniel Jones is Matt Ryan, which sounds good until you realize that “Matt Ryan Pro Comp” generally translates to “Accurate QB with a poor arm” when it comes to draft projection. I’ve seen Andy Dalton comps too, which means generally the same thing.
Will Grier, West Virginia: Big arm, big production, fast-paced offense that mirrors some of the new trends in the NFL, Grier has some things to like. Grier generally ranked in the QB3-QB5 range before Herbert went back to school, so well thought of but not top dog for most folks.
Alternative - Post June 1 Trade
A post June-1st trade would give the Lions significant cap relief, but that relief would come well after the free agency period has almost completely wrapped. This would be a tough situation because the draft will be over, so your trade partners will be limited as some teams will have already taken a quarterback. Likewise, since the draft has concluded, you’re dealing in future picks which are generally regarded as lower value. The Lions will have likely taken a quarterback as well, which means their position negotiating is weaker. That’s no good, but the cap situation going forward is better.
Lions give Matthew Stafford, a 2020 3rd round pick
Receive 2020 1st round pick, 2020 2nd round pick, 2021 4th round pick, 2021 7th round pick
2019 estimated cap space: $38,087,722
Estimated cap after a post June 1 Stafford Trade: $57,587,722 ($19,500,000 gained)
An important caveat to remember with those numbers is that the Lions will have spent most of their cap by that point, aside from what they gain form a Stafford trade.
Alternative - Reload in 2020
Maybe the Lions look at this free agent and draft class and decide to go after something in 2020. They’d be able to use their multiple first round picks to reload on defense or add a playmaker on offense or two. This would keep Stafford ON the roster, most likely, or see him traded in 2020 for significant savings.
You know who’s a free agent in 2020, officially? Freaking everybody. I know, almost no one I’m listing here will actually see free agency, but it’s always fun to take a gander at what could be.
Drew Brees: At 41, he’d still be throwing a million passes a season. Top-tier bridge guy, obviously.
Russell Wilson: He may not have been the most loved by his teammates, but Wilson would be 32 and facing some prime years to go.
Ben Roethlisberger: Want a guy who calls out his teammates and has injury and character concerns hitting 38 on the downside of his career?
Eli Manning: Imagine trying to sell this to your fanbase?
Philip Rivers: Like Manning, he’d be 39. Unlike Manning, he’s still playing well. Would be an intriguing, if expensive, transition.
Justin Herbert, Oregon: Generally considered QB1 in this class before deciding to return to school, Herbert is going to have to have a pretty epic season to keep that honor in 2020. He’s coming off an erratic, but fairly productive 2018 season for Oregon and will be deep in the Heisman race if he plays well again next year.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: A lefty with ridiculous college production and efficiency despite playing in the SEC, Tagovailoa was a Heisman finalist in 2018 and will be contending for that as well as probably another Championship in 2019. Injured late in the year, it’s possible he takes it a little easier next season as well, which may affect his draft stock.
Jake Fromm, Georgia: Should Fromm put up the type of season in 2019 as he did his freshman and sophomore years for Georgia, he’ll be near the top of 2020 projections if he declares. Youth as well as production generally leads to high draft selection. It’d be a bit odd going from one Georgia signal caller to another, but what can you do.
Shea Patterson, Michigan: You know it’s going to be a hot topic, Michigan quarterback entering the draft who might actually have prospects. I don’t see Patterson as a high-ranking prospect entering the 2020 season, but maybe he lights it up in his final year.
All in all, I don’t buy that the Lions are looking to unload Matthew Stafford with all the dead money he’ll cost and the general weakness of the free agent and draft class in 2019. The 2020 class is far more intriguing (even if the free agent class is a lot of fool’s gold at this point).
Now, teams who are constantly looking for quarterbacks will often say “Skip this class, the next one is so much better!” I want to make it clear that I hadn’t even started looking at quarterbacks as a legitimate draft option prior to the whole “they’re gonna trade Stafford” stuff, so it was just looking at the class in the context of the draft and not in the context of needing one. My best bet is that the Lions hold Stafford for 2019 and if he plays like he did in 2018 next season, they’ll be in the QB market heavy. A trade wouldn’t be off the table, but I’d guess they keep Stafford on for a season to bring along their new guy slowly. With Stafford’s durability, your new quarterback likely wouldn’t be on the field until 2021.
What do you think? Take a guess in the poll below and let us know your thoughts in the comments. Since apparently we’re going to be diving heavily into QB scouting for the first time in a decade, let us know if there’s anybody we haven’t mentioned that you’d like us to check out.
What should the Lions do at Quarterback?
This poll is closed
Bite the Bullet 1 - Trade in 2019 pre-June, draft Hankins
Bite the Bullet 2 - Trade in 2019 pre-June, draft Lock
Bite the Bullet 3 - Trade in 2019 pre-June, draft Jones
Bite the Bullet 4 - Trade in 2019 pre-June, draft Grier
Bite the Bullet 5 - Trade in 2019 pre-June, Other, see Comments
Reload 1 - Draft a Bridge QB, see comments
Reload 2 - Draft Herbert
Reload 3 - Draft Tagovailoa
Reload 4 - Draft Fromm
Reload 5 - Draft Patterson
Reload 6 - Other