Today should be Matthew Stafford’s final Thanksgiving start for the Detroit Lions

Detroit Free Press

Carlos Monarrez
| Detroit Free Press

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Today is the day we give thanks. So let us be thankful for what we have and who we have in our lives. 

For the Detroit Lions and their fans, there is one person who especially deserves thanks: Matthew Stafford.

Because if everything goes well next season, this should be the final Thanksgiving Day game Stafford plays as the Lions’ starting quarterback.

It’s time to thank Stafford for his effort and his sacrifice over 12 mostly difficult seasons. But it’s also time for the Lions to draft his replacement next year. And if all goes well, that replacement should be starting next year’s Thanksgiving game.

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No matter what happens with coach Matt Patricia or general manager Bob Quinn, it’s time to move on from Stafford. That should be obvious to anyone making personnel decisions and drawing up plays. That should be obvious to anyone who has watched Stafford play this season.

And I hope that’s especially obvious to owner Sheila Ford Hamp, who has a lot of big decisions to make about the future of this franchise.

The problem with Stafford is that it’s clear he’s no longer the long-term solution to this franchise’s problems. He turns 33 in February and appears to have regressed this season. He hasn’t looked the same, and he certainly hasn’t been as effective as he was last year, when he was playing at an MVP level before suffering a season-ending back injury.

The more I look at Stafford’s performances this year and last year, the more I suspect that if he had played a full season in 2019, he wouldn’t have continued his stellar statistical trajectory.

In his eight games last year, Stafford beat or tied mostly bad teams. The Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Chargers and New York Giants each finished with five or fewer wins. The one quality win came against the 9-7 Philadelphia Eagles — and that was due in part to Jamal Agnew’s 100-yard kickoff return and two key defensive takeaways. He played well in losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings. But mostly, he padded his stats in half a season against bad teams.

[ Blame Darrell Bevell and Matthew Stafford, if you must, for Sunday’s Lions loss ]

Stafford hasn’t been terrible this season. But he also hasn’t been the difference-maker this team needs him to be. For far too long, the narrative about Stafford has been that he’s not the biggest problem on the team. But is that why you keep a quarterback around? To not be a problem?

I realize it won’t be easy to move away from Stafford. It will require bold and different thinking. Although Hamp is new to her role as principal owner, the hallmark of nearly 60 years of the Ford family’s Lions ownership has been inaction and well-meaning-but-misplaced loyalty.

I might be making an unpopular suggestion to an unwilling listener because, to put it bluntly, the Ford family adores Stafford for everything he’s done for the franchise. He has been a model citizen in the community, he works hard, he says the right things, he’s been a steady and dependable player for most of his career, and he has been the team’s best quarterback since at least Greg Landry (40-plus years ago) and probably since Bobby Layne (60-plus years ago).

But Stafford has also been mostly a loser. He has a 73-85-1 record (and 0-3 in the playoffs), he has presided over just four winning seasons and he has been at the forefront of the Lions’ struggles the past 12 seasons — through three head coaches and two front offices.

And let me be clear. This isn’t anything personal between me and Stafford. I’ve covered him since he was a rookie, and we get along fine. In fact, we have a few things in common: We both like Rolex Daytonas, and we have the same number of playoff wins.

But it’s time to move on from Stafford, especially if Hamp is thinking about making sweeping changes. The Lions might even be in a great situation to groom Stafford’s replacement. They are 11th in the draft order and if they remain in that area, they should have a chance to pick a good quarterback like Florida’s Kyle Trask or Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson.

Heck, just look at today’s opposing quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Houston took him 12th overall in 2017; he has made two Pro Bowls and he’s having a great year despite the Texans’ struggles. Not only is Watson “not the biggest problem on the team,” but he’s the biggest reason his team has any hope, this year and beyond. Can anyone say that about Stafford?

So here’s what the Lions should do. Pay Stafford his $10 million roster bonus in March and keep him around until his replacement is ready. Maybe he’s ready at the start of the season. Maybe he’s ready to take over midway through the season. Maybe Stafford plays well enough to keep him on the bench to sit and learn for a year.

And maybe at this time next year we’ll be giving thanks to Hamp and the entire Lions organization for having the boldness to depart from the norm, from what’s been too comfortable and too easy for too long.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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