Detroit Lions have options for starting QB in 2021: These are the 11 best

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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This is shaping up to be one wild offseason, at least when it comes to quarterbacks.

Matthew Stafford wants out of Detroit. Deshaun Watson wants out of Houston. Aaron Rodgers may want out of Green Bay. And it seems Drew Brees is getting out of the NFL.

That’s four large names, and we haven’t even mentioned the incoming crop of rookie quarterbacks yet. Trevor Lawrence is a lock to go No. 1 to Jacksonville in April’s draft, and no one would be surprised if four other signal callers went in the top half of the first round.

Rodgers’ cryptic comments after the Packers’ NFC championship game loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tom Brady (who lived the quarterback craziness last year and might just play till he’s 50) could open the door for a changing of the quarterback guard in the NFC North.

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The Packers, with Brett Favre and Rodgers under center for the past three decades, have been the envy of the division — and much of the league — at the position. Green Bay has won 14 of 29 division championships since Favre took over as starter in 1992, and made the playoffs 21 times.

Rodgers’ murky future means Green Bay might not have a future Hall of Famer under center for the first time since Don Muhlbach was in elementary school, and that is all the more reason the Detroit Lions must nail their quarterback decision this offseason.

Get it right, and the door could be open to amazing things.

Get it wrong, and, well, we’ll be in the same place, talking about the same thing, four years from now.

The Lions don’t have any chance of landing Lawrence, a generational talent whose status as a prospect is on par with Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and John Elway. But they should have plenty of options, both in the rookie class and among patchwork veterans who can be a bridge to the future — or maybe even become the future themselves.

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Here are 10 possibilities to be the Lions’ Week 1 quarterback in 2021:

Tyrod Taylor

QB quandary: Taylor seems like as good a bet as any quarterback for the Lions to target in free agency given his ties to new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. He played for Lynn with the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers, and was Buffalo’s starting quarterback in Lynn’s one season as play caller. Taylor is a stopgap, no doubt, but the 31-year-old pending free agent gives the Lions the best chance to win of the most realistic names on this list.

How it happens: If new general manager Brad Holmes and the rest of the Lions’ braintrust do not like their quarterback options with the seventh pick of the draft, or whatever rookie they draft is slow to develop in another truncated offseason, Taylor absolutely could take the Lions’ first snap of the 2021 season.

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Justin Fields

QB quandary: Unless they land a quarterback in a blockbuster trade, the Lions almost have to take a Stafford replacement with their first-round pick. Fields, Ohio State’s starter the past two seasons, is among the second tier of quarterback prospects behind Lawrence. He could go as high as No. 2 overall to the New York Jets, but several recent mock drafts have him sliding to or beyond the Lions at No. 7.

How it happens: If you draft a quarterback in the top 10, he should be able to play as a rookie and learn on the job. The bigger question is whether some team will feel compelled to draft — or trade up for — Fields in front of the Lions.

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Zach Wilson

QB quandary: Wilson is in contention with Fields to be the second quarterback drafted after a standout season at BYU in which he threw for 3,692 yards and 33 touchdowns. He’s incredibly accurate as a passer, but does not have quite as big an arm as Fields. Draft analyst Tony Pauline also said recently Wilson’s father has used new Lions executive John Dorsey as a sounding board on whether to declare early for the NFL draft.

How it happens: The Jaguars take Lawrence at No. 1, the Jets (or Houston Texans, in a trade) take Fields at No. 2, the Atlanta Falcons ignore their obvious need for a long-term solution at the quarterback position at No. 4, and Wilson falls into the Lions’ lap.

Trey Lance

QB quandary: A year ago, Lance was generating buzz as the potential second or third quarterback off the board. When North Dakota State moved the bulk of its football season to the spring because of COVID concerns, Lance became a sort of forgotten man in the quarterback mix. He played one game this fall and lost valuable in-game development time, but remains a talented dual-threat option. Of the prospects listed, he seems most likely to be there at No. 7.

How it happens: Even if the Lions draft Lance, there is a chance he might not ready to start the opener. He was a one-year starter and the leap from the Missouri Valley Conference to the NFL is huge. But maybe the NFL gets its regular offseason, and beyond that, maybe the Lions feel it’s best for a rookie quarterback to see the field.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

QB quandary: Fitzpatrick has made a career out of being a serviceable backup, sometimes starter and mentor to young QBs. If the new regime is not sold on Chase Daniel filling that role and does not want Taylor for some reason, they could do worse than signing Fitzpatrick.

How it happens: He’s a free agent, so offering some combination of the most money/best opportunity for playing time usually works.

Jameis Winston

QB quandary: The Lions seem to be pivoting towards more of a run-first offense with the addition of Lynn, head coach Dan Campbell (a former blocking tight end) and ex-NFL running back Duce Staley as assistant head coach. Winston probably is not the best fit because of his ball security issues, but he spent this season in New Orleans with Campbell, so there is a connection.

How it happens: See above.

Deshaun Watson

QB quandary: This is admittedly a pipe dream, but the Lions should at least look into the possibility. Watson is disgruntled in Houston and wants out after the franchise lied to him about involving him in its sham of a general manager search. The Texans still do not have a head coach, but ex-Lions coach Jim Caldwell is one of the leading candidates for the job. With no first-round pick, the Texans’ options are limited at quarterback. From the Lions’ standpoint, acquiring Watson would be a no-brainer — if he would waive his no-trade clause to come to Detroit.

How it happens: It probably doesn’t. Watson’s no-trade clause means he can dictate where he goes, and the Jets, with the No. 2 pick, and Miami Dolphins are two suitors who have more assets to offer. But if the Lions dangled Stafford and the No. 7 pick, that would at least be a good jumping off point for a 25-year-old franchise QB.

Jared Goff

QB quandary: I don’t think this happens, but one viable trade partner for Stafford is the Los Angeles Rams, where Holmes spent 17 years. If that happens, the Rams will have to move on from Goff, so it would make sense for him to come back in any trade. Goff is 26 and under contract for four more seasons. He’s no Watson, but he’s a better quarterback than some on this list.

How it happens: Starting over at quarterback seems like the best option for the Lions, but Holmes did say he wanted to have “the most competitive team possible out there on the field in 2021.” I think Goff’s ceiling is limited, but full rebuilds can be tough for some to stomach.

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Chase Daniel/David Blough

QB quandary: The worst-case scenario for the Lions next season is that one of Daniel or Blough returns as starter. That means either the Lions struck out or punted on the position in free agency and the draft, or something happened to the rookie quarterback they hitched their wagon to. Daniel can be a good veteran mentor, and Blough earns high marks for his competitiveness and drive. But the Lions won’t win more than a handful of games in 2021 if either is their starting quarterback.

How it happens: The only way Daniel or Blough starts Week 1 is if the Lions do not get a quarterback in return in a Stafford trade, don’t bother to sign one in free agency and something happens to the rookie they draft. In short, organizational malfeasance.

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Matthew Stafford

QB quandary: I promise I’m not toying with your emotions. Stafford wants out, the team is trying to make a deal and it almost certainly will happen. But on the non-zero chance no team is willing to meet the Lions’ trade demands, Stafford is under contract for two more seasons.

How it happens: The Packers deal Rodgers and Stafford suddenly has a change of heart, realizing the NFC North is wide open for the taking — even for the rebuilding Lions.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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