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Grading the potential landing spots for Matthew Stafford

Which teams can offer the best assets for Stafford’s contract?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Baseball may have a hot stove, but when the NFL puts a sale sticker on a franchise quarterback, the whole kitchen turns into a gas leak meeting a BIC lighter in the hand of a nicotine addict.

Long-time Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is on the block, and the bidding could get fierce if teams have the stomach for his price. That price is more than likely to include a first round draft pick; I don’t think it’ll include a second first rounder, just given Stafford’s age and the years left on his contract. It could be packaged with later rounds, future years, potentially even existing personnel on NFL rosters. That price, of course, could rise if teams actually do start competing on price. That said, the existence of Deshaun Watson in the same market (and depending who you ask, potentially, Carson Wentz) might keep things under moderate control.

A peculiar trope has emerged among certain fans and media that the Lions have somehow lost leverage by announcing that Stafford wanted out of Detroit. This is nonsense that is best characterized as “being clever by half.” These people have spent too much time watching Draft Day and buying into the myths of state secrets and counter-intelligence among the NFL. The minute the Lions picked up the phone to inquire about moving Stafford, the news would have been everywhere. This way, nobody’s intelligence is insulted, most of all Stafford’s.

There’s also the point of leverage that makes less sense, that teams would just try to box out any trades and sweat the Lions to make them cut Stafford. The truth of the matter is that the league is too damn hungry for quarterbacks and it’s too damn impatient. The idea that any of these candidates would play a desperate waiting game is farcical—for the Lions to cut Stafford just to honor his wish would be even more so.

No. The Lions will get something for Stafford. Some team will pay for it, and they will pay well enough.

Below is a list of potential trade suitors, with grades assigned to how likely a satisfactory deal could be arranged with Detroit that could make all parties happy.

Denver Broncos

Pros: The Broncos are flush with assets that appeal to the Lions. Denver holds the ninth overall pick and several intriguing young players who could be included in a package with picks to purchase Stafford’s talents.

Injuries plagued the Broncos 2020 season, but a veteran quarterback like Stafford could see them hope to salvage some pride. It’s not hard to see a universe where the Broncos view Stafford as the catalyst to tie the offense together, to get Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler and Noah Fant to sing.

Personally, this is my favorite landing spot for Stafford. If you’re a fan of Stafford, comfort yourself in knowing that he’d be following that John Elway goat path, seeking fame late in his career after failure plagued his early goings.

Cons: Not many, unless you’re not a fan of any package that might include sending Drew Lock to Detroit. That said, Lock did put up some interesting numbers in play-action this season, but if the plan is to take a quarterback in the draft then he’d be Just Some Dude. On the other hand, there’s a chance Denver might try to hold onto Lock to sit behind Stafford as he plays out his contract.

Grade: A

San Francisco 49ers

Pros: In some places the odds-on favorite to land Stafford, the 49ers are desperate to put things together in 2021. Kyle Shanahan’s system is there, the weapons are there, but quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo clearly isn’t going to be the one to put it all together for them. Dammit man, they want to do the damn thing.

There’s not too much to say here. It’s a destination that makes all too much sense and as long as it comes with the right price tag, everyone should be happy sending Stafford to play out his contract in Santa Clara.

Cons: Honestly, if a bidding war did break out and the market got hot between Stafford and Watson out there, the 49ers might just not have the same stomach as some other teams to offer enough assets appreciative of Stafford’s price. There’s just not enough for them to sell off that would compete with Denver or Washington.

For Stafford, a man with a riddled injury history, you might not want to play Aaron Donald and the Rams defense twice a year. Or Seattle’s defense, for that matter.

Grade: A

Washington Football Team

Pros: Somehow with all its ineptitude, idiocy and bugbears, Football Team won a division title in 2020.

Dwayne Haskins is about to be defenestrated, if he hasn’t already. Alex Smith’s effort is commendable, but he can barely make this all work on that reconstituted leg. The defense is there, Ron Rivera is there. Football Team was dead last in passing DVOA in 2020. Acquiring Stafford fixes that ailment right away.

Like the Broncos, Washington has some notable, proven assets in player personnel that could be included in any package for Stafford. The Lions could get their pick of many impressive defensive talents along with the 19th selection in the draft.

That part could make this selection all the more interesting for Lions fans. Detroit has considerable work to be done to fix the defense, and that need is just as important as acquiring the capital to obtain the franchise quarterback of the future. Taking a proven commodity will relieve some of that fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Cons: Few, although if you do hold yourself to be a fan of Stafford’s success and wish him the same after Detroit, then a snakebitten hellrot organization like Washington is less than ideal. This franchise could burn water if you told them to cook pasta.

Grade: A-

New England Patriots

Pros: The first, traditional destination for any spare part, ring-chasing NFL athlete. This time, the quarterback position is up for grabs; there is sincere doubt Cam Newton did enough to warrant a second contract.

The Patriots hold respectable draft capital this year (pick 15 in the first round) and plenty of cap space. While their personnel is nothing worth writing home about, the capital alone makes them an appealing choice for the Lions front office.

As for Stafford, there’s no better sales pitch than Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The divinity of the coach may have suffered this year given his team’s record, but it’s not hard to see how Belichick could get him on board with being the next king of Foxborough, the next scion to return the Patriots yet again to the playoffs; all the better, Stafford would feast on a still impotent AFC East Division for six games.

Cons: God, you just want to get in bed with the most evil place on earth, don’t you? As if it wasn’t bad enough that we have to put up with all you Michigan poseurs pretending that you knew who Tom Brady was in Ann Arbor.

If you do root for success for Stafford, then New England isn’t your prime choice. There’s been a lot of ink spilled over who won the “divorce” between Brady and Belichick, but it misses the point that this Patriots team was set to be overhauled. The offense possesses little to no weaponry worth speaking of. It would take some premium Belichick magic to install an offense worth Stafford’s time and turn the Patriots into a playoff contender.

Also, Matt Patricia is back in New England on Belichick’s staff. Stafford is reportedly not a big fan of the guy. Shocking, really.

Grade: B

Indianapolis Colts

Pros: One of the most obvious destinations is Indianapolis. Philip Rivers has retired, and the Colts have no successor crowned and waiting to take the reins: a continued problem they’ve had since Andrew Luck peace’d the hell out.

The offensive line is stout, built around Quenton Nelson. Jonathan Taylor had a respectable year, and he could prove a solid ground game to compliment Stafford’s attack. The offensive scheme that worked for Rivers would feel just as comfortable in the hands of Stafford, with the added benefit that his throws will have far more velocity on them than Rivers’ balls this year (utter ducks).

Cons: As a landing spot, I have reservations about the Colts’ passing weapons. They need someone to replace T.Y. Hilton.

The Colts, at 21 in the first round of the draft, don’t have the same kind of power for draft capital in a trade as other teams. If you are a Lions fan looking towards the draft first and foremost and believe Stafford is worth the king’s ransom, then Indianapolis might not be as appealing as Denver or San Francisco.

One more con, and I write this knowing it’s probably analytically unfair. This is something of a personal rant, one of several in this blog. The Colts are losers. Utter, wretched losers who waste talent just as much as the Lions do. Ever since this franchise dismissed Peyton Manning, the Colts have earned nothing, won nothing of note and wasted everything they have been given. Every season, the sports media praises the Colts and heap great expectations upon them. Every season, the Colts flame out. They put one foot into the playoffs and they are immediately flung from the mountain. Andrew Luck retired rather than deal with this mess.

If these losers are the sort of thing Stafford wants to get in bed with, so be it. He might just prove he can be the one to whip this group of losers into shape. Either that or he’ll be a loser like the rest of them.

Grade: B

New Orleans Saints

Pros: The Saints bid farewell to veteran quarterback Drew Brees, who skips off for greener pastures: broadcasting booths and pyramid schemes.

That’s not to say the Saints don’t want to hang it all up and start working in the pits here. A veteran like Stafford could put them right back in the hunt for more playoff appearances, and they certainly have the weapons on offense that would give him the numbers and success he seeks.

Cons: Right now, the Saints are projected to be over $90 million over the salary cap—a cap that is expected to fall next season too, as the NFL attempts to stabilize perceived losses from the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the definition of cap hell. The fifth circle, I believe: sunk in the Stygian quagmire. This may be a non-starter.

Grade: C

Dallas Cowboys

Pros: Come on. Don’t tell me that you can’t see Jerry Jones losing his cool over a Highland Park boy. The Cowboys pick at no. 10 in the draft, and could easily include some personnel assets in a deal.

Cons: Jones could just pay Dak Prescott and not give up draft capital. That would seem like the sane, logical choice. Jones will, however, do and say things that are not sane and logical.

Grade: C

Carolina Panthers

Pros: The Panthers own the eighth pick in the 2021 Draft, and things started swimmingly with first year head coach Matt Rhule, with three impressive wins and a stint of “good job, good effort” losses. It’s hard to see this team going anywhere but up; the rebuild might come along faster than anticipated for Carolina, and what better way to speed it up than by acquiring a veteran like Stafford?

Nobody is really speaking about the Panthers as a sexy landing spot for Stafford, but the upside is there. New general manager Scott Fitterer also wouldn’t commit to current Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who could become part of any package that sends Stafford to Charlotte. For Stafford, there are plenty of stats to be made playing with Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore.

Bridgewater could prove a useful asset for the Lions should they seek to pursue a proven commodity at quarterback in the short-term rather than bite in a draft with numerous quarterback-hungry teams. Bridgewater is far from Stafford’s caliber, but he’s an athletic competitor who has proven himself with several teams now.

A move to Carolina also reunites Stafford with quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan, who worked under Matt Patricia’s staff in 2019 and 2020. Ryan has joined Rhule’s staff for the 2021 season. As previously stated, any place that has a coach Stafford has previously worked with (except perhaps Patricia) raises its stock.

Cons: Assuming Bridgewater is part of any trade, he could be owed something around the ballpark of $23 million in 2021. That’s still cheaper than Stafford, but a pretty chunk to hold onto depending on what the Lions plan to do with the quarterback position; you also only get Bridgewater for the upcoming season at that point.

Taking Bridgewater seems likely in any dealing with Carolina: while the Panthers are in a much better cap situation than the Saints and Texans, they also don’t have the same flexibility to take Stafford’s contract as other destinations, without dumping salaries. So, if the Lions aren’t sold on Bridgewater, it could be an albatross hanging over any deal.

To maintain their offensive line for a quarterback like Stafford, the Panthers will have to seek to retain the services of right tackle Taylor Moton, who enters this offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Without Moton, the Panthers lose a key asset in their pass protection. Once again, Carolina doesn’t have much cap space to work with.

Grade: B+

Houston Texans

Pros: The Texans possess one asset that would not be related to a draft pick: quarterback Deshaun Watson, who desires nothing more than to get the hell out of Texas. A trade for Watson, if organized properly, would give Detroit a proven value at quarterback and immediately allay fears about the position.

The question of who shall be the Texans head coach could prove another fine twist to this saga: reports are that former Lions head coach Jim Caldwell is among the candidates. Stafford has previously indicated his recalcitrance to learn new systems and new coaches, and there would be nothing more appealing than to hook up with the head coach under which he saw some of his greatest seasons of performance.

Cons: The Texans are roughly $18 million over the cap. They also have limited draft capital to offer, having traded away much of their future assets thanks to the unquestioned genius of Bill O’Brien.

A tradeoff for Watson might not be the upside that Lions fans hope for, and with a no-trade clause in his contract Watson would have to approve any team he is traded for. To be perfectly frank, the reputation of the Lions is at an all-time low, and there’s other suitors out there (Watson would be perfect as a Jet, in that there’s probably no good end to come of any of that).

If Watson sees Houston as a dysfunctional spot worth fleeing, I can’t imagine he thinks much better of Detroit, whether such a reputation is appropriate or not.

There’s also a chance that the Texans, already a hot mess on cold linoleum, hire some dullard as the head coach that just messes the whole thing up.

Grade: C+ if you like Watson, C- if you don’t

Jacksonville Jaguars

Pros: It’s very unlikely that the Jaguars would land Stafford. With the first overall pick, it’s all but a given that the Jaguars will take Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence—or, if Urban Meyer is actually a sleeper agent of some unfathomable organization of chaos, Justin Fields.

However, the Jaguars need more than just a quarterback to fix what ails them. Should they zig where others expect them to zag, they could trade back in the draft, reap a windfall of picks for the no. 1 pick and start building a new core of young talent. In such a scenario, it’s possible that Meyer could see potential in the veteran quarterback, who he should be familiar with - Meyer’s Florida Gators squared off against Stafford in three seasons when he played at the University of Georgia.

A move to Jacksonville would also reunite Stafford with former Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

Cons: The problem is that there’s not much in immediate draft capital that the Jaguars could offer that would feel satisfactory to many fans. The first overall pick is virtually untouchable. The best the Jaguars could offer is the later pick they have from the Rams, at 25, or draft picks for future seasons.

Grade: C

Chicago Bears

Pros: No.

Cons: Absolutely not.

Pros, one more time: Fine, look; the Mitch Trubisky thing is a disaster and someone over there must know that. There’s a respectable defense to carry Stafford to whatever mountaintop he desires.

Still, no.

Cons, again: F*** off.

Grade: D- (See me after class)