One of the most forgotten NFL storylines from 2019 is that Matthew Stafford was having an MVP caliber season for the Detroit Lions before he got hurt.
Stafford played in eight games before breaking bones in his back and put up 2,499 passing yards and 19 touchdowns to only five interceptions. Of note, Stafford completed 41 passes of 20-plus yards in just half the season. Eight of those were touchdowns. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he led the league in average completed air yards (8.3). By comparison, Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky managed just 35 completions of 20-plus yards in 15 games last season. Three were touchdowns. He averaged 5.1 average completed air yards (for what it’s worth, Aaron Rodgers averaged 5.4).
Something clearly clicked between Stafford and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell last year. But that doesn’t mean general manager Bob Quinn should ignore the quarterback position with the No. 3 overall pick next week.
The Lions have enough talent that they should not be drafting in the top five again next year. In fact, if Stafford hadn’t gotten hurt, they wouldn’t have the No. 3 pick right now. They were 3-3-1 going into their Week 9 game at Oakland, and despite breaking his back, Stafford still nearly tied the game against the Raiders in the final seconds. Without Stafford, the Lions didn’t win a game the rest of the season.
Unfortunately, the Lions don’t have enough to talent to seriously compete for a Super Bowl either. Even with Stafford playing some of his best football ever, they were still a 3-4-1 team. And they most likely will continue to be that type of team going forward, which will probably get Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia fired. At 32 years old, Stafford still has some good football left in him, but he’s never been the type of transcendent quarterback capable of putting a struggling franchise on his back. He might able to win elsewhere, but it won’t be in Detroit.
Enter Tua Tagovailoa.
Yes, the hip is a concern. But so is Stafford’s back. Tagovailoa is good enough to take a big risk, especially for an organization like the Lions who really need a quarterback capable of putting the national spotlight on Detroit. With all due respect to Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, you don’t take a cornerback at No. 3 overall when you have a quarterback as talented as Tua Tagovailoa sitting there for the entire city to embrace.
So here’s my advice to Bob Quinn: draft Tua and trade Stafford.
Stafford’s contract is complicated, but the results of a trade are simple. The Lions will take on a large immediate cap hit, which they have plenty of room to absorb. As a result, they will create a very affordable, three-year, team-friendly contract for the team that trades for Stafford, which will only help the return in the deal. In the end, the Lions would have Tua Tagovailoa on a rookie contract, a good return for Stafford (maybe an additional first round pick?), and $33 million of additional cap space in 2021 and $26 million of additional cap space in 2022 to improve other areas of the roster.
Plus, Quinn and Patricia might be able to buy themselves some time by bringing in a rookie quarterback as promising as Tagovailoa.
And you know who could use Stafford’s services? Patricia’s old boss: Bill Belichick.
It all makes too much sense. Kind of like the Bears trading for Nick Foles.