Believe it or not, free agency is just about two months away. For the Detroit Lions, that means the team must face some important decisions about their own players before then and start preparing for some new faces that may come to Detroit.
So to prepare ourselves for the incoming trials and tribulations of the offseason, it’s time to revisit the Lions roster and where it stands going into the 2020 season. We are going to break down every position on the roster, identify who is signed for the future, whose future is up in the air, and how big of a need that position is.
Like most of these series, we’re going to start at the top of the roster: quarterback.
Under contract: Matthew Stafford (2022), Kyle Sloter (2020), David Blough (2021)
Free agent: Jeff Driskel (UFA)
Despite what the draftniks may try to tell you in the upcoming months, the Detroit Lions are set at starting quarterback with Matthew Stafford. If anything, their recent restructuring of Stafford’s deal shows their commitment long-term to the quarterback, as it added more dead money in case of an early departure.
If you are to take him at his word, Stafford’s back injury will be fully healed by the time offseason workouts come along, and he has absolutely no interest in talking retirement.
But Detroit’s backup job remains completely up for grabs. In 2019, both Jeff Driskel and rookie David Blough made their cases, but neither could notch themselves a win before the season was out. Here’s a statistical comparison of the two.
Jeff Driskel (3 games): 59.0 completion percentage, 6.5 Y/A, 4 TDs, 4 INTs, 75.3 passer rating; 22 rushes, 151 yards
David Blough (5 games): 54.0 completion percentage, 5.7 Y/A, 4 TDs, 6 INTs, 64.0 passer rating; 8 rushes, 31 yards
While it’s clear that Driskel outplayed Blough—and brought the added benefit of a rushing threat—Blough has two advantages on Driskel: he’s younger (24 vs. 26) and, more importantly, he’s under contract.
Still, it seems like the Lions like Driskel a lot. Take, for example, this from general manager Bob Quinn after the season was over:
“Matthew got hurt you know Jeff went in there and the three games he started, I would say that he probably played good enough to win two out of those three,” Quinn said. “We didn’t win those games and that was probably a byproduct of the defense not having a great day or special teams not having a great day. Jeff went in there, and I thought played at a decent level to help us win the game.”
Compare that to what he said about Blough:
“David Blough is a rookie free agent that we brought in as a developmental guy and all of a sudden he has to start at the end of the season. He wasn’t perfect, but the experience that he gained, the plays that he made were pretty impressive. Now did he have some mistakes? He sure did. He’s going to learn from those.”
In other words, Blough still appears to be their developmental third-string guy. They still need a backup, and Driskel may be that guy.
Level of need: 7/10
2019 was finally a reminder that a normal team can’t get away with having their starting quarterback play every game for eight years straight. The Lions were lucky to have Stafford as healthy as he was for as long as he was.
But how much do the Lions invest in a backup? We saw how a significant investment in Teddy Bridgewater (one-year, $7.25 million) helped the Saints keep their head above water while Drew Brees was injured. But Stafford’s mega-contract has the Lions already among the top teams in quarterback spending.
Was Jeff Driskel’s play good enough for the Lions to potentially throw a medium deal his way? Is the fact that the Lions traded for David Blough before the season a sign that they view him as the long-term starter?
Personally, I think it makes sense to bring back Driskel and let him and Blough fight it out for the backup job. I know after last year, many will be hoping for a more significant investment in the position, but the best way to mitigate the damage of an injured starting quarterback is to build a better supporting cast around them.
As Bob Quinn said, Driskel did play well enough to beat the Bears or the Cowboys or Washington. Unfortunately, the team was let down by their defense and special teams. Teddy Bridgewater was good in New Orleans this year and went 5-0 in his five starts, but he also won one of those games 12-10 and another one 13-6. He averaged just 241 passing yards per game while Drew Brees averaged 286 after he came back. In other words, your best backup quarterback is a solid supporting cast.
I would be perfectly fine if the Lions entered 2020 with their Matthew Stafford, Jeff Driskel and David Blough as their quarterbacks.