OK, Patriots fans. This is it. The Next Guy has suddenly become available, and you’re just an addition or two from once again having an exciting offense to watch.
Or maybe this is all just one big tease in a backwards hat.
The news that Matthew Stafford and the Lions will be parting ways this offseason carries with it both good and bad potential consequences for Bill Belichick’s club.
Let’s start with the good, shall we?
A more-than-viable starting quarterback is suddenly available. Stafford is regarded as smart, tough and a leader. Those familiar with what the Patriots want in their locker room have pegged Stafford as an easy fit. He remains one of the most gifted throwers in football, even going into his 33-year-old season.
More good news: The Patriots are one quarterback-needy team in this year’s draft that would seem to have a pick (No. 15 overall) that would put them in the running to put an attractive trade offer in front of the Lions. One would assume the teams with a top-10 pick would rather try to land one of the four best rookie passers in the draft as opposed to dealing for Stafford. And teams behind the Patriots in the draft looking for quarterbacks -- Washington, Chicago, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, for instance -- won’t have a pick in this year’s class quite as high as that which Belichick would have to offer.
The Broncos (picking at No. 9) and Niners (No. 12) could be problems, but if the Patriots are willing to part with their first, then they may have a reasonable shot.
Further evidence as to why the Patriots have a realistic chance? It might not take much more than a first-round pick to land Stafford and the two years left on his very reasonable contract.
Two comps worth digging into: Carson Palmer and Alex Smith. Palmer was dealt for a first and a second back in 2011, when he went from Cincinnati to Oakland. Smith was dealt for a third and a starting-caliber corner on a rookie deal in 2018. Both quarterbacks were, like Stafford, on the wrong side of 30 but appeared to have plenty of gas left in the tank.
Bidding between contenders for Stafford’s services could drive up the price into Palmer territory, but Stafford's and Smith's numbers on a per attempt basis were not that dissimilar from their late-20s into their early 30s. They aren’t the same players. Different styles. Different strengths. Smith benefitted from Andy Reid. Stafford benefitted from playing indoors with Calvin Johnson. Both, like Palmer, were No. 1 overall picks. Feels like a relevant comparison.
So to recap the good: A talented quarterback is available; based on prior trades, a first-round pick might get the deal done; the Patriots have a first-round pick that might be among the best of the bunch the Lions are offered.
Now let’s look at this from a slightly more pessimistic vantage point.
There’s a chance Stafford doesn’t want to be in New England. It’s unclear as to whether or not Stafford will have veto power over any trade, but it’s safe to assume he’ll be looped in during the process. The last thing any team trading for Stafford would want is a Deshaun Watson situation on their hands. If a first-round pick is the price to get him, teams will want to know Stafford plans on showing up.
If Stafford doesn’t like the offensive weaponry (or the plan for future offensive weaponry) in Foxboro, that may be enough for him to halt a deal. If Stafford doesn’t love the idea of going to a place where Matt Patricia (Stafford’s head coach for two-plus seasons) studied under Belichick, a place where Patricia has recently returned as an assistant, then maybe Stafford would ask the Lions to send him elsewhere.
There’s also the matter of the draft. If the Patriots can’t get a deal done because a team like Indy swoops in with a better trade package (a first and a second? a first and a player?) and offers Stafford a more immediate chance to win, then the Patriots are looking at a scenario where a team ahead of them in the draft order -- the Lions at No. 7 -- has gone from maybe being in the mix for a quarterback to almost certainly being in that mix.
You can almost hear the odds of the Patriots getting Trey Lance or Justin Fields or Zach Wilson in free fall with the Lions in the running for one. If New England can’t get one of those young talents at the game’s most important position, would they be on to Mac Jones at No. 15? Should they go with another veteran instead, well before draft weekend?
Plenty of question marks surround the Patriots and this position moving forward, but one thing is for sure: Stafford being on the trade block complicates the conversations around those questions -- and also makes them a lot more entertaining.