Oh, what might have been!
Are you really surprised that Matthew Stafford wanted out of Detroit?
After a dozen seasons in Detroit, even the quarterback known for his professional demeanor started to show signs he had one foot out the door.
Known for being extremely buttoned up in media sessions and displaying a dry public persona, he even started to loosen up by telling jokes and playing tricks on the media prior to the start of the 2020 season.
The telltale sign that things were not looking bright for the marriage between Stafford and the Lions was his close friend Dan Orlovsky dropping clues publicly that 2020 would be Stafford's final one in Detroit.
“His numbers will be great. I’ll keep it 100 with you, like, listen, he’s either going to win there this year or a winner’s going to come get him," Orlovsky said via the Detroit Free Press. "I think if a winner comes gets him, or a team that’s on the brink of winning, is a quarterback away, I think that people will finally get to see him on a team that is fully complementary and supports that quarterback play, similar to the 2014 team. Or the 2011 team in some capacities."
“I think in both cases you could justify it,” Orlovsky explained further. “I’ve said this publicly and I’ve said it to Matthew, listen, if they don’t win, it’s probably the right decision. And they didn’t not win because of him, but you can totally sit there and go, ‘All right, we tried. It didn’t happen. Let’s totally reboot.’“
The barrage of opinions provided by the ESPN NFL analyst continued all throughout the season, as he even tweeted about Stafford's future after Detroit's 37-35 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in the season finale.
The soon-to-be 33-year-old quarterback now joins an exclusive club that the Lions should be ashamed of.
Arguably, the organization's three top players -- Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson and Stafford -- all left the team in frustration, no longer able to tolerate the crushing weight of constant disappointment and little-to-no hope on the horizon.
One of the league's most spectacular runners of all-time, Sanders rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his 10 seasons with the Lions.
Sanders was also just the third person to gain more than 2,000 yards in a season, a feat he accomplished in 1997.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, "He absolutely dazzled a Pontiac Silverdome crowd when he dashed for an 18-yard gain on his first carry as an NFL running back. But that was just the beginning. His 1,470 yards rushing that season, a-then Lions record, fell just 10 yards short of the league’s best for the year. The most impressive feat of his remarkable career, however, came in 1997, when he rushed for a league-best 2,053 yards and gained another 305 yards on 33 catches for an amazing 2,358 combined yards gained."
Fans were left stunned, sad and frustrated when Sanders decided to fax in his retirement, prior to the start of the 1999 season.
“Being an old, wise guy that I am, I’m careful about saying what things I would do different. You can always look back and see things that you could change. But all in all, yeah, the retirement part was a little clumsy. But the person that I was, I probably wouldn’t (change anything). That’s really how I was going to handle it, right? So I don’t have that many regrets, as far as that," Sanders told the Free Press, when he reflected on the 20 years that had passed since his retirement.
Meanwhile, Johnson still has not forgiven the organization for insulting him and his time in the league by asking for a portion of his signing bonus back when he retired.
Throughout his career, the wideout that became known as "Megatron" sacrificed his body in an attempt to make Detroit into a winner.
His fingers mangled, Johnson decided that he could no longer sacrifice his body in the hopes of bringing a winner to the Motor City.
It simply was not going to happen.
The writing was on the wall, and Johnson retired prematurely following the 2015 season.
Stafford's tenure produced one of the most hotly contested and debated water-cooler conversations in Detroit sports history.
How much blame should he shoulder for the organization's failures? Was he part of the problem, or did the organization fail to utilize his talents?
The debate regarding Stafford's tenure in Motown will rage on for decades.
But, one thing cannot be debated. Stafford's tenure ended without a single playoff victory.
The end of Stafford's run in Motown may actually help the next regime in its efforts to retool. But, one cannot help but feel as if everyone was short-changed.
A talented quarterback, running back and wide receiver all wasted.
Quite the legacy for the Lions organization.
Detroit's new front office and their collaborative approach must find a way to turn around the narrative that the franchise chews up and spits out its star players.
Unfortunately for Stafford, he joined a club he likely wanted no part of.
Now, he will be off to try and win elsewhere, leaving Detroit with plenty of passing records.
However, like his predecessors, the conversation will turn to what might have been for Stafford in Detroit.