Matthew Stafford trade talks ‘hot and heavy;’ Dan Campbell outlines vision for next Lions QB

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

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The Matthew Stafford trade talks are heating up, and a deal could be done in the coming days.

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell told the Free Press on Saturday that the Lions have “quite a few offers” for Stafford, their longtime starter who asked for a trade after the season.

“It’s pretty hot and heavy right now,” Campbell said. “We’ve got quite a few offers and so it looks like we’ve got some trade partners, we’re just trying to work out the best scenario and see what’s best for us, ultimately.

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“I mean, we’re mindful of trying to give him what he wants as well, but he also knows that, listen, we’re going to find the best value for the Detroit Lions and what’s best for us. That’s kind of what we’re doing.”

The Lions have had trade conversations with about a third of the league, though not all of those teams are considered realistic suitors.

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While it’s unclear what the Lions will get in return, the amount of trade interest — the Indianapolis Colts, Washington and the San Francisco 49ers are believed to be among the interested parties — and the Lions’ proximity to cutting a deal suggests they will get at least a first-round pick for their soon-to-be 33-year-old quarterback who is under contract at a reasonable price for the next two seasons.

Stafford, the first pick of the 2009 draft, has started most of the past 12 seasons for the Lions and holds franchise passing records for yards, touchdowns, completions, attempts and most other categories.

He approached ownership about a trade after the season, when the Lions went 5-11 to finish in last place in the NFC North for the third straight year.

Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp and president Rod Wood tabled those discussions until after Campbell and new general manager Brad Holmes were hired, and Campbell said when he spoke with Stafford for the first time last week it was clear there was no changing Stafford’s mind about a trade.

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“It was cordial. Listen, it was great. He was phenomenal, and it was just — you could tell, his mind was made up that it was time,” Campbell said. “Not in a bad way, not in a negative way, and that it was — he’s got a few years left and so he felt like this was a decision that he needed to make for his future and I felt like he was pretty set on that. There was really no, ‘Are we going to be able to talk him out of this?’ But he was not bitter at all.”

Campbell said he asked Stafford if he could call him again to get his input on the franchise, and the two spoke for about an hour about the state of the Lions two days later.

“I said, I’m not going to try to recruit you, I said I just want to talk to you,” Campbell said. “You’ve been here a long time and I’d love to have your kind of input, your kind of, just your view of what has transpired over the years. What do you think about some of these guys? He’s known these guys in the locker room, and he was great.

“So he’s been nothing but a pro, he’s a stud. I understand why he wants to do what he wants to do. I get it 100%. So everything’s been top notch. He’s a stud, he’ll always be, and shoot, man, we wish him the best. But we’re going to get what we can. We’re going to max out the value we can for us.”

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Because the Lions are taking a long-term approach to their rebuild, they likely will value draft capital in any deal.

Campbell said his vision for the Lions next quarterback is someone with good leadership qualities and who “the guys in the locker room gravitate to.” He said he prefers a mobile quarterback and one with a strong arm, but that he values intangibles at the position above all else.

“I think first and foremost, I’d want a guy that I feel like has leadership qualities,” he said. “He doesn’t have to be a loud, rah-rah guy, but he needs to be able to command the huddle. I think he needs to be able to communicate. You’d be surprised how many guys in here are perceived as good quarterbacks in this league but they don’t know how to communicate. They got the arm talent, they have all these things, but yet they can’t — they struggle to get it out of their mouths so we can get lined up fast enough for him to check out to coverage.

“I think to have somebody that people would rally around and the guys in the locker room gravitate to, and they understand that, that player’s got some grit and toughness about him. And so, honestly, I kind of view the intangibles of a quarterback more than I do arm strength, like arm talent. You can’t be a weak-armed guy, but I’d rather have a guy that he’s an accurate passer, he makes smart decisions. Certainly, would like a little more of a mobile quarterback because in today’s game it’s hard when you’re a guy who can’t move around in the pocket. That’s kind of my vision for a quarterback.”

If the Lions, who currently own the No. 7 pick in the first round, draft a quarterback, Campbell said it will be a player that everyone in the organization is sold on.

The former assistant head coach/tight ends coach with the New Orleans Saints, Campbell said he was among the contingent of evaluators who fell in love with Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 draft, when the Kansas City Chiefs traded up to take Mahomes one pick before the Saints could land their top target.

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“I’ve got my little gut barometer, right?” Campbell said. “And look, your gut can get you in trouble. It sure can, if you’re not using what’s between your ears with it. … (But a) majority of those times when I’ve felt that way about a guy they’ve kind of, they’ve been pretty good in this league and obviously he being one of them. So it’s not always that easy, but I think, man, if you’re going to get one of those guys early, you better absolutely love that guy. You got to love him, with everything. And everybody in this organization has got to love that guy, in my opinion.”

By acquiring extra picks in the 2021 and/or 2022 drafts, Campbell said the Lions have a chance to land a draft haul like the Saints’ 2017 class that made that franchise an NFC championship contender the past four seasons.

The Saints took cornerback Marshon Lattimore, tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams and running back Alvin Kamara with their first four picks that season. All were rookie starters and Lattimore and Kamara have combined for seven Pro Bowl selections.

The Lions currently have just five picks in this year’s draft, none after Round 5.

Along with quarterback, they need to add a half dozen or more starters on defense and remake their wide receiving corps.

“(If) you’re not able to get a young quarterback, how do you get a quarterback that helps you continue to grow as a team? That’s not somebody you’re just spinning your wheels with. That is the trick, that is the balance,” Campbell said. “And here’s the beauty of — like Brad (Holmes), Brad’s outstanding. Brad and I, I’m not kidding you, we are looking two years out, three years out. And so everything to me starts two years out, and it doesn’t start right now. And he’s the same way. Because I think when you look now, right now, of course we want to win and we’re going to make moves that improve this team, but the most important thing is for us to be able to sustain.

“And if we really want to be a winner in the North consistently, we’re going to have to build this the right way. So to me it’s about, man, we got to stay true to the process and just stay patient. Let’s get the guys, no different than what we’re trying to work out with Matthew. Man, if we can get some capital here and let Brad go to work, because, look, that’s what we did in New Orleans, man. We hit on a couple of drafts now and all of a sudden, you change the dynamic of your team and it did, and we hit on all those picks. Look, that’s what Brad’s super power is, he finds talent. And so I think you got to stay patient.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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