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As you might recall, Detroit’s season had a lifeline before it lost its franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford to injury.

Though not seen as a season-ending or career-threatening injury, the broken bones in the 31-year-old’s back are a cause for concern for various reasons.

Like any injury in the back, it could worsen as time progresses and in turn, threaten the career of the longtime Lions passer as he approaches his mid-30s.

Additionally, Stafford is known as a bulldog who does his best each Sunday to get on the field, no matter what physical or mental ailment he’s going through.

If he continues to push himself, how serious could it get?

After all, earlier in his career he was taking more sacks than any other quarterback in the league.

Could that catch up to Stafford in the long haul?

All that being said, the Lions must protect their franchise passer, who was playing the best football of his career before the broken bones in his back derailed his season.

Here are three things Detroit needs to do to help ensure that Stafford keeps playing into the future: 

1.) Upgrade the right tackle position 

The Lions have done a decent job of improving their once tormented offensive line.

Detroit general manager Bob Quinn added interior linemen Frank Ragnow and Graham Glasgow via the draft. 

Both are grading out in the top 10 at their respective positions, per Pro Football Focus. Ragnow, in fact, is ranked No. 2 among centers.

Additionally, left guard Joe Dahl, who has rotated with Kenny Wiggins, possesses the 22nd-best grade among guards, including a 72.1 pass-blocking grade which is best among Detroit’s interior linemen.

Left tackle Taylor Decker has a 72.7 grade when protecting Stafford, which is best on the team.

Where an upgrade can be made is at right tackle, which is currently manned by Rick Wagner -- the highest-paid Detroit lineman.

Trading him after June 1 would free up more than $9 million in cap space.

However, pursuing a free agent tackle would slice the budget in an offseason where Detroit is desperate for defensive help.

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Perhaps picking a tackle in the second-or-third-round of the draft to replace Wagner would help.

But would he protect Stafford better?

That’s the ultimate question.

2.) Sign or draft a reliable backup quarterback

The fact that Stafford had the most consecutive starts among active NFL quarterbacks before he was sidelined this season is a credit to how well he’s played over the years.

However, it also says something about Detroit’s lack of trust in who’s backing him up.

We saw the Saints lose Drew Brees, the world collectively write them off and then Teddy Bridgewater proceed to go undefeated as his backup.

Jeff Driskel couldn’t lead the way against a 1-9 Washington team -- and sorry, but after one NFL game, David Blough hasn’t proven a single thing yet. 

That being said, either drafting a capable backup in the middle rounds of the 2020 draft which is deep at the position or signing a free agent -- hint, hint: Bridgewater is a free agent this year -- would be wise, and would provide Stafford with some much-needed rest in games that are out of hand or when injuries arise for the veteran passer. 

Playing through injury isn’t what the franchise quarterback needs to be doing at 31 years old.

3.) Run the ball at a higher volume

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has done a phenomenal job as Detroit’s play-caller in 2019.

That being said, Detroit was calling passing plays at a nearly 65 percent clip over the three weeks prior to Stafford being sat down because of his back. 

During that same span of time (Weeks 7-9), Detroit called the fifth-most pass plays in the league. 

It’s difficult to not make the veteran -- and likely future Michigan Sports Hall of Famer -- throw the ball at a high volume.

However, given the injury to his back and the amount of minor injuries he’s accumulated and played through over the years, perhaps it’s time to cut back a bit and to call a more balanced game.

It’s hard for Bevell to do that with former second-round pick Kerryon Johnson currently hurt. 

However, it seems necessary at this point, especially with Bo Scarbrough’s meteoric rise up the depth chart that should carry over into 2020.

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