In the coming weeks, the pomp and circumstance of a new regime will die down and the Detroit Lions will be left to get to business as the offseason gets going.
As everyone knows, the biggest question that will have to be answered revolves around what happens with Matthew Stafford. Much of the court of public opinion holds that the Lions should trade Stafford and start over, but that is not the only option for the team whatsoever.
The Lions could also hold on to Stafford and build around him for the short term while looking for a quarterback solution later. While it’s not a sexy option that gets discussed much, it’s one that should be no-less appealing to Detroit in the mind of some analysts.
Recently, Sports Illustrated NFL insider Albert Breer was asked about Stafford’s future in a mailbag segment. While Breer admitted he has no idea what will happen to Stafford, he did admit the Lions might be smarter to keep their quarterback when all is said and done.
“I do not think that keeping Stafford is some sort of terrible idea. First of all, he’s 32 years old in an era in which quarterbacks are making it to 40. Second, his contract has matured into one that looks relatively reasonable—he’s due $43 million in cash and set to count $59 million against the cap over the next two seasons. Third, having a franchise-level placeholder can position a team well to get the next guy.
I know I’ve used this example before, and beaten it into the ground, but I’ll say again that Alex Smith in Kansas City is a great example. If the Chiefs had decided to just take a quarterback in 2013, they were looking at a class headed up by E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib. Instead, trading for Smith allowed them to sit back and wait for one they truly thought was special, and win in the interim.
When that guy, Patrick Mahomes, came along, the roster was built up to the point where they were comfortable flipping a bunch of draft capital to go get him. The rest is history.
So if you hang on to Stafford, you can survey your options with the seventh pick, and if the right quarterback isn’t there, you can punt on the position and just draft Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Micah Parsons or Rashawn Slater. And then, you just keep looking while new GM Brad Holmes keeps working over the roster. Which, again, worked out pretty well in Kansas City.”
Obviously, that analogy is a good one, and had Kansas City panicked, they could have missed out on Mahomes. More than anything, this approach will require Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell knowing what they want at quarterback and sticking to that plan moving forward, even if public sentiment is pulling them in different directions.
Other Analysts See Lions Problem as Defense
Breer is hardly alone with his take even though it feels as if he is at times. Though it’s not a popular opinion for many, it’s clear the Lions have a player in Matthew Stafford that can still do great things for their organization. In a recent power rankings piece for NFL.com, Dan Hanzus explained why the team might be smarter to keep Stafford rather than trade him.
“There will be waves of speculation surrounding Stafford and his future this offseason, but the Lions would be wise to put the lion’s share of their focus on how to fix their putrid defense. It was exposed again by an explosive Titans offense, which piled up 463 yards and six touchdowns in Detroit’s ninth loss of the season.”
Stafford was not the complete problem this season or in many seasons, and once again, Detroit’s awful defense struggled with consistency which has led to the downfall of the entire team. With this in mind, it could be smarter for the Lions to keep Stafford, draft his eventual replacement, rebuild the defense and see what happens in 2021.
How Lions Could Make Matthew Stafford Situation Work
The Lions could head into the 2021 NFL Draft with a goal of improving the whole team and perhaps even taking a quarterback in the right spot. Even if they do that, Stafford can stick with the team and help break in the rookie moving forward. If the right quarterback isn’t there in 2021, perhaps 2022 is the year the Lions can look to find Stafford’s eventual replacement. All the while, as Breer explains, the Lions can be building up the other parts of the roster to their liking.
The bottom line? The team has options with Stafford and plenty of different ways to go. Whatever they decide, it will be a well-conceived plan.