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How much time does Matthew Stafford have left?

It’s a tough subject to broad, but one the Lions will have to consider life after Stafford sooner rather than later.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

I miss sports so much right now. It feels like it's been 25 years since we last watched the Detroit Lions play football. Now we’re trapped in that part of the offseason where there’s not a thing in going on. Which gives a lot of time to think about things.

One thing that’s on my mind is Matthew Stafford. Specifically this.

Life After Stafford.

Okay, everyone just calm down. At this very point Matthew Stafford is 32 years old. That’s still pretty young when you consider the ages of a lot of the league's current starters. For example, Ben Roethlisberger is 38, Drew Brees is 41, Philip Rivers is 38, Matt Ryan is 35, Aaron Rodgers is 36 and Tom Brady is 62. Older quarterbacks aren’t an oddity. They’re more of generality.

The old trope in the NFL is that the older a quarterback gets, the more the game slows down for them. By now, most of these guys have mastered the position. You can see that in Stafford lately. Stafford’s last five seasons have been a remarkable turnaround from the young player that struggled to get things under control.

Last year, Stafford was en route to an MVP-caliber season before a back injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. With offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell still around and Kenny Golladay being among his arsenal of targets, Stafford could do it again and finish the job in 2020. If the Lions run game finally shows up, that only makes him more dangerous.

Having said all that, it’s time to at least have the conversation that many Lions fans are dreading. How much longer does Matthew Stafford play? First and foremost, age alone tells you that Stafford is on the back half of his career. Judging by the current age of the guys listed above, Stafford has about five to seven years left before he decides to hang them up in that age 38-40 range. It’s all really going to depend on a few things.

Does Stafford’s body hold up? That’s obviously the question that has some worried. He did just come off the aforementioned back injury. Stafford has had broken bones in his back. That’s a problem, especially for a guy that’s been sacked 40 or more times in four of his last six seasons. That’s a lot. Last June we found that Stafford had been sacked 329 times in his career. That’s also a lot.

A couple weeks ago, Stafford spoke to Detroit media and said that he’d be ready to suit up tomorrow if needed. He said “I feel great, it’s healthy, healed up.” While it’s not engraved in stone just yet, Stafford is more than likely a go for the 2020 season.

We know he’s tough. We’ve seen this guy take hit after hit and injury after injury and still keep going. You have to wonder how much more the guy can take before his body decides he’s done even if the mind resists.

The good thing here is for the first time since 2010, Matthew Stafford has had a very long time to heal. He hasn’t played football since early November. When September rolls around and if the NFL season actually happens, Stafford will have had almost an entire year of rehabilitation for not just his back, but his entire body. There’s a chance we could see a more athletic player coming out of this.

Also important to consider: does Stafford want to chase NFL records? Right now, he’s 18th in career passing yards and 19th in passing touchdowns. At this moment, no other veteran quarterback has the chance that Stafford has to hold both of those records. Now he’s more than likely never touching that touchdown record. If he played seven more years, he’s have to throw 42 touchdowns per season to make it happen. That yardage title, though, is a little more attainable. Well, if you think having to throw 5,200 yards per season for seven years is attainable. If Stafford wants the records, he needs to hope Drew Brees retires after this season, and he needs to play at a high level until he’s 42. I’m just not sure that’s happening.

Now comes the part that nobody wants to talk about. What if the Lions don’t want Matthew Stafford when his contract is up in 2022? Perhaps even scarier for Lions fans to worry about, what if the Lions don’t want Stafford after 2020?

But let’s talk about. Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia are both on a make-or-break season in 2020. If the Lions go out there and lay an egg and miss the playoffs again, what happens if Martha Ford and company decide to start over again with a new regime? Who’s to say those guys are going to want a 33-year-old Matthew Stafford?

They could decide to roll with rookie in the 2021 NFL Draft. That’s where things get interesting—and more than likely not a in a good way. Because finding a franchise quarterback is far harder than it seems. Sure, you could land the next Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson. But look around the rest of the NFL. Have there been any quarterbacks not named Russell Wilson or Mahomes drafted after Stafford that are better than him? I don’t think there has been.

Finding one who can consistently start is only proving to get harder and harder. Since 2010, the year after Stafford was taken, 119 quarterbacks have been drafted. Of that group, 22 of them are starters, 38 are backups, 56 are free agents or out of the league, one is a tight end now, another is a wide receiver and one has been blackballed from the league for peacefully protesting an issue that’s very clearly still a prevalent thing in America.

Now you might think, “22. That’s not bad at all.” But you have to factor in that 10 of those guys were picked in the last two years and the jury is still way out on all of them. I’m not ready to crown Sam Darnold or Gardner Minshew yet. If time goes by and these guys turn out to be studs, then we’ll know I’m wrong. But at the moment, it’s not looking like it at all.

It could be a very frustrating time in Detroit if the Lions don’t score that great, elusive pick. I mentioned guys like Mahomes, Jackson, Wilson and—for good measure—let’s thrown in Deshaun Watson too. But for every guy like that, there are eight Christian Hackenbergs and four Mitchell Trubiskys. Be careful what you wish for.

What if the Lions decide to forgo that hell and keep Stafford once his deal is up? He’ll be 35 years old at that time. What does that contract look like? It depends on what 2020-2022 look like in terms of production. It’s not totally out of the question that Stafford could get a giant contract and become the highest-paid quarterback in the league twice. Look at the deals Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger are on right now. They’re currently the second and third-highest paid quarterbacks in the league at 36 and 38 years old.

If the Lions do decide to keep Stafford after 2022, pending multiple MVPs or Super Bowls, it’s likely his deal would look a little more like the deal Tom Brady just got from the Buccaneers. A two-year deal that looks really big, and is really big, but isn’t the biggest contract in the NFL by any means.

Just because the Lions keep Stafford around doesn’t mean they can’t draft his replacement, though. It actually puts the team in a better position to have their guy at quarterback while they get their future guy set up. It worked in Green Bay, Kansas City and New England in the past. It could very well work again. If this is the route the Lions go, don’t be surprised to see the Lions draft their future quarterback in the next five years.

Finally we get to my answer to the question of how much longer is Matthew Stafford in Detroit. If you put a gun to my head right now and asked me what are all the situations revolving around Matthew Stafford’s retirement, my answer would be that he retires a Detroit Lion at age 40 with exactly one Super Bowl ring. Yeah, I said it. We’ll see how wrong or right I am in 2028. Feel free to @FreezingColdTakes me.

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