It’s that time of year again. It’s that time of year when the Matthew Stafford takes are flying around like crazy. They’re always centered around the same theories. It’s either theory No. 1 where the Lions decide to trade their great quarterback in favor of starting over again or theory No. 2 where Matthew Stafford suddenly goes full James Harden and demands to be shipped somewhere else.
I get it this year. There are a lot of things that would point in the direction that would have Stafford somewhere else in 2021. He’s getting older, he’s getting banged up and the Lions are about to go through yet another regime change. This would mean Stafford, if he stays, would have his third different GM, fourth different head coach and fifth offensive coordinator. That’s enough to make anyone want to leave, right?
But I think we’re looking at this too simplistically.
So today I want to offer up some counterargument and quell the fears of the Stafford fans that don’t want to see him go. I also want to ruffle the feathers of the fans that thinks his dismissal the only way the Lions can succeed and, therefore, it’s a forgone conclusion.
First off, we have to look at the GM search and the Lions positioning in the draft. The Lions are going up against some competition when it comes to the GM search. The Falcons and Texans are both looking for new general managers and there may be other teams that follow soon. This is suddenly a competition for the best candidate. Matthew Stafford is an asset that you can’t pass up if you’re one of those candidates.
Obviously Deshaun Watson looks more attractive because of his age and ability, but Stafford, despite being 32, isn’t too far off from him in terms of ability. You might even say that Stafford’s arm is a lot more talented than Watson’s. But Stafford doesn’t have the athleticism. So if you’re a new GM looking for a team that has the key piece that every team needs, the Lions looks like a pretty good looking job in that department.
The flip side is the Lions are a train wreck. If you’re a candidate looking at Detroit, you have to be looking at all the work you’re about to have to do. The defense needs to be revamped from top to bottom. There’s almost no one at wide receiver right now, because the prior regime left everyone unsigned. And the Lions franchise is currently cultureness with no history of winning. A prospective GM would have to do all of that with the weight of the entire history of the Detroit Lions on their back. This could be their one chance to be a GM. Will they really want to be the next one that tanked the Lions?
The Lions aren’t buying here, they’re selling. The biggest selling point for this team by far is Matthew Stafford. He’s reliable, he’s tough, he clearly knows how to learn a bunch of different systems, and he’s the one thing on this team that’s closest to a sure thing.
Even in the situation where the Lions draft a quarterback in the first round, it’s still wise to hold onto Stafford for at least another year or two while you groom your new guy. This is probably the most likely scenario. There are plenty of examples that this works out better than just sticking a rookie in the deep end and hoping he can swim. See Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, for examples.
You’re probably saying to yourself, “But Mike, what if the new guy wants to come in and wipe everything out and start over again?”
Yeah, that’s totally possible. I’m not saying there’s no way Stafford isn’t gone after 2020. It’s possible. But let me lay out the current path for the new GM to do that.
First they would have to come in and pay Matthew Stafford $19 million in dead cap to play somewhere else in 2021. Even if it does provide $14 million in cap savings, it’s not like you can use that to get your new quarterback. Who you going to sign? Mitchell Trubisky?
So now you have to draft a quarterback. Right now Lions are sitting outside the top 10 with the 11th pick. That’s not going to get you Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields or probably not even Zach Wilson. You’re in Trey Lance territory now. Not god awful, but certainly not better than Matthew Stafford. Now if you wanted sit Lance down for a year or two behind Stafford, that makes sense.
The new GM is hamstringing themselves if they trade Stafford in favor of a rookie quarterback. Unless, of course, they’re able to trade Stafford to get an additional first round pick. That’s something that’s generally easier said than done though. A rebuild is cool, but using your resources to rebuild areas that need to be rebuilt is cooler.
Of course, we also have to talk about the scenario of Matthew Stafford turning into the complete opposite of what he’s been his entire career and demand to be traded. It’s simple. The guy has said on countless occasions he wants to be in Detroit. Yes, there are situations where players just say that. This isn’t one of them. He’s been saying it for years and his story hasn’t changed at all. He might very well be traded, but it won’t be because he asked for it.
Alright, now that all that is out of the way, we have to address the very real thing here. This is almost over. Stafford may not be going anywhere in 2021 and maybe not even 2022. Heck, he might not leave till his contract is up. But that day is coming sooner than later. The Lions new GM will probably draft his replacement this coming April, and they probably will begin to groom that replacement behind Stafford. I don’t want to see him go, but it’s a harsh reality in this business. Stafford’s best days are more than likely behind him. It’s time to start looking at a future where he won’t be in Detroit or maybe not even in the NFL at all. That future just isn’t the immediate one.