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Next Man Up: If Matthew Stafford went down, are the Lions in good hands?

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Our new article series, “Next Man Up,” examines how the depth at each position stacks up if the best player went down.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

This article marks the beginning of a new series called “Next Man Up.” The series will examine the depth of each position on the team in the event that the best player were out for the season—for injury, suspension, or anything else. Knock on wood.

We begin with the quarterback position, something Lions fans took for granted during the Jim Schwartz era (a.k.a. Shaun Hill’s golden years). If anything, fans should have learned to appreciate it after last year’s preseason fiasco in which the Matt Cassel and Jake Rudock battled to be the lesser of two evils interception machines.

Cassel eventually outlasted Rudock, but that didn’t ease any of the worry at the backup position. Fortunately for the Lions, Cassel was limited to relief action in two blowout losses. The Lions let Cassel walk after the season, and this long into free agency it doesn’t look like they’ll be bringing back the soon-to-be 37-year-old journeyman.

That brings us to this year.

Starter: Matthew Stafford

Next Man Up: Connor Cook

The Lions signed former Michigan State and Oakland Raiders quarterback Connor Cook to a futures contract on New Year’s Day. Cook is a combined 32-for-66 for 311 yards, two touchdown, and four interceptions in two games played, including one in the playoffs.

The signing was welcomed with open arms after a year of bleak outlook on the quarterback depth chart behind starter Matthew Stafford. The Lions likely took note of Cook during joint practices with the Raiders in the 2018 preseason, getting a firsthand look at Cook throughout an entire week of practice.

It should be noted, though, that by giving Cook a futures contract, they don’t have much tied up in the experiment and should Cook not pan out, there’s not much at risk.

It still seems likely the Lions will draft a quarterback in the later rounds of this year’s draft, especially with all the raw talent that will be available at the position on Day 3.

Grade: C+

If Matthew Stafford were to go down in 2019 (knock on wood), Cook is serviceable. Reasonably, you’d probably win at least four or five games with him at the helm for an entire season. Cook is far from the best option at backup quarterback, but he’s certainly a noticeable upgrade over the Lions’ 2018 options. There’s room for improvement should they allocate Day 3 draft capital towards someone with a higher ceiling, but there’s no guarantee they go that route.

Room for improvement: The draft is likely the most feasible option for the Lions to find an upgrade at backup quarterback. Free agency doesn’t usually present many quality options at that position, and the fun idea of signing Blake Bortles as backup quarterback fizzled out when the Los Angeles Rams reeled him in off the market.

The last couple rounds of the draft should see names like Easton Stick, Trace McSorley, and Gardner Minshew called, and I like those guys in that order, but they’re all raw and have lots of room for development.

Lastly, there’s the option of the AAF. While the quarterback play in that league has been on the extremes of really good and really bad, there are a handful of names who may make sense. Garrett Gilbert of the Orlando Apollos, Logan Woodside of the San Antonio Commanders, and Luis Perez of the Birmingham Iron are all viable options for quality depth quarterbacks in the NFL. It will be interesting to see if the Lions or any other NFL teams make a move on any of the aforementioned.

Regardless of which route they go, merely giving Connor Cook a futures contract almost guarantees the Lions aren’t done looking for talent at backup quarterback. They have plenty of options on the table, and while the Lions got away with neglecting the position in 2018, they can’t bet on that happening again.