Another ‘difficult’ Detroit Lions season ends. For Matthew Stafford, uncertain future awaits

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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Another NFL season ended with that all-too-familiar empty feeling for Matthew Stafford, and now the longtime Detroit Lions quarterback will head into the offseason with a decision to make about his future.

Stafford said after Sunday’s 37-35 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, when he threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns despite playing with rib, ankle and thumb injuries, that he plans to “reflect on this season, hang out with my wife, my kids, cool down for a little bit (and) figure (out what comes next) at a later date.”

Stafford’s good friend, ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, took to Twitter immediately after the game and renewed calls for the Lions to undergo a seismic rebuild this offseason, and to let Stafford go and finish his career with another, contending team.

Stafford downplayed Orlovsky’s comments.

“Everybody has a right to their opinion,” he said (watch the video above). “I know Dan well, he’s a good friend of mine, but to me, don’t pay too much attention to it.”

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But before he signed off his Zoom news conference for maybe the final time as a Lion, he acknowledged the frustration he has felt throughout his career in Detroit.

The Lions are 79-112-1 since they took Stafford with the first pick in the 2009 draft, and have made the playoffs three times in Stafford’s 12 seasons without a playoff victory.

“It’s hard every time,” Stafford said. “Difficult, disappointing, all of those words come to mind. I want to win, want to be in those games more than anything. It starts with me, I can play better, help us get there. That’s the way I look at it. I want to win just as bad as anybody, if not more so, but the thing that I can control is how I play. And I could have played better to help us win some more games in some other spots this year, and maybe that gave us a chance.”

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Stafford clearly gave the Lions the best chance to win this season, and that will not change in the immediate future. He has played at a high level for most his career and has shown no sign of regression, despite mounting injury concerns.

But the next Lions regime — the organization will hire a new head coach and general manager in the coming weeks — may have to embark on a large-scale tear-down.

The defense needs a complete overhaul, the Lions have just two receivers (Quintez Cephus and Geronimo Allison) under contract for 2021, and Stafford, who turns 33 in February and has two years left on his current contract, likely will need a new deal before the Lions are ready to contend.

With a top-10 pick, the Lions could draft their quarterback of the future, and even if they prefer to go defense, Stafford could push his way out of Detroit with teams like the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints (if Drew Brees retires) looming as potential suitors in the offseason.

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“I got two years left on my deal here, so there’s a lot to discuss,” Stafford said. “I’ll obviously keep that between my family and I and all that, but we’ll figure it out at some other date, I’m sure.”

If Sunday was Stafford’s final game as a Lion, he went out in a fitting way.

After missing practice time during the week with a sprained ankle, Stafford spent the day trading touchdowns with Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. He threw one bad interception, and nearly another, but gave the shorthanded Lions a puncher’s chance against a superior team.

Interim Lions coach Darrell Bevell said Stafford made his mark in another way as well — with a moving speech he gave to teammates Saturday night about the sanctity of the game and their responsibility as players.

Offensive lineman Dan Skipper said Stafford did not address his future in that speech, and Stafford said it was simply an “honest” moment with teammates.

“I really appreciate what he did,” Bevell said. “The guy is out there, not 100%. He’s fighting for his teammates, he’s fighting for, like I said, he talked to the team last night. The respect for the game, the history, the guys that have come before us. The guy is laying everything out there on the line in a game that he doesn’t need to. I think that says a lot about him as a person, about him as a quarterback, what he means to the team. I’m not going to sit here and talk to you for a while about him, but I really appreciate what he has done for me and for this team.”

Soon enough, Stafford and the Lions will decide what more, if anything, there is left to do.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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