ALLEN PARK — Matthew Stafford has requested a trade, and the Detroit Lions will do their darndest to find a new home for their longtime quarterback.
A league source said Stafford approached the team about trading him after the season ended, suggesting the move could be best for both sides. The Lions, less than one week removed from introducing their new head coach and general manager, will reportedly pursue a deal in the coming weeks. Detroit will not force a deal, telling the quarterback he’d be traded if the team finds “fair market value,” leaving the door cracked for 2021. Both Lions coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes were made aware of Stafford’s request before putting ink to paper.
Stafford was the No. 1 overall pick to Detroit in 2009 and stands as the franchise leader in yards (45,109), yards per attempt (7.2), touchdowns (282), completion percentage (62.6%) and just about every other record a Lions quarterback could hold. Outside of Detroit, Stafford was the fifth player in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards in a season. He was also the fastest player to reach 20,000, 25,000, 30,000 and 35,000 passing yards.
The Lions have made the playoffs three times since drafting Stafford but have nothing to show for any of those tries. Detroit is picking inside the top 10 for the second straight year, turning in its third consecutive last-place finish in the NFC North. Stafford started 16 games again, completing 64.2% of his passes for 4,084 yards with 26 touchdowns to 10 interceptions in 2020.
Detroit has quarterbacks Chase Daniel and David Blough under contract outside of Stafford for 2021. The Lions also hold the seventh-overall pick in April’s draft. Early mock drafts have tied the Lions to quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Justin Fields, among others, and that was before Stafford’s trade request.
This post will run through potential destinations and assets that could be headed back to Detroit in return. See below for five trade partners who could make sense for the Detroit Lions:
Indianapolis has a vacancy under center after Philip Rivers announced his retirement last week. The Colts own Pick 21 in April’s draft and seems to be in the place where moving two first-round picks in consecutive years doesn’t leave the shelves empty.
The Colts have one of the stronger rosters in the league, an impressive offensive line and stout defense in place. Adding a Matthew Stafford to the mix could bump this team into the next level of AFC contenders. Indy went 11-5 this past season, losing 27-24 to the Bills in the wild-card round. The offense left a lot to be desired under Rivers and could see quite the boost with Stafford letting it rip inside Lucas Oil.
It’s worth noting the Colts sent a first-round pick to San Francisco for interior defender DeForest Buckner last year, so it’s not out of the question. Louis Riddick, an ESPN analyst and recent interviewee for Detroit’s GM job, tweeted, “(Colts GM) Chris Ballard is a smart man. He knows what to do…”
New Orleans Saints
This one is a little more out there, at least until Saints quarterback Drew Brees, 42, makes his decision whether to retire or not. Jameis Winston is a strong in-house candidate but just played out a one-year deal and doesn’t possess Stafford’s track record.
New Orleans is in Indy-territory with a later first-round selection (Pick 28) in terms of asking price. The Saints have one of the better defenses in the league and several offensive weapons in place. Trading for Stafford delays any talks of a rebuild and seems like a safer bet than giving the keys to Winston or the enigmatic Taysom Hill. The Lions hired coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn via New Orleans, speaking to several front office members during the interview process. Lines of communication between the two franchises have been firmly established, and could come into play once again.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are in an interesting situation, one year removed from a Super Bowl loss, but sitting with Pick 12 after going 6-10. It’s worth remembering the New York Jets got two first-round picks for safety Jamal Adams earlier this year, so Pick 12 for a 32-year-old franchise quarterback under team control for more than one season doesn’t seem out of the question.
This partnership is sure to pick up steam as this cycle carries into the offseason. Jimmy Garoppolo signed a five-year, $137.5 million deal in 2018. Still, the 49ers can get out of that marriage in mostly harmless fashion. Garoppolo’s season was marred by two high-ankle sprains, limiting him to six starts. He’s started 16 games only once since the 49ers sent a second-round pick to New England for him.
San Francisco’s roster is sure to go through some changes, but this feels ripe for a kick-start after a down year. The 49ers have some versatile weapons on offense in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk to go with a deep running back room, not to mention tight end George Kittle. Trent Williams would have been an easy bet for comeback player of the year had it not been for Alex Smith’s remarkable story in Washington, solidifying the left tackle spot for the short term. The defense could be in for an overhaul, but Javon Kinlaw and Fred Warner remain in town, so once again, an unlikely complete teardown in the Bay.
This one comes down to how much San Francisco’s brass feels Stafford can move the needle versus Garoppolo. Putting Stafford into 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s hands could get this operation headed back to where they were at the end of 2019.
Washington Football Team
Well, current circumstances certainly make this already obvious candidate come with a little more intrigue. Former Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, the man who made Stafford the No. 1 pick in 2009, was named Washington’s GM earlier this week.
Washington made the playoffs after winning the NFC East at 7-9 but fell flat in the wild-card round starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Alex Smith, who nearly lost his leg two years ago, started six games but faces an uncertain future of his own. The Football Team spent a first-round pick on Dwayne Haskins in 2019 but have already parted ways with the former Ohio State quarterback. Haskins has since landed with the Pittsburgh Steelers, leaving Washington in his rear-view mirror.
Washington owns Pick 19 in April’s draft and a plethora of young defensive lineman and edge rushers. Stafford to Washington feels like it could be the most impactful of them all, thanks to the defensive foundation and youthful skill position players such as Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson, among others. It’s hard not to see bigger things for this team with coach Ron Rivera and that impressive defensive front locked up.
“But when you have a franchise quarterback like Matthew Stafford, you keep that guy,” Mayhew said when asked about trading Stafford while still in Detroit in 2015. “If we had 22 Matthew Staffords, we’d win a championship every single year.”
New England Patriots
Cam Newton seems unlikely to return to New England in 2021. The Patriots missed the playoffs in their first season without Tom Brady, delivering an anemic offensive effort. New England’s receiver room leaves a lot to be desired, so this would be a tougher fix than expected. Still, it’s hard to doubt Bill Belichick and New England’s ability to reload and get back at it. The Patriots own Pick 15 in the draft, which certainly seems more than enough to get the conversation started.
Newton started 15 games, throwing only eight touchdowns to 10 interceptions while playing with New England’s empty slate of pass catchers. The quarterback added 12 scores on the ground, highlighting a strange first season outside of Carolina.
An interesting aspect to this is the addition of former Lions coach Matt Patricia to New England’s staff. While many will get lost in the Patricia-Stafford relationship, the former Lions coach isn’t the head coach, coordinator, position coach or in the front office. Patricia offers something that none of the others on this list possess, which is an in-depth and personal knowledge of Stafford’s recent medical history. The Lions quarterback had his string of back issues and then played through injuries to his throwing hand’s thumb, rib cartilage and ankle in 2020. Belichick has moved his fair share of first-round picks in his days, which could put the Patriots right back in the thick of things in the AFC, so long they invest in a wide receiver or three.
This one feels the unlikeliest of them all, but the Houston Texans might be the most desperate and unpredictable team on this list. The Texans have reportedly done some serious damage to their relationship with Deshaun Watson and could be forced to move the all-world quarterback.
While many will point to the absence of picks in Houston, this would be a situation where Detroit would likely be sending more in return. Watson, 25, is one of the game’s fastest rising superstars, fresh off a wildly impressive season for a franchise in shambles. For as good as Stafford has been, it’s safe to assume Watson will command more in return, and then some.
The Texans quarterback recently signed a five-year extension, meaning this lofty investment would at least be a long-term one. Houston also doesn’t have a first-round pick in 2020, starting down a challenging rebuild, and could see Pick 7 as quite the get if its hand is forced. Former Lions coach Jim Caldwell is in play for the head coaching position in Houston, adding a little more intrigue to this potential landing spot.