On Saturday, ESPN's Adam Schefter broke the news that after months of speculation, Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions are officially planning to part ways.
The news comes on the heels of the Lions hiring the firebrand Dan Campbell as head coach and Brad Holmes as general manager.
ESPN's Ed Werder reported that the "Colts, Broncos, Patriots, Niners among those who should be in play" for Stafford, citing a "strong running game and above-average defense" as attractive fits for the veteran QB.
Just a few days ago, Denver Broncos' new GM George Paton revealed that he's "looking" to improve the team's quarterback position. On one hand, Paton praised Drew Lock, who's coming off his first 'full' year as a starter in 2020, complimenting his "big arm", athleticism, and playmaking ability. On the other, the GM asserted that "[Lock] can develop" — implying that he's far from a finished product (no duh).
However, just a few beats later, Paton said something that made me sit up in my chair.
“The quarterback is the most important position in sports. If you don’t have stability at quarterback, you’re going to have a hard time sustaining winning," Paton said on Tuesday. "So, very important... I think we all want the franchise quarterback, and that’s the number one goal is trying to draft and develop or acquire any way you can. When I was in Minnesota, I think we went to the playoffs with six different quarterbacks if I’m not mistaken. That’s not ideal, but you can still win if you don’t have the franchise guy. You can still win, but obviously, we’re looking.”
The Broncos are looking to upgrade the QB position one way or another. Paton has professed his objective of "turning over every stone" to upgrade the roster wherever possible.
The brand-new Paton is all about drafting and developing players, including a future franchise quarterback. But he also feels the pressing need to win as soon as possible, especially in light of the Broncos missing the playoffs for the past five years.
Maybe Paton looks at the Stafford situation and decides that Lock would develop faster if he could sit behind a bonafide and proven franchise-caliber QB for a year or two. After all, Paton knows Stafford well after competing against him in-division for the past 12 years as a Minnesota Vikings' personnel executive.
Stafford has two years and $47 million left on his contract, so if the Broncos were to seriously pursue him via trade, Paton would have to be willing and able to absorb that salary-cap hit, while also giving up whatever compensation the Lions are seeking.
As a veteran entering his 13th NFL season, the soon-to-be 33-year-old Stafford wouldn't be as costly to procure via trade as a Deshaun Watson in Houston but he'll still command a pretty penny. Some media in Detroit speculate that it'll take a first-rounder at bottom, plus perhaps a second- or third-round draft pick, to land Stafford.
If Paton views Stafford as a true franchise-caliber QB, though, that's a price he'll pay all day long and twice on Sunday — even as a GM who prizes draft picks. In the most complimentary, rose-colored view possible, Stafford has a good five years of quality play left before the wheels start to fall off.
A lot can be accomplished in a five-year window — just ask John Elway and Peyton Manning. I'm not comparing Stafford to Manning but the Broncos would be a very attractive destination for Stafford because of the offensive line, talent at the skill positions, and the defensive expertise at the head-coaching level.
NFL.com's Tom Pelissero touched on the timetable for a potential Stafford trade, regardless of who the players are.
Any trade would likely happen prior to the fifth day of the 2021 league year in March, when Stafford is due a $10 million roster bonus. The Lions would carry $19 million in dead money on their salary cap in 2021, but a trade would yield a savings of $14 million in cap space and $20 million in cash at a time the NFL's salary cap is expected to drop.
The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft out of Georgia, Stafford reached the 45,000-yard passing mark faster than any other QB in league history. Although he battled multiple injuries last year, none are expected to require offseason surgery, per Pelissero.
Stafford started all 16 games for the lackluster Lions last year, completing 62.6% of his passes for 4,084 yards and 26 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. His career-high season came in Year 3 where he eclipsed the 5,000-yard passing mark and tossed 41 touchdowns — but inexplicably wasn't voted to the Pro Bowl despite leading the Lions to a 10-6 finish.
Stafford has just one Pro Bowl nod under his belt (2014) and led the Lions to just three playoff berths in 12 seasons. But remember, we're talking about one of the most inept franchises in all of pro sports.
If you change Stafford's play-things, play-mates, and play-places, many around the NFL believe he could be a force to be reckoned with. Considering the Broncos' past swings and misses on QB reclamation projects (post-Manning), I'd be very gunshy about relying too heavily on Stafford to be the tide the raises all ships.
If Stafford could be plied off Detroit's hands at a modest cost of a second- and third-round draft pick, it would become significantly more attractive. But giving up a first-round pick and more in pursuit of the same tired QB model that so flummoxed Elway from 2016-2019, Paton would have to be very measured and convinced that Stafford is the exception and could immediately raise all boats.
If Lock were to sit behind Stafford for even one year, maybe it could help him develop a little quicker. I have my doubts. Elway himself said — long before he became a GM — the best way for a QB to develop is to play.
Bringing Stafford to Denver would in all likelihood put the kybosh on any potential Lock has to become the Broncos' future franchise QB. It'd be all about Stafford from that point, even though Lock could learn a lot from sitting behind a guy like him.
Will Paton pursue Stafford? On some level, Paton will look into it. He said two days after he was hired in Denver that he plans to be "involved in every deal."
"I think you're involved in every deal that's out there and then you can discuss and collaborate and just determine if you want to make that jump," Paton told the team website. "It's really important to be involved with everything so you don't miss a deal that may get by you. So we'll be aggressive—involved—but that doesn't mean we're going to jump."
Paton's Broncos hold the No. 9 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft and currently have about $14M in salary-cap space. A couple of rumored cap-casualty cuts and that number could swell to almost $40M if Paton was of a mind to fit Stafford's contract in under the cap.