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Lions Roundtable: Should Detroit trade Matthew Stafford?

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Once the franchise’s savior, the quarterback isn’t as beloved.

Los Angeles Rams v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

First things first, if you’re unfamiliar with our roundtable or how it works, check out our archive and some of our most recent discussions from this season:

How the mighty have fallen from the good graces of this fanbase.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise: Lions fans are notorious for their finicky behavior, especially when it comes to their feelings about players. Barry Sanders early retirement took over a decade for fans to reconcile their anger towards the Hall of Fame running back. The vitriol for Calvin Johnson still lingers. The petty wars with Eric Ebron wage on in social media land.

But things have reached a tipping point with what was once considered the franchise’s surest spot. Matthew Stafford’s tenure as quarterback for the Detroit Lions is starting to wear the wrong way to a vocal minority of the fanbase, and when you have Peter King suggesting the Jacksonville Jaguars should send some draft capital to Detroit in exchange for Stafford, the internet fans the flames.

So, let’s have the staff here at Pride of Detroit discuss what was once the unimaginable...

Should the Detroit Lions trade Matthew Stafford?

Mansur Shaheen: no

Ryan Mathews: It’s inconceivable.

Kent Lee Platte: Okay, I'll bite. So because I enjoy watching football, specifically Lions football, my answer would be no. Not in 2019. The 2019 QB class doesn't look that impressive to me so the pickings would be slim. The free agent class isn't good either, even if you're only looking for a bridge. The cost to move on from Stafford now is substantial, and if the team is truly looking to rebuild, then the last thing they should be doing is taking a poor value risk at the most important position while financially strapping themselves to an anchor and jumping over the side.

All that said, the story completely turns on its head in 2020. If Stafford 2019 is the same as Stafford 2018, the Lions would be looking at another high pick in the draft, only they'd have a far stronger class to choose from, making it less of a risk. The financial burden to the team is significantly less, though still not great, making it more manageable for free agency. They'd also be a further year into rebuilding the defense. This would also mean they wouldn't HAVE to trade Stafford in the 2020 offseason, and could instead sit their rookie QB behind Stafford, a la Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, and trade Stafford only if they feel the rookie is ready in 2020 or potentially in the 2020 postseason to the Bears. By then, they could be moving on from Trubisky and he'd be a better signing than Mike Glennon was.

Hamza Baccouche: I’m a big devil’s advocate kinda guy, so you can’t post this question and not expect me to take the bait. I was on the boat of Jim Caldwell not being the greatest coach, but not being bad enough that he deserved to be fired, and I’ve never been a big MattPat fan. I’m at the point with the Lions where I honestly would love to get a little entertainment out of blowing the whole thing up. Kent makes some really good points and it seems like he’s thought this through more than me—I haven’t gone so far as to think of what you do once Stafford is traded. I guess that’s a product of me being a big draft capital kinda guy, and I’m triggered by how easily Bob Quinn has thrown away draft capital.

That being said, on a realistic note Stafford is on the wrong side of 30, and I won’t bet my money on him having a Drew Brees or Tom Brady type of longevity; even Aaron Rodgers is beginning to show his age at only age 35. If we went with Kent’s plan to draft in 2020, you get two more years of Stafford plus a year of grooming for a talented young quarterback, and at that point Stafford would be going into his next season at age 33—if you hadn’t won with Stafford yet, chances are you’re not going to.

Jeremy Reisman: While my cohorts are being polite and playing devil’s advocate, I will not.

Matthew Stafford is having a bad year. He’s made some killer fourth-quarter mistakes that have cost the Lions at least two games this year—arguably three or four.

Here’s what that doesn’t mean:

  • It doesn’t mean he’s a bad quarterback
  • It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care anymore
  • It doesn’t mean he’s a bad leader
  • It doesn’t mean he’s over the hill
  • It doesn’t mean he’s overpaid

Here’s what it does mean:

  • He’s had a bad year

I’m not making excuses for Stafford—many of his mistakes are his own doing—but there’s always proper context needed for his performance, and the truth is his worst games were poor team performances: 10 sacks against the Vikings, Aaron Donald eating Frank Ragnow’s lunch, Michael Roberts running the worst route in the world.

Besides all of the financial stupidity in making a completely over-reactionary move trading Stafford, you are setting back this franchise years by sending away a quarterback of his caliber and entrusting the future to a unknown rookie quarterback. Despite what many feel, this team is not in a complete rebuild and they could very well compete as soon as next season. Don’t let a couple of horrible late-game turnovers cloud your judgement. R-E-L-A-X

Hamza: It should be noted that Jeremy’s thoughts are his own and are not affiliated with Pride of Detroit. Pride of Detroit in no way endorses ‘R-E-L-A-X’.

Jeremy: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but some of this fanbase deserves a swift slap in the face. If I have to summon the devil to prove a point, so be it.

KLP: So maybe we don't look at trading Stafford away for nothing. Let's look at another possibility. Packaging Stafford for picks AND A PLAYER. These sorts of trades aren't common anymore, though fans always love the concept, but if we're looking at trading your franchise QB away, why not sample that unlikelihood?

This would be like the (insane, laughable) idea that the Lions trade Stafford for picks and Bortles from the Jags, or the totally not insane idea I heard to trade him to division rival Minnesota Vikings for Kirk Cousins straight up. You're still getting the same downside of trading him away, but maybe you get your bridge QB for when you draft a guy. Or maybe you get a premiere talent in the trade outside of QB. Netting All-Pro corner Jalen Ramsey or Patrick Peterson (though the latter only possible in three-way trade since they just drafted a QB) have both came up as possible trade bait this season.

Jeremy: So take a huge cap hit by trading away Stafford while also taking on a bloated contract of another good player and hitting the reset button on the franchise? Remember all that cap space the Lions are projected to have next offseason that we’ve all been salivating over the past month? Consider it all gone if you take this route, along with any hope of competing in the next three years.

Kato: Making a trade, even for a proven veteran quarterback who could presumably step in immediately and play NFL-level ball, adds another variable to the mix. I think I made the point before when we had the GM changes (Mayhew gone) and when we had the coaching changes (Caldwell gone) that you can only have so many moving parts at once. Remember, we are probably going to have a complete house-cleaning of the offensive coaching staff once the season is over—if not sooner.

Stafford, at the very least, already has familiarity and chemistry with the offensive line, with the receivers, and with the rest of the staff. The locker room on that side of the ball has already lost Golden Tate. Lang might retire. Do we really want to flush the offensive staff, the scheme, and the remaining leadership on offense all at the same time?

Hamza Baccouche: You make a fair point, Kato. By next season’s start it would feel like 2009 all over again. As for what Kent said about packaging in another player, I have to disagree.

If it were a quarterback, then it’s a no from me—you’re not getting someone who’s going to make you better than Stafford did, which means your ‘bridge player’ isn’t going to win you anything. If you’re going to (unofficially) tank, you tank. Get the best draft picks you can and don’t try to pull out five or six wins for the heck of it; nobody gains from that.

As for trading for a player like Peterson or Ramsey, I’m afraid I’m still against it. Again, if you couldn’t win with Stafford you’re not going to win by trading him for a corner, no matter how elite. The only thing I see being gained from that is cementing Detroit’s reputation for wasting away the prime years of star players.

I’m glad everyone else here has thought this through more than me, and I think it’s becoming more and more clear why this is a horrendous idea. Let’s not forget that above average quarterbacks aren’t easy to come by. Trade Stafford and you risk not just one or two, but 10 or 15 years of misery trying to find someone who can do what he does, let alone someone better.

Ryan: Detroit gains nothing from trading Matthew Stafford other than more agony. Seriously, if the Lions decided to part ways with Stafford—which has already been essentially described as cap-crippling—not only does that make the team irrelevant in 2019, but it means your team is at least two years away from competing.

What Stafford has proven in his time in Detroit is being capable of making plays and throws other quarterbacks can’t. He’s also proven to not be the kind of quarterback who can make a soufflé out of a barren fridge. We know he’s not elite. He’s not Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees. But a Lions team with a defense and talented players at the skill positions, sort of like the team in 2014, Matthew Stafford didn’t inhibit that team from succeeding. He wasn’t what Bortles is now to the Jaguars, and he isn’t that guy moving forward. A team can succeed with Stafford at the helm. They have before and they can again.