Wojo: Matthew Stafford makes his smartest call, asks Lions to trade him

Detroit News

Bob Wojnowski
 
| The Detroit News

This was the way it was destined to end, perhaps the only way it could end. The Lions would launch another rebuild and Matthew Stafford would finally, mercifully, ask out.

That moment just arrived, and the time is right.

Stafford and the Lions have mutually agreed to seek a trade and end his star-crossed 12-year tenure here, the best quarterback in franchise history. Contenders such as the Colts and 49ers are the fashionable options but several teams will be looking for a veteran quarterback, and Stafford should draw a first-round pick and more.

As unsettling as it may be for Lions fans, this was overdue. When a tough pro like Stafford, who rarely complained about anything, privately says enough is enough, it’s enough. And it apparently had nothing to do with the new regime, GM Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell. Stafford reportedly floated the idea with Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood shortly after the season. Stafford then talked to Holmes and Campbell after they were hired, and an agreement was reached.

Frankly, Stafford did them one final favor. By asking for a fresh start, he allowed them to do the right thing without rancor or regret. Left to their own desires, who knows if the Lions finally would have moved on from their all-time leader in every quarterback statistic. He’ll leave with his body mostly intact and one ugly scar — 0-3 in the playoffs, no division titles — but that’s largely the Lions’ scar.

It was painful and pointless to keep pushing for clarity. It no longer mattered if the Lions were holding Stafford back or he was holding them back. It was foolish to keep trying.

This is the right thing for both sides, although in typical Lions passive fashion, they didn’t really prepare for it. They didn’t draft a quarterback last year at No. 3 and have steadfastly refused to groom an heir apparent. There’s no promising youngster on the roster, and with the No. 7 pick in the upcoming draft, no guarantee they can land one of the top quarterback prospects. Instead of starting over last year, the Lions kept Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia for one more fruitless attempt, and squeezed the fighting spirit out of Stafford.

Fessing up

Mistakes, mistakes, and the only way to correct them is to admit them. The Fords always resisted any notion of trading Stafford, but under Hamp, they are open to new ideas. More than ever, they have to play the game correctly and get a substantial return for Stafford or risk the embarrassment of pulling him off the market.

The Lions had better hope they landed the right GM because Holmes’ first major move will be a doozy.

From everything we’ve heard about how he operated with the Rams, he’ll be bold. Drafting players is a different discipline than trading players, so we shall see. He should get plenty of opportunities to show his acumen, with as many as seven contending teams looking for quarterbacks.

There’s one shiny prize, the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, who has demanded a trade. It would take a ton to land the 25-year-old star and Detroit wouldn’t be his preferred destination. But the Texans can’t reasonably commit to a total rebuild and might be interested in bringing Stafford back to his home state. I’d dangle Stafford, the No. 7 pick and a future first-rounder in front of Houston. Holmes has no problem working without first-round picks (the Rams didn’t have one the past four drafts).

That’s the long-shot scenario. More likely suitors are the 49ers (who have the No. 12 pick) or the Colts (the No. 21 pick). Indianapolis has a Super Bowl-caliber team with a great offensive line and a huge opening after Philip Rivers’ retirement. Others hunting for a quarterback could include the Saints, the Steelers, the Patriots and the Eagles, who are shopping Carson Wentz. Hmm, Stafford for Wentz? Hey, if it’s shopping season, that makes it open season for rumors.

Washington just hired Martin Mayhew, and he was Detroit’s GM when Stafford was drafted No. 1 overall in 2009. And what about another Texas connection — Stafford for the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott?

A lot of variables will make many of these ideas moot, but Stafford’s contract shouldn’t be a problem. He’s owed $43 million for the final two years, not excessive for an upper-tier quarterback about to turn 33. The Lions would take a $19-million cap hit, which also isn’t unreasonable.

More likely, the Lions will draft their quarterback, although at No. 7, the top three — Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Zach Wilson — are likely to be gone. Part of a Stafford trade could be a move up in the order. All scenarios are on the table, and if this feels weird, well, that’s because it is.

QB shopping

The Lions haven’t looked for a quarterback in 12 years. They were trapped — as Stafford was trapped — by the unending cycle of false promise and failed regimes. They felt they couldn’t start over because they had Stafford. But they couldn’t build a well-rounded team because they had Stafford. And also, it should be noted, because they had incompetent people in charge.

The great debate can end now, and Stafford can find his true potential, or reveal his true flaws, somewhere else. He wasn’t always accurate in the biggest games, and he never had a suitable running game to help him, but Stafford gave all he had with minimal complaint.

If Holmes-Campbell was an arranged marriage, signed independently of each other, Stafford and the team are planning an amicable, arranged divorce. The Lions finally are showing signs of being progressive, although they didn’t have much of a choice. Stafford made the call few thought he’d ever make, and now the Lions need a new face of the franchise. It’s too bad, but it’s only sad if you truly believed Stafford would find success here, and the Lions are far from that.

I think fans are bummed but mostly understand it was time. They loved his toughness and appreciated his embracing of Detroit. It was fun for a while, but if they’re being honest, they suspected this was how it always was going to end.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bobwojnowski

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