You a Stafford guy? I’m a Stafford guy. Have been since he was at Georgia.
Has he been kind of a loser? Yeah. The Lions have gone 74-90-1 in his starts and -- even though it’s generally accepted that only a Cro-Magnon Man would use team won-loss record as a quarterback stat -- it’s an indicator. Sorry. He’s a product of the losing environment that’s existed in Detroit forever. And that’s quite likely why -- at almost 33 -- he wants out.
The dawn of the Dan Campbell kneecap-chewing era in Detroit may have also played a role, who knows.
What’s the likelihood of the Patriots being interested in Stafford, cobbling together an attractive offer and convincing the Lions and Stafford that this is the place to live out his final NFL years?
Let’s look at the big factors involved.
WOULD STAFFORD WANT TO BE HERE?
It appears the Lions are working with Stafford to send him to a nice home. So we can presume he’ll have some sway -- if not final say -- in where he goes. The upside to being in New England? You’re working with the league’s best offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels. You’re on a team that is almost never going to beat itself. Even if the personnel you’re working with stinks, that doesn’t mean it’s all on you. Defense and special teams will carry their weight. It’s a winning tradition. The anti-Detroit.
The downside? The best receiver is Julian Edelman, soon-to-be-35 and coming off knee surgery. Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry aren’t going to make Stafford’s eyes light up. Neither will the tight end room. Stafford will have to take it on faith that the Patriots are going to surround him with better talent than they did Tom Brady or Cam Newton. And -- given Bill Belichick’s general resistance to answering to players on personnel matters -- I can’t imagine he’s going to cook up a spreadsheet of likely acquisitions to appease Stafford.
Also, if you’re a 33-year-old dome quarterback from Texas who played college football in Georgia, would you want to play outdoors in the Northeast against the Jets, Bills and Dolphins? Or would you rather play in, say, Indianapolis. Dome. Road games at Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee? That’s a factor.
CAN THE PATRIOTS PAY?
They sure can. On two fronts. As Phil Perry pointed out, the compensation for Stafford shouldn’t be insane. He’s 33. Alex Smith, like Stafford a former No. 1 overall pick who’s had a better career than Stafford, fetched a modest return when he was traded from Kansas City to Washington.
Even if the Lions are looking for a first-rounder, that would be an overpay that should be resisted. Especially since A) Stafford is going to be more expensive than any first-rounder and B) he’s got two years left on his deal.
The Patriots aren’t in “win-now, one-piece-away” mode. Overpaying for a guy you’ll be done with in two seasons? If the Patriots hadn’t bungled so many early picks in years past, sure they could spend drunkenly. But they need to hit on early picks who come at low cost with significant upside. Regardless, they have the draft ammo.
As for cap room? Absolutely. The Pats have fat stacks. With what’s going to be more than $60M in space, only the Jaguars, Colts and Jets are in the same neighborhood. The Jags are going to draft Trevor Lawrence. The Jets are either going to keep Sam Darnold or draft a new guy.
So that leaves the Pats and Colts to try and fit Stafford’s roughly $20M per year hit under their cap without batting an eye. One other quarterback needy team that could pull it off is Washington but they’d be strapped after doing so.
IS THIS NECESSARY?
Fourteen of the 16 teams in the AFC had a first-rounder as an opening day starter. All the AFC playoff entrants had first-rounders. In the NFC, every team in the playoffs had either a Hall of Famer or first-rounder at quarterback.
Can you make the playoffs without an objectively good quarterback on your roster? Yes. The Patriots spent 2020 with the worst thrower in the league under center. They smoke-and-mirrored their way to seven wins. But you can’t be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender without someone to throw well and people who can get open and catch those well-thrown balls consistently.
The Patriots have none of the above. They have cap space and vacancies. A blank slate on which Belichick can scratch his final masterpiece. Stafford can be Belichick’s Testaverde. Or better. (Don’t laugh ... Vinny was helpful).
WOULD STAFFORD BE A FIT?
Why, if the Patriots are as bereft as talent as I allege, have they been able to cobble together wins and be among the league-leaders in points every year? Because they had a quarterback capable of morphing every week to attack the defensive weaknesses of their opponents. Tom Brady couldn’t run – and neither can Stafford, really – but he could make every throw with precision. So can Stafford. Stafford is – like Brady – durable, tough-minded and a very good leader. But the ability of a quarterback and his offense to understand what it’s looking at and know it’s got an app for whatever the defense presents is what made the Patriots offense what it was under Brady. And Stafford can bring that.
DO THE PATRIOTS NEED TO BE “ALL-IN”?
I don’t think so. It’s January 24. There are a lot of quarterback dominos to fall this offseason. If San Francisco is all set with Jimmy G., they can move on from him and get into the Stafford race. And if Jimmy G. is released, there’s another possible Patriots answer thrown into the mix. Mitch Trubisky will be out there. Jameis Winston. Jacoby Brissett. Deshaun Watson’s going to go somewhere and maybe if it’s the Jets, Darnold shakes loose. The Patriots need to be “in” on Stafford but “Stafford or bust”? There’s too much in the draft and possibly in free agency to jump on that.
IS THERE A FANTASY SCENARIO?
Yes. Belichick praised Stafford to the moon in 2018 before the Patriots played Detroit and got their asses handed to them.
"As good as there is in football, he's got great weapons. He does an excellent job of seeing down the field in all situations," Belichick said. "No matter how much pressure he's under he seems to find guys down there. Sometimes it seems they're covered, but he can put the ball where (Marvin) Jones in particular but also (Kenny) Golladay can go up and make plays on the ball.
“He's very accurate, and he's got a strong arm. He can stand in there and make those throws with or without a rush, out of the pocket, stationary or on the run," he said. "He's extremely dangerous. One of the very best in the league."
So he likes Stafford. And the Patriots have cap room. So get this: New England makes the move for Stafford with a wink-nudge promise to him that they will get either Marvin Jones or Kenny Golladay or maybe both. They are both free agents. So they get the band back together in New England and take a run at it here with a team run by Bill Belichick and not Matt Patricia.
Whether the firm of Stafford-Jones-Golladay would warm to the idea of playing in New England with Patricia in the mix here as he suddenly seems to be? Ehhhh… unknown.