George Paton has some big decisions to make as he assumes control of the Denver Broncos roster. Free agency and the NFL draft will be key but what could take ultimate precedent is the quarterback position.
Some close to the Broncos see Drew Lock coming back for one last swing at the plate, with a little veteran competition behind him like an Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, or Jacoby Brissett. However, that equation has changed somewhat from Lock returning as a fait accompli to being much less certain.
What changed? The Detroit Lions granted Matthew Stafford's request to seek a trade.
Over the weekend, the NFL speculation was that in order to land Stafford, the Broncos would have to give up the No. 9 overall pick in the 2021 draft, plus at least a second-rounder, and/or Lock or a wide receiver. On Monday, NBC Sports' Peter King floated a less prohibitive possibility.
King listed the Broncos among three top suitors in the Stafford sweepstakes, ranking Denver No. 2 behind the Indianapolis Colts and in front of the New England Patriots.
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.
The former No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, Stafford has played 12 seasons in Detroit. He's made it to one Pro Bowl (as an alternate) but has amassed some serious stats. He's the fastest QB in NFL history to get to 45,000 passing yards and has totaled 282 touchdowns.
Alas, Stafford's statistical production hasn't been able to move the needle for the Lions in nearly a decade. The soon-to-be 33-year-old has led Detroit to the playoffs three times but failed to win one postseason game and hasn't sniffed it since 2016.
However, give Stafford a prolific running game, a solid offensive line, the type of skill-position talent the Broncos possess, and a defensive-minded coach who could handle everything else, and the argument is — Stafford could succeed.
Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn't matter what I think, though. It's how Paton views Stafford that'll determine just how (and if) hotly the Broncos throw in on the sweepstakes.
Paton is very familiar with Stafford after competing against him as a Minnesota Vikings personnel executive for 12 years in the NFC North. That familiarity cuts both ways, though. Paton's been close enough to Stafford to have developed the opinion that he's a special, franchise-caliber QB who's been wasted in Detroit, or, conversely, that he's a talent but lacking the bonafide traits to raise all ships.
Time will tell. NFL.com's Tom Pelissero, who connected the Broncos to Stafford in the same way King did, laid out the financial pitfalls any interested party will have to be willing to navigate in order to land the 13th-year veteran.
Despite Stafford's age and injury history, there figures to be a strong trade market if the Lions are willing to move him. He has two years and $43 million left on his contract -- a bargain price for a quarterback who is still playing at a high level. Among others, the Broncos, Colts, Panthers, Patriots, Saints and Washington Football Team enter 2021 with significant QB questions.
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.
If the Lions were willing to accept a pair of second-round picks, or a 2021 second-rounder and Lock, in exchange for Stafford, that might be a deal Paton couldn't refuse. It would allow Paton to keep his first-rounders and Lock a fresh start.
However, everything else I've heard is that the starting point to even get the Lions listening is a first-round pick. The higher that pick is in the draft order, the more amenable the Lions will be to dealing Stafford. But it won't end there.
It's going to take a first- and second-round pick to land Stafford. I'd be stunned if it ends up being anything less. And that cost would be prohibitive to a point that Paton might be much more inclined to run it back with Lock one... more... year.