For Stafford, he’s built up a enough good will in this city and with this franchise to make his own decision on his future. With a new general manager, a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a roster that will need at least a couple years of “retooling,” I think everyone can completely understand if the guy wants to try something else for his 13th season in the NFL.
And for the Lions, they are finally doing a franchise player right by honoring that decision. For a team that has been rightfully panned with how it’s treated the likes of Calvin Johnson, Darius Slay, Quandre Diggs and Barry Sanders, letting Stafford dictate his future is quite literally the least they could do for the guy after letting a decade go by without building a team worth a damn around him.
Plus, it makes sense from the Lions’ standpoint. This team is unlikely to find great success in the next couple seasons as general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell slowly build their vision with limited tools to start. To send Stafford away at this point maximizes his trade value, especially when it seems like just about every other team in the NFL will be looking for a quarterback this offseason. That extra player and/or draft capital will be a nice jump-start to this new era.
But you’ll have to forgive me for my lack of excitement.
This sucks. I can completely understand it—and even believe it’s the right move—and still absolutely hate it.
For the past 12 years, Matthew Stafford was the only reason to watch this godforsaken franchise. Whether it was his dazzling arm strength, his late-game heroics, his unmatched competitiveness and endurance through injury, or his legitimate love for the city, Stafford was everything a Lions fan could possibly want in a quarterback—playoff wins be damned.
And now Stafford joins the likes of Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson as Lions legends who will leave the city without any major accomplishments. Those three won a total of one MVP between them and just a single playoff win.
Even worse, we’re about to see just how bad of a franchise this has been to Stafford. Unlike Sanders and Johnson, Stafford’s career won’t die in Detroit. No, he’s likely to go to a team that thinks they’re a quarterback away, and what if they’re right? What if Stafford finds a new home and acquires a running game around him? What if the defense he inherits actually forces turnovers and holds teams under 30 points? What if he not only wins a division and a playoff game, but a Super Bowl?
I’ll be happy for Stafford. I am happy for Stafford. He’s earned it after the crap he’s had to go through on the field and with a certain subset of salty Lions fans. But I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ll be able to stomach watching him lift the Lombardi Trophy.