| Detroit Free Press
Do Detroit Lions have any good reason to start Matthew Stafford again?
Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez debate if the Detroit Lions should start Matthew Stafford again this year. Filmed Dec. 17, 2020.
Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
If you say the words “Matthew Stafford” to anyone with a keen interest in the NFL — coaches, executives, media, fans, and pretty much anyone following the Detroit Lions — they’re almost certain to have a strong opinion.
You can add former Super Bowl champion quarterback and CBS NFL Today analyst Phil Simms to that list. With an exclamation point.
“Matt Stafford’s talent is up there with almost anybody that’s ever played quarterback,” Simms told the Free Press recently. “That’s it, period.”
But Simms wasn’t done. Not by a longshot.
He had just finished watching the coaches’ film of Stafford’s excellent play during a 31-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He marveled at how well Stafford continues to play in his 12th season at age 32, even as the continues to play on bad teams and deal with mounting injuries.
That’s what brought Simms to a conclusion about Stafford, who is under contract through 2022, but headed toward an uncertain offseason for the Lions that will bring with it a new coach and general manager — and possibly a new quarterback in the draft.
“I’m just going to be honest,” Simms said. “I hope they get rid of him and I hope he lands with a really good team and he’s going to lead them to the Super Bowl. That’s what I hope. I really do for him.
“I think he’s been so tremendous through the years down the stretch. He is the comeback quarterback of games like I’ve never seen. My God, it’s one miracle after another.”
It’s true. Since his rookie year in 2009, Stafford leads the NFL with 31 fourth-quarter comebacks, and his 38 winning drives trails only Drew Brees’ 39.
“But if you go out and talk to the local radio hosts,” Simms said, “or people on ESPN or Fox or wherever these shows are all on: ‘Oh, Matt Stafford, he’s just OK. They’ve never done anything with him there.’
“No kidding! Wow, you’re great at your job there, big guy. It’s annoying, it’s frustrating that he’s painted this way, if he is by everybody. But it’s not everybody. People that actually know anything about football realize what a special talent he is. And I want to see him get a chance.”
One of the popular theories for athletes who struggle to find success on a particular team is the notion a change of scenery can be a benefit. Simms buys it.
“Hey, he worked,” he said. “That’s the thing now. He worked. He’s been a Super Bowl quarterback. He’s just not playing with a Super Bowl team.
“Did you ever go into a year and say, ‘Man, Detroit can win it all this year?’ Have you ever even mentioned that? No.”
What’s most surprising about Simms’ passionate defense of Stafford is the two hardly know each other. Simms said other than occasional production meetings before a Lions game that CBS has broadcast, he and Stafford have never exchanged more than a quick hello at an NFL event.
So Simms doesn’t have a horse in this race. But with the Lions searching for a new regime, he believes the time is right for Stafford and the Lions to part ways, likely through a trade.
“So they have a Super Bowl quarterback, period,” Simms said. “And you’re bringing in a new coach, a GM. It’s time to bring in a new quarterback. And Matt Stafford, he wants to go through another change? I mean, it’s crazy. It’s just the way I think.
“And if HE goes somewhere, he’s going somewhere that’s going to be really good. The Jacksonville Jaguars are not going to trade for him or want him. Or the New York Jets or whatever. All these bad teams, they’re going to go young and all that. But there’s a handful of teams out there that might change their quarterbacks that are really good teams.”
There’s no question Simms, 65, knows a lot of NFL coaches and front office executives. He has been involved with the league as a player or broadcaster since 1979. He said his view of Stafford is the way people in the NFL at large view him.
“As the years have gone by, his arm is standing the test of time,” Simms said. “So he’s going to be 40 and still throwing it the way he is right now.
“And since he’s been in the league, he’s gotten more nimble and mobile. He moves around. People don’t give him credit for how he can move and gets out of the pocket and has a great feel for the game and the throws he makes.”
Then Simms said something startling.
“We marvel at Aaron Rodgers,” he said, “and I’m not saying he’s Aaron Rodgers, but he is so close to Aaron Rodgers, it’s incredible. I mean, they’re really close in talent.”
I grew up in California and when Simms said this I could swear I felt a seismic shock underneath me in Detroit, rolling west through Grand Rapids, under Lake Michigan into Milwaukee and then rattling the tectonic plates under Green Bay.
If I write that, I told Simms, people are going to get mad.
“Why are they gonna get mad?” he said.
I mentioned Rodgers’ two NFL MVPs.
“OK,” Simms said. “Again, does he make more plays than Matt Stafford and given the opportunities? I don’t know. Listen, I’m just telling you he is a Super Bowl-talented quarterback, and if he’s in the right situation, he can lead them there with no question in my mind. I’m completely convinced of it.
“And all these great teams that Aaron Rodgers played for — that’s right, they went to one (Super Bowl). Are we comparing Green Bay to Detroit if they had the same talent, the same franchise? No. There’s no comparison. You can’t even compare them. Green Bay’s done a wonderful job of organizing their team and keeping it to a certain degree where their quarterback is looked upon as a star and he does have a flare.”
To be clear, Simms wasn’t knocking Rodgers or taking anything away from his accomplishments.
“Aaron Rodgers has a great flare to him and the whole thing, the aura,” he said. “But that’s all because of time and winning so many games and all that. But Matt Stafford’s put up — I don’t even know about the numbers, I don’t care. But he’s not playing on the Green Bay Packers. That’ll make the people in Detroit mad.”
Yes, it will. And in Green Bay, too.
It’s understandable if anyone viscerally disagrees with Simms. But it’s important not to dismiss his points because Simms is a product of the NFL and its thinking for the past four decades.
Maybe every coach and personnel person doesn’t agree with Simms’ take on Stafford’s historic ability, but a few probably do. Enough that Stafford’s value outside of Detroit is a lot higher than anyone has realized for the past 12 years.
“I think it will happen,” Simms said of Stafford leaving the Lions, “and then the people in Detroit will just go, ‘Wow. We miss Matt Stafford. He was really good.’ If he gets in the right situation — I’m not going to tell you who I think he’s going to — but I have a very strong suspicion that he’s going to go somewhere really good.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.