Matthew Stafford hasn’t practiced in nearly a month. He suffered a back injury at the end of Week 9’s game against the Oakland Raiders, and after Detroit Lions doctors found a complication the following Friday, they shut him down from practice.
Since then the Lions have dropped four more games and are now officially eliminated from the playoff race at 3-8-1. Despite that, Stafford remains on the active 53-man roster. Over the weekend the Lions chose to place Jeff Driskel—the emergency backup quarterback for Thanksgiving—on injured reserve rather than Stafford.
The question most people are asking now is simple: Why? Why risk anything with Stafford in a lost season, especially after back-to-back seasons with reported fractures in his back?
Lions head coach Matt Patricia continued to call Stafford’s condition “week-by-week,” and attempted to explain why Stafford remains on the roster and could potentially even return to play.
“Obviously we’re going to keep that door open and see what happens here with all the stuff we’re doing with the doctors and everything from that standpoint,” Patricia said. “Out of respect for Matthew and his competitiveness and what he means to this team, what he brings every single week, we’re just going to take it week-by-week and see what happens from that standpoint.”
Keeping Stafford on the roster as a favor to the quarterback is, on the surface, a noble cause and one that should keep the franchise player happy. A report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter last month suggested Stafford is “maniacal” about returning to play.
But keeping him does occupy a roster spot that could be used on a younger player for Detroit to get a look at during this final month of the season.
Just because Stafford remains on the roster is by no means a guarantee that he’ll enter the game in any of Detroit’s final four games. Patricia wouldn’t make any conclusive statements in that scenario, saying only that they’ll make that decision if the situation necessitates it.
“I think we’ll try to just make the best decision we can whenever that timeline, if it does, come up,” Patricia said.