| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Lions are 1-3 at the bye. Is there any reason for optimism?
Detroit Lions don’t seem intent on making a midseason coaching change, so what improvements, if any, can save the 2020 season? (Filmed Oct. 5, 2020)
When Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his ankle Sunday, the inevitable questions about his replacement immediately started circulating.
Those potential replacements include Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, a high school football legend in Texas who led Highland Park High to a state championship.
Could the Cowboys and Lions swing a trade for Stafford? There are good reasons for why it will and why it won’t happen. But let’s start with the reasons it won’t, since I think it’s more likely a trade doesn’t occur.
Con: Playoff expectations
From the Lions’ point of view, trading Stafford would be tantamount to giving up on the season. On almost any other struggling team, that might not be a problem. Fire everyone, hit the reboot button. But this season is unique for the Lions because the jobs of coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn have hung in the balance since ownership publicly declared late last season they were expected to be playoff contenders. Well, you can’t trade your franchise quarterback and hold the coach and GM to the same expectation. The Fords painted themselves into a corner by making such a public declaration and now it would be hard for them to walk it back and have to explain why Stafford has been traded and why Patricia and Quinn might still return next year — all while this year’s team marches into oblivion.
Con: What would they get?
The only reason the Lions should trade Stafford is to acquire enough draft capital in order to secure the No. 1 overall pick and select Trevor Lawrence, Clemson’s stud quarterback right out of central casting. But what would that mean? It would almost certainly mean acquiring at least Dallas’ first-round pick. But the Cowboys have only five picks in next year’s draft, so parting with any picks would be devastating. Currently, the Cowboys (2-3) have the 19th overall pick and the Lions (1-3) have the ninth overall pick. Even if the Lions get the 19th pick, or thereabouts, it might not be enough to leapfrog the teams ahead of them in order to move up to No. 1 with a bunch of other quarterback-needy teams in the mix. Also, let’s not forget about Patricia and Quinn. If they don’t get a job-security guarantee from the Fords before trade talks for Stafford begin, why would they even pick up the phone? Trading Stafford while you’re still fighting for your job is tantamount to signing your resignation letter.
Con: The Fords love Stafford
When Stafford’s career is over, he should consider running for public office because the most reliable skills he has developed over 12 seasons have been self-preservation, general likability and staying in the good graces of powerful people. Stafford, with a big assist from his wife, has carefully curated his public image as a hard-working, tough, selfless leader, as well as a doting family man who also donates to charitable causes. This has endeared him to the Ford family. I have nothing against Stafford in this regard. In fact, good on him for being wise enough to play the real game of pro sports: keeping your job. Stafford hasn’t won anything, but he has played just well enough to create the narrative that he’s not the problem behind the Lions’ losing. If you couple Stafford’s ability and his likability, it’s hard to imagine the Fords trying to find enough reasons to trade him away — only to see him go win instantly in Dallas.
Pro: A perfect fit
Everyone knows about Stafford’s strong ties to Dallas. He won a high school state championship there and he grew up a big Troy Aikman and Cowboys fan. In some way, it always has felt like Stafford was destined to finish his career in Dallas. Now the fit seems even more perfect. The Cowboys have an immediate need and their offensive coordinator is Kellen Moore, Stafford’s backup for three years. If there’s one coordinator who knows everything about Stafford and his game, and how to get the most out of it, it’s Moore. If the Cowboys acquired Stafford he would be hailed as the hometown hero in Dallas and would be an instant hit with fans and media.
The NFL trade deadline is Nov. 3. The Lions play three more games before then. If they lose all three, or maybe even if they lose two — and if they look especially bad in those losses — the Fords might get fed up with mounting public pressure and everything else and just pull the plug on the season. If the Cowboys are struggling under Andy Dalton and they haven’t made a trade, and if the Lions are plummeting anyway with Stafford, the circumstances might be right for both teams to work out a deal. The Cowboys could salvage a season and make a pretty easy title run in the weak NFC East, and the Lions could give their fans more hope with added draft capital for next season, when they hope to fill their stadium.
Pro: Money matters
Stafford is due a $10 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the 2021 league year. It’s not crazy money for a starting quarterback, but it’s a sizable investment — especially for a 33-year-old quarterback who hasn’t played great. On the other hand, if the Lions trade Stafford, they’re on the hook for a $19 million cap hit. There are significant financial considerations in either case. But there’s something else at play, too. It’s the reality of where Stafford is in his career and where the Lions are headed if they continue to struggle. None other than our old friend Dan Orlovsky told the Free Press’ Dave Birkettin August he and Stafford had discussed scenarios for the Lions moving on based on a trade or a regime change. “I think in both cases you could justify it,” Orlovsky said. “I’ve said this publicly and I’ve said it to Matthew, listen, if they don’t win, it’s probably the right decision.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you cangain access to our most exclusive Lions content.