The Detroit Lions have some serious questions at the quarterback position they’ll have to answer in the next two months. While we all await whether the Lions will attempt to find their quarterback of the future in the 2022 NFL Draft, they have to make some earlier decisions at the backup position. Both of their backups in 2021 are potentially facing free agency, and neither looked particularly good on the field.
But sometimes a backup’s value goes beyond their ability to step in and play. And for someone like David Blough, that could mean sticking around in Detroit for another year or two.
Catch up on our free agent profiles with our previous entries here: Tracy Walker, Charles Harris, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Alex Anzalone, Josh Reynolds, KhaDarel Hodge, Nick Williams, Dean Marlowe, Kalif Raymond, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Tim Boyle, Tyrell Crosby, Joel Heath, and Evan Brown.
Expectations heading into 2021
Blough entered training camp firmly as the team’s third quarterback after the Lions invested $2.5 million in backup Tim Boyle in free agency. Given that Blough was acquired by the previous regime, expectations were low that Blough would be anything more than an asset in the quarterback room as an extra set of eyes. That certainly still has value in today’s NFL, and with COVID-19 still impacting NFL rosters, Blough certainly had a chance to make the 53-man roster and even potentially play if Detroit were to get impacted by COVID or injury.
In training camp, the backup quarterback battle was actually much closer than expected. Blough and Boyle would split days as Jared Goff’s backup, and the efficiency of the offense didn’t change much between the two.
In the preseason, you could certainly argue that Blough outplayed Boyle:
Tim Boyle: 22-of-39 for 135 yards, 1 TD, 72.1 passer rating
David Blough: 30-of-44 for 336 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 88.8 passer rating
The stats clearly favor Blough, but it’s also worth noting that Boyle was the first backup quarterback in for each preseason game, meaning he was playing against tougher competition.
Blough even led the Lions on a go-ahead two-minute drill in the first preseason game, but Detroit’s defense then allowed the Bills to score and win the game.
“I thought David did a very good job of getting us in position to win,” quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell said after the game. “He’s a competitor. It’s fun to watch him out there.”
In the final preseason game, Boyle broke his thumb and required surgery. That meant the backup job was Blough’s to start the season.
Actual role in 2021
1 game (0 starts): 1 rush, 6 yards; 1 sack
Fortunately (or unfortunately for Blough), the Lions didn’t require the need for a backup during the first half of the season. Blough’s only action came in Week 8 during the final drive of a blowout loss to the Eagles. Detroit essentially went three-and-out.
The most telling moment for Blough during the entire season came in Week 11. With Goff out dealing with a knee injury, the Lions chose to start Boyle, despite the fact that he had only been practicing for a couple weeks after his thumb had healed. Blough was likely more prepared from a physical and mental standpoint, but the Lions proceeded to start Boyle, who went just 15-of-23 for 77 yards and two interceptions in an ugly 10-13 loss.
And despite that poor showing from Boyle, the Lions stuck with him over Blough, leaving the former Purdue quarterback to ride the bench for the rest of the season.
Outlook for 2022
Contract status: Restricted free agent
It’s clear the Lions valued Boyle as a backup more than they did Blough, but is it possible they really like Blough as QB3? Does that even make any sense?
A few years back, Kent Lee Platte had me starting to think about the backup quarterback position a little differently.
These are guys you don't want starting, generally due to a lack of physical traits. But if they have to in a pinch, they will know what you're saying when you cll plays and can direct guys to be where they're supposed to be.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) December 6, 2020
Their main job is being there for QB1 and helping him with what the defense is showing.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) December 6, 2020
Many of these guys get into coaching.
Note: Kent wrote longer on this topic here.
Blough fits that description of a backup quarterback, even if he’s technically QB3. Here’s head coach Dan Campbell talking about Blough running the scout team as they prepared for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
“First, you’ve just got to get the functionality of it, and so I know Blough can do all of that stuff. He gets the shifts, the motions,” Campbell said.
So there’s value in Blough as an extra presence in the locker room and his intelligence about the game. But how much is that worth to the Lions?
Obviously, placing a restricted free agent tender on Blough is pretty much out of the question. Even an original-round tender of $2.43 million is likely over Blough’s worth. But if Blough is willing to take somewhere around the vet minimum for some stability, I don’t see any harm in bringing him back. Given that Boyle is an unrestricted free agent, it would even open a window for Blough to compete for the backup job. Although the Lions would be wise to bring in someone to seriously challenge for the position.
Or if the Lions decide to draft a quarterback early in April, Blough could provide a valuable additional voice to help the kid develop.
Then again, Blough was acquired via the previous regime, and it’s completely possible they believe they can find another backup with similar or better skills.
What should the Lions do with David Blough?
This poll is closed
Give him an RFA tender
Offer him a vet minimum deal
Just let him go