INDIANAPOLIS — The timing is ideal for the Indianapolis Colts to swing a deal to acquire Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
It’s an obvious need after Philip Rivers retired, but the Colts aren’t the only interested party. The Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, and Carolina Panthers are also possible landing spots for the 32-year-old passer who set a Lions record with 45,109 passing yards in 12 seasons.
Stafford has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $43 million. But the clock is ticking on a trade — he’s due a $10 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the new NFL year in March.
Considering his age and the fact that Stafford has had to overcome numerous injuries recently, what the Lions can get for him is open for much debate.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard is not known for parting with draft picks. He’s traded down in each of his four drafts to add selections, but last March he sent a 2020 first-round choice to the 49ers to acquire defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who proved why he received a four-year, $84-million extension by being named First-Team All-Pro.
That means any deal is possible. Ballard could send a mid-round selection to the Lions with the intent of recouping that pick with another trade back during the draft. Question is, will another suitor offer more?
If another team is willing to give more than Ballard, don’t be surprised if Ballard stands pat. He’s spoken of how it’s imperative to not force a quarterback pick, and the same thought likely applies to paying too much for Stafford. There’s a limit, and only Ballard knows his threshold.
The Colts are attractive because they improved four wins to 11-5 and qualified for the AFC playoffs, losing 27-24 in the first round at Buffalo. They have a strong offensive line that needs to replace retiring offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo, up-and-coming running back Jonathan Taylor, and a promising pass-catcher in Michael Pittman Jr. as well as two-time Pro Bowl tight end Jack Doyle. Taylor and Pittman were drafted in the second round of the 2020 draft.
That’s why it seems unrealistic that Ballard and head coach Frank Reich would turn to a rookie quarterback to lead their offense. The Colts aren’t on the clock until No. 21 in the first round, and again, Ballard probably won’t be too keen on giving up multiple selections to move up. As he said in his recent video call, it’s a deep quarterback class, but drafting one in the first round would probably require some “luck.”
Colts backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett is set to become a free agent. He’s had the starting job twice, giving it back when Andrew Luck returned from injury in 2018, then to Rivers when the Colts signed the 17-year pro for $25 million to play this past season.
Brissett can’t be blamed for wanting to test free agency to ascertain his value, especially after twice being relegated to a backup role with the Colts.
The Lions have the seventh overall pick in April and are expected to take one of the highest-rated quarterbacks. As Ballard reminded in a recent video call, the top passers go quickly in the selection process.