From the moment Dak Prescott went down with what was obviously a very serious leg injury on Sunday afternoon, NFL fans across the world—and especially Detroit Lions fans—looked to Matthew Stafford as a potential trade target for the Dallas Cowboys.
It’s easy dot connecting for the casual fan. The Cowboys lead the NFC East, but they’re just 2-3 and Prescott was absolutely carrying Dallas and their god-awful defense through the first month of the season. Without Prescott, this team could easily fall out of contention with Andy Dalton at the helm. Throw in Prescott’s uncertain future given that Dallas didn’t come to a contract agreement with him this offseason, and Stafford makes a lot of sense from an immediate and future standpoint for the Cowboys.
On Detroit’s side, it makes sense at face value. The Lions are dangerously close to hitting the reset button on the franchise. Putting Matthew Stafford through yet another rebuild seems like a waste of both sides’ time. Getting a few high draft picks for Stafford could be a great start for the new GM/head coach pairing in Detroit. Hell, Stafford would be just miles from where he grew up, too!
But as both teams currently stand, this is a deal that will never happen. The Lions’ current general manager Bob Quinn is not the most popular guy in town. In fact, five years into the job, he’s managed to drop his approval rating to just eight percent. Not only would trading Stafford be a fairly unpopular move, Quinn would be signing his own pink slip by pulling the trigger. This team went 0-8 without Stafford last year, and they may be in even worse shape this season. The season is over if Stafford is gone, and that likely means another 3-13 or 2-14 record. I’d be shocked if Quinn would keep his job after that—and, no, he can’t use the excuse that he traded away Stafford.
Right now, Quinn likely believes the team can turn around this season... because he has no choice but to believe in that. If he peeks too far into the future, he’ll see he has no future in Detroit if he moves Stafford.
All that being said, trading Stafford to the Cowboys right now would be a legitimate conversation to be had if the Lions had a new (or interim) general manager in place. Even with Stafford’s slow start to the season, his value remains very high—especially to a team like Dallas. We’ve reached the point in Stafford contract where he becomes movable—saving the Lions $7.7 million in cap space this year, and changing his cost from $34.95 million in cap space in 2021 (if he were on the team) to $24.85 million in dead cap. For Dallas, he’d be an absolute bargain at base salaries of $9.5 million and $12.5 million in 2021 and 2022.
Personally, I hate the idea of trading Stafford away. As Lions fans, we know just how difficult it can be to find a quarterback even at his level of play. There’s no guarantee the grass is greener on the other side. In fact, there’s a very good chance it isn’t.
But as the Lions edge nearer and nearer to yet another rebuild, we’re getting closer and closer to having some difficult conversations. We’re just not quite there yet.