I heard it through the grapevine on Saturday night, Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions were calling it quits after a dozen years. Some Motown fans are surely wallowing in the tracks of their tears, others likely dancing in the street, and surely a significant segment thinking, “I want you back.”
But, according to ESPN, this is what’s goin’ on: Stafford is about to become a rollin’ stone, the club set to field trade offers for the man who owns all of the franchise’s significant passing records (and by a large margin).
Perhaps the most notable part of Stafford’s legacy will be the loyalty he engendered from teammates (plenty would say, he’s “my guy”) and unfailing toughness he displayed between the lines – reach out, Stafford will be there.
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But Motown and Stafford never realized the organization’s long-sought Super Bowl glory – he was 0-3 in postseason (all wild-card losses), the Lombardi mountain high enough to thwart his best efforts. The Lions finished in last place during half of Stafford’s tenure – yep, it was the same old song far too often.
So, soon enough, Stafford will be leavin’ here. The next question becomes where Mr. Postman will next be delivering his mail.
Here are eight teams – some obviously more viable trade partners than others – new Detroit general manager Brad Holmes might want to call as the Lions try to determine the value Stafford might fetch:
Los Angeles Rams
If nothing else, might be smart for Holmes to contact his longtime former boss, Rams GM Les Snead, to at least see if he could get a sounding board and some advice. But consummating an actual deal here is pretty tricky. Trading Stafford will cost Holmes a $19 million cap charge, one the Lions are obviously willing to incur, while Snead would take about a $22 million hit to move his quarterback, Jared Goff. On one level it makes sense for both sides – Stafford would immediately join a contender too often saddled with subpar QB play, while Goff would get the fresh start he seems to need. However for Holmes to willingly be the dumping ground for the remainder of Goff’s massive salary – even if just for a few years – he’d need a sizable concession from Snead, an aggressive dealer on the trade market. Still, the Rams’ 2019 blockbuster for CB Jalen Ramsey means they could only offer this year’s second-rounder, 2022 the next year L.A. is scheduled to draft in Round 1. And even if Snead is theoretically willing to play ball, he’s already $30 million-plus overspent for 2021, according to Over The Cap, and absorbing Stafford might not be realistic given the other moves he’ll already be forced to make.
Admittedly, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. Jerry Jones and Co. continue to give every indication Dak Prescott is part of the long-term plan here – and he should be. That doesn’t change the fact that Prescott is still recovering from a gruesome ankle injury, nor the team’s primary 2021 predicament: Prescott and Andy Dalton are both pending free agents. A lot would have to go wrong for Stafford to become Plan B (or C) … but at least he’d be a capable one with local ties – his native Highland Park is a Dallas suburb – if it comes to that.
Deshaun Watson appears like their optimal QB cure-all … though half the league’s teams could say the same. The Panthers also pick eighth in the draft and will be positioned to get one of this year’s top passing prospects. However, if Carolina’s new brain trust wants to be competitive now while slowly developing someone – North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, for example – would they be willing to give up sufficient sweetener for two years of Stafford instead of two more years of Teddy Bridgewater?
They’re in the familiar position of reassessing their QB outlook, that task now falling to newly hired GM George Paton. He should be intimately familiar with Stafford after working in the upper levels of the Vikings’ front office for the past 14 seasons. The questions are whether Paton views Stafford as a worthy short-term upgrade for a team that could be playoff-caliber in 2021 and, if so, how much (or how little) will Holmes be willing to accept to finalize the divorce.
Washington Football Team
Their new general manager, Martin Mayhew, held the same title in Detroit when he drafted Stafford No. 1 in 2009. The NFC East champs are building a nice foundation, but quarterback remains the primary question mark heading into 2021 and drafting 19th overall provides limited flexibility to address it from the college ranks. But the WFT certainly have the salary flexibility to pay Stafford … assuming Holmes could extract an agreeable bounty.
New England Patriots
They’d provide Stafford a golden opportunity to win his first playoff game. And if Bill Belichick wants to reclaim his AFC East throne, Stafford would presumably give him a better shot than a rookie drafted 15th overall … assuming, of course, the legendary coach gets the scouting report he needs given assistant Matt Patricia, fired as Lions head coach in November, would likely be the primary author.
San Francisco 49ers
From the Niners’ perspective, trading Jimmy Garoppolo for Stafford would give Kyle Shanahan a player with more upside triggering what can be a devastating offense when the first-stringers aren’t hurt. And Stafford would buy GM John Lynch at least two more years to craft his long-range approach for the position. For the Lions, Garoppolo would be better than a two-year Band-Aid … provided Holmes gets enough in return to accelerate his own rebuild.
This feels like the best fit. Philip Rivers retired, Jacoby Brissett is headed for free agency, Indy doesn’t pick until 21st in the upcoming draft – likely too low to expect a franchise quarterback – but GM Chris Ballard has more than enough cap space to accommodate the $43 million Stafford is owed over the next two seasons. It’s certainly not ideal for Ballard and coach Frank Reich to turn to their fourth field general in four years, but they don’t appear to have much choice at this point – and Stafford is uniquely positioned to help an otherwise loaded team win now while serving as a bridge to whomever the long-term successor is.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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