- Rumours of a Matthew Stafford trade continue to swirl
- Several win now teams could be in the mix for Stafford
- Will the Detroit Lions trade their star quarterback this offseason?
This off-season the Detroit Lions will again start over in searching for a new general manager and head coach who can turn around the fortunes of this woebegone franchise.
After firing previous head coach Jim Caldwell, who led the Lions to a pair of 9-7 records in 2016 and 2017, the turning over of the reins to ex-Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia backfired spectacularly with the team posting losing records (with double digit losses) in 2018 and 2019 before Bill Belichick’s former lieutenant was dismissed this season.
With any new general manager looking to start over, and with the salary cap expected to be heavily restricted next season, rumours are swirling that longtime quarterback, Matthew Stafford, could be traded or cut this spring. Is that the right decision for a franchise looking to again rebuild/reload and where could the former Georgia Bulldog end up, if he does hit the trade or open market?
Staying in Motor City
As Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio detailed, there are no easy options for Detroit when it comes to Stafford’s contract. They will be on the hook for $20 million if they hang onto the former number one overall pick, but if they cut him they’re still likely to see at least that figure hit their cap space in 2021. It all depends on whether either side, Stafford or the new front office, want a clean break.
Now if I’m a candidate for the general manager position, I can’t imagine I’m going to get ownership to hire me by arguing that we should soak up a significant chunk of our salary cap into a player no longer on the roster. Especially a player who has been a consummate professional whilst at an organisation which has continuously struggled to grasp long term success.
Also, Stafford is not the problem in Detroit. His completion percentage sits around 64% and his passer rating at about 95.2. Now those numbers certainly don’t match the level of financial compensation he is receiving from the team but equally they aren’t the reason that Detroit is languishing at the bottom of the NFC North again.
On offense the franchise has a number of weapons in receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones; tight end TJ Hockenson; emerging rookie running back D’Andre Swift and a solid offensive line. Now perhaps that does indicate that Stafford is doing less with more. But he’s also leading an offense that week after week has to put up video game numbers to make up for a league worst pass defense and fourth worst run defense.
The Lions rank below even the Jacksonville Jaguars in pass defense. Yes, the same Jags who have won only one game this season and have sealed the first overall pick in the draft.
The offense is loaded enough with talent to take this team to the postseason, but the defense simply can’t hold up their side of the bargain. If I’m the new general manager in the Motor City, I’m looking to restructure Stafford’s contract and make savings elsewhere. This is particularly true given the Lions are currently projected to pick at number 11 in the draft, meaning an expensive trade up would be necessary to acquire one of the second tier of signal callers below Trevor Lawrence. And any move like that is going to absorb valuable draft capital that is needed for retooling this defense.
If Stafford does leave Ford Field, it will be due to him requesting a trade and forcing the Lions hand.
In that case, his most likely destination seems to be to a contender in need of a short to midterm answer at the quarterback position. That means organisations with rosters that are ready to contend now for a championship. Here are some candidates that may be interested should Stafford declare his intention to leave Detroit.
Replace Rivers in Indy
The Indianapolis Colts make sense for a number of reasons. They have a dominant defense, an enviable offensive line, and a run game that seems to do damage no matter who is lined up in the backfield. GM Chris Ballard would need to restock the wide receiver position, but TY Hilton is a Pro Bowl talent.
Stafford would essentially be a younger version of Philip Rivers, enabling the offense to continue to function as it has this season, and wouldn’t be expected to put the entire offense on his back consistently.
To add to that, the Colts are projected to have the third most cap space in the league next year (according to Overthecap.com) and Ballard hasn’t been arrived to swing a big trade when necessary as shown with the acquisition of DT DeForest Buckner last offseason.
Replacing Cam in New England
This season hasn’t worked out for the New England Patriots with Cam Newton under center. Bill Belichick doesn’t have a quarterback on the roster to help lead Josh McDaniels offense back to being an intimidating juggernaut. Trading for Stafford would give the Pats time to either find their QB of the future or to continue developing Jarrett Stidham.
Belichick is always going to be able to squeeze enough wins out of his roster to push New England away from the early first round pick necessary to acquire a top rookie quarterback. Stafford’s downfield passing ability could help open up the short to intermediate passing game where Julian Edelman thrives as well as allowing the Patriots running back committee to get moving.
For Detroit, this also means Stafford doesn’t remain in the NFC, though the price would have to be right for Belichick to give up his treasured draft picks. For Stafford, this would also give him a shot at the postseason success that has eluded him for so long.
Move to The Bay
It doesn’t seem that the Niners are sold on Jimmy Garoppolo as the quarterback to lead them to the Lombardi Trophy and rumours persist that Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch will continue to try to upgrade the quarterback position to push the Niners over that line.
That may seem odd given their record this year, but when this roster is able to stay healthy, on paper, they are one of the top teams in the league.
Again, the run game would take pressure off Stafford thanks to the creativity of Shanahan as an offensive schemer, as well as giving the former Falcons offensive coordinator the most talented quarterback he would have had in his time by the bay. George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Raheem Mostert would be Shanahan’s selling points on offense, but also a young, hulking defense.
Lynch would have to make a few savings here and there but with a projected cap space of $22 million (overthecap.com) the organisation has more to work with than others.
The other connection here is the presence of Martin Mayhew, the ex-Lions GM who drafted Stafford, in the Niners front office as a senior personnel executive. He could make a strong case for Lynch to call Mayhew’s former employers.