I’ve tried to stay quiet about this. I’ve mostly limited my engagement on this matter to a tweet or two. But as the offseason marches on, pundits and fans everywhere are trying as hard as they possibly can to wedge Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa into the Lions’ draft plans with the third overall pick.
If you’re a Lions fan, you’re used to this sort of thing, right? It seems like the demise of the Lions and Matthew Stafford’s relationship is on the ropes every single year. The Lions have supposedly been wanting to trade away Stafford since 2016 when Bob Quinn took the job as Lions general manager
Those rumors are continuing today. It’s mostly just one guy hearing things “on these streets.” Also former New York Jet Bart Scott said he thinks the Patriots should trade for Stafford and about umpteen hundred people took that the wrong way.
The reason these scenarios are so big in the fold now is obvious. The Lions have the third overall pick. So the idea is that the Lions trade Stafford and draft Tagovailoa for the future. Or in other scenarios, they draft the Alabama quarterback and keep him on ice behind Stafford until he magically becomes Aaron Rodgers when Stafford abruptly retires before joining the New York Jets.
Both of these plans just don’t work for the Lions. Frankly, the Lions would be making a gigantic mistake that would likely reverberate for many years. Here are some reasons why.
Make or Break
Let’s start off with the obvious. The Ford family met with both Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia after the season and allowed them both to stay on under the auspices that the Lions become playoff contenders immediately. It’s not clear whether that means the Lions need to make the playoffs in 2020 for the duo to keep their job or if it means the Lions have a couple years to build towards being playoff contenders.
Either way, the Lions can’t afford to do anything that has the word future attached to it. They have to be calculated with every measure this offseason or they’re out. So it just doesn’t make sense to spend your third pick on a guy that either won’t play because he’s on the bench, or does play and makes rookie mistakes in a year your job is on the line.
The Lions front office and coaching staff are not in a position to do anything in good faith. It’s get-it-done-or-go. A quarterback with the third pick instead of guys like Jeff Okudah, Derrick Brown and maybe, just maybe, Chase Young is just not getting it done now.
Tagovailoa’s injury history cannot be ignored
This guy didn’t go out there and stub his toe. He dislocated his hip. This is similar to the injury that ended Bo Jackson’s career. Obviously medical science has come a long way since 1991, but it’s not like human bodies have changed. Dislocating a hip is still a gruesome injury. He also suffered a posterior wall fracture. According to Orthoinfo, that’s the type of injury that happens in car accidents. He also got a concussion and a broken nose too. This all happened at one time.
Aside from that major injury, he’s also sprained his knee, injured his quad, broke his index finger, hurt his left ankle, hurt his ankle again and then underwent a procedure on his ankles two years in a row. His injury history is long.
This is frankly going to be a high-risk pick for any team. Most believe he’s going to go in the top five, but we haven’t seen him do anything athletic since November 16. He could have a really bad combine and slip down the draft. This sort of thing happens to draft prospects every year and we act like we can’t figure out why every time.
If you want to propose a scenario where the Lions can utilize their third pick on a player that can start on defense day one and then grab Tagovailoa with a pick in the later round, I’m all for it. Go get the kid. But that’s probably not going to happen.
For right now, I can’t shake the feeling that Tagovailoa is the next Robert Griffin III. Only worse.
The Lions are not built for the future
Here’s the final point. I fully understand that the Lions won three games in 2019. I also fully understand that for the second straight season, they were devastated not by just injuries, but by key injuries to difference-making players. The Lions entered the 2019 season as the 10th oldest team in the league, with an average age of 26.2. While that’s not super old, the Lions also happen to be a team that isn’t expected to lose many players this offseason. They’re only getting older. If you’re looking to start things over with a rookie quarterback, the Lions don’t exactly have a youthful roster to help burgeon that rebuild.
On top of that, Matthew Stafford is only 31 years old. He has three years left on his deal. If the Lions decide to cut bait with a guy that was possible MVP candidate before his injury and go with a rookie, they’ll first have to saddle themselves with $32 million in dead money. That’s right. The Lions little experiment with a rookie quarterback would cost them $32 million right out of the gate. Why would any team want to do that?
It doesn’t get much better if you want to sit Tagovailoa for a year and then cut bait with Stafford. The Lions would save $13 million doing it that way, but, again, they’d still have a $19 million dead cap crater to deal with. This move still costs the team more money right off the bat. Part of the appeal of drafting a quarterback is to spend a minimal amount of money on the quarterback position, but you’ve now burned the first two years of that four-year deal.
With those two things in mind, I have to ask, what about this team makes you think they’re financially and logistically ready to start over with a rookie quarterback? Also, what makes you think it would suddenly work out?
If you want to go for a total rebuild, that’s fine. But it’s going to be a very long rebuild due to dead money. Tagovailoa might come out and look really good in his rookie year. But the team won’t be able to build around him because they’ll be in debt.
On the worse side of things, what if Tagovailoa never works out? What if he’s a bust? Then you have a quarterback who’s a bust and a team that suddenly has to find a new GM, new coaching staff and a new quarterback. I understand fans want wins and success, but setting off a bomb within the organization isn’t going to do anything but prolong your misery and cost the team a lot of money. It’s the worst thing this team can do.