Arguments are about to ensue over the value of Stafford, who turns 33 on Super Sunday. Fact is, he’s been a highly productive quarterback who’s never won a damn thing. Whose fault is that? The Lions’ mostly. With a revolving door of coaches, GMs and cultures, Detroit has not surrounded a very good quarterback with equitable talent. But if you draft a quarterback first overall, and that quarterback plays for your team for 12 years and is mostly healthy and a good locker-room guy, and he has a good receiver group in most seasons, what would you think about paying him $219 million and he never won a game in the postseason?
I can hear it now: Quarterback wins isn’t a stat. Here’s a few stats. It’s 2013. Thanksgiving Day. Lions maul the Packers 40-10, and after 12 games of the season, Detroit is 7-5 with a 1.5-game lead on the Packers entering December. In the final month of the season, Detroit goes 0-4, averages 17 points a game, and with a defensive wall of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, has one of its best teams of the Stafford era. The Lions finished third in the NFC North at 7-9.
That’s one snapshot. It should not damn Stafford to a legacy of losing. He’s been a shining light for a bad franchise and deserves to have a chance to win in the last few years of his career.
Stafford reportedly personally asked owner Sheila Ford Hamp for a trade after the season. If the Lions do trade him—per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, they will try (and Pelissero is absolutely correct)—what sort of market will there be? Robust, I would think. But with not quite the pot of gold in return. The likely prospects, plus what would be equitable for each franchise:
1. Colts. Easy pick. Frank Reich needs a quarterback and with the likelihood that Carson Wentz will stay in Philly, Stafford is the best option for a cap-rich team. Compensation: 21st overall pick in the 2021 draft.
2. Broncos. Doubt new GM George Paton, who has watched Stafford closely for 12 years while in Minnesota, would be sold on Drew Lock. Competition needed. Compensation: Two second-round picks (including 39th overall this year). Or Lock plus this year’s second-rounder.
3. Patriots. Bill Belichick, as he did when he first got to New England, got his cap in decent shape with one lousy year as payment. But would he be willing to pay the 15th overall pick for Stafford? He should be. Compensation: 15th overall pick.
4. Niners. Intriguing. San Francisco talks a big game about loving Jimmy Garoppolo, and maybe the franchise does. We’ll see. Compensation: Garoppolo and a 2022 second-round pick.
5. Washington. WFT has the defense to compete at a high level now. If I’m Ron Rivera, I try to convince Comeback Player of the Year Alex Smith to stay and back up a franchise passer like Stafford for the next couple of years. Compensation: 19th overall pick. (If I’m Detroit, signing free-agent-to-be Taylor Heinicke would be some interesting, and smart, insurance.)
6. Steelers. Not Pittsburgh’s style to nudge Ben Roethlisberger into retirement, but did you see the Statuesque One in the last month of the season? Compensation: 24th overall pick in the draft.
7. Saints. The cap is strangling New Orleans, but let GM Mickey Loomis figure that out. Sean Payton is gutsy and loves the splash and has the guts of a burglar. Compensation: 28th pick in the draft (and Detroit should backstop the future by signing Jameis Winston in free agency).