When Detroit Lions trade Matthew Stafford, they will begin the biggest crapshoot in sports

Detroit Free Press

Shawn Windsor
| Detroit Free Press

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They’ll need a quarterback now. Which is still strange to think about after all these years with Matthew Stafford in the huddle.  

But that’s where the Detroit Lions find themselves, looking to rebuild — yes, rebuild — after years of trying to find the right pieces to fit around their quarterback. Short of securing one when they trade Stafford away this winter or spring, they will likely need to find one in the draft. 

[ Ranking Stafford’s potential suitors, and what the Lions might get in a trade ]

The draft is how new general manager Brad Holmes likely prefers to build a roster anyway, and now that he’s got even more help in the room to evaluate talent, including the man, John Dorsey, who traded up to grab Patrick Mahomes four years ago, the Lions are set to embark on a journey they haven’t had to worry about since 2009. 

And worry they should. Because few things in sports are more difficult than finding — and developing — a quarterback.  

At least the right quarterback — not that there is a surefire quarterback mold. There is not. That’s the problem.  

They can stand 6-foot-5 or 5-11. They can run like a receiver or run like an offensive tackle. They can throw 25-yard out routes on a rope or teardrop floaters to tight ends up the seam.  

[ Kelly Stafford says goodbye to Lions: ‘Hard to find words to explain what’ Detroit means ]

What they all have to do, if they want to win, is process information at a rapid rate. Accuracy helps a bunch, too. If a quarterback can do these things, the arm and mobility are secondary.  

Figuring out who can stand in the pocket and lower his heartbeat is difficult. And because the information flies so much quicker in an NFL huddle than it does a college one, the best talent evaluators and quarterback gurus are guessing in the end.  

Dorsey, who will be a senior advisor, comes from Philadelphia where he’s had similar role. Before that, he sat in the captain’s chair in Cleveland and Kansas City, where he grabbed Baker Mayfield and Mahomes, respectively. Before that, he was a college scout in Green Bay when that franchise drafted Aaron Rodgers. 

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So, yes, Dorsey has been around some of the best decision-making the league when it comes to finding quarterbacks. His eyes and voice will help Holmes and new head coach Dan Campbell. 

And yet … they will need some luck.  

Remember Joey Harrington

Of course, you do, even if you don’t want to. The Lions took the Oregon quarterback with the No. 3 pick in the 2002 draft.  

Now, you might blame that call on Matt Millen. Fine.  

But you know who went No. 1 that season?  

Quarterback David Carr. 

Wait, you don’t know who he is? No problem. I’m not judging. But this should tell you everything about who Carr was as a player.  

The Houston Texans selected him. Actually, Charley Casserly made the decision, the team’s general manager. Casserly eventually flamed out in Houston. But he’d had Super Bowl success with Washington, where he’d unearthed Pro Bowler after Pro Bowler at positions all over the field. 

Then he got the top spot in the draft in Houston — then an expansion team — and it didn’t work. It happens. Often. 

MORE WINDSOR: Lions are about to set Stafford free. It may hurt, but makes sense for all

And that’s the point. 

When the Lions consider their options later this spring — staying at No. 7 or making a move to chase a quarterback they think will go higher — they will be hyper aware of how challenging this is.  

Think about the teams that played Sunday in the conference championship games: Green Bay, Tampa, Buffalo, Kansas City. 

No team was led by a quarterback taken in the top five of a draft. Two teams had quarterbacks taken outside the top 20. One team had a quarterback taken in the sixth round

Listen, we don’t need to rehash the origin story of Tom Brady. Besides, he’s an outlier. There is no other quarterback who was selected at No. 199 that’s won six Super Bowls. 

But Aaron Rodgers was nabbed at with the 24th overall pick, and Josh Allen — Buffalo’s QB — was taken with the seventh pick (sound familiar?) Meanwhile, Mahomes was selected at No. 10, after Kansas City moved up from late in the first round. 

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Don’t stop with this year’s final four teams, though. Last year’s show a similar pattern: 

Along with Mahomes and Rodgers, Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee) was a No. 8 overall pick (Miami) and Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco) was taken at No. 62 (New England).  

You have to go back another year to find a top-five pick on the penultimate Sunday of the NFL season, when Jared Goff played in the NFC title game, where he helped the Rams beat the Saints to get to the Super Bowl. 

The Saints’ quarterback, Drew Brees, also came far out of the top 10 — he was taken 32nd overall in 2001. The other two quarterbacks that playoffs were, of course, Brady and Mahomes. 

Goff is just one of four No. 1 overall picks to start in a Super Bowl since 1998, the year Peyton Manning was taken at the top spot, who won two Super Bowls. The other two No. 1s were Manning’s brother, Eli, and Cam Newton.  

By my math, that’s two quarterbacks in 24 years that have won a title from the No. 1 overall spot. A spot that’s seen, at least since Peyton Manning, Tim Couch, Michael Vick, Carr, Carson Palmer, EIi Manning, Alex Smith, JaMarcus Russell, Stafford, Sam Bradford, Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Goff, Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Joe Burrow. 

Which is to say that even there, at the most exalted draft position in American team sports, in the most popular league in the country, buttressed by millions and millions of dollars of science and metrics and psychoanalytical study, teams miss at least half the time. It’s even harder the later a team picks, where it turns into even more of a roll of the dice.  

Kansas City, for example, knew enough to trade up for Mahomes, but it didn’t know it was getting the potential greatest ever. Same for New England when it took a flier on Brady in the sixth round. 

About all you can do is your homework and gather some voices who’ve had a bit of success — the Lions have — and take a chance. All that’s at stake is the next few years of the franchise.  

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.


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