Matthew Stafford has had a good career with the Detroit Lions. He has generated a ton of offense over the years and has been the driving force behind one of the better passing attacks in the NFL. The team thought well enough of how he had performed over the years to make him the highest paid player in NFL history (at the time) when they signed him a $135 million extension back in 2017.
But it may be time for the Lions to move on from Stafford.
It is a crazy notion, for sure, but not as crazy as you might think. With the skill, talent, and leadership he brings, the team has certainly played a lot better at times than anyone expected they would. But he has never won a division title, has only made the postseason three times, and has never won a playoff game.
So—what have the Lions gained from having Stafford in the lineup? Besides his individual accomplishments, what has he done to earn the small fortune the Lions have (and still are) paying him?
To be fair, the team’s struggles and the losing seasons are not all on him. They haven’t had a legitimate running game since Barry Sanders retired. While he has had some good players to work with, the team could have acquired better personnel. Matt Patricia is only his third head coach, so you can’t blame constant coaching changes.
He has had four offensive coordinators, but he has been working with current OC, Jim Bob Cooter, since 2014 (when he was the QB coach; became the OC in 2015).
That just leaves one thing—it’s him. Matthew Stafford is the issue.
There are some who think that could be the case. Last month, former quarterback-turned-analyst Boomer Esiason questioned Stafford’s leadership and referred to him as more of a ‘locker room lawyer’ than a ‘locker room leader:’
“…One of the reasons why I think Tom Brady screams a lot on the sideline is because I think he tries to whip himself up into a frenzy, and I don’t see that from Matthew. I see a lot of Eli Manning in Matthew, like, ‘Oh, it’s okay.’ No, it’s not okay. It’s your team, and you have to get your guys to believe in you and that you’re going to win,”
More recently, another former QB-turned-analyst called him out. Rich Gannon had this to say:
“The guy is overpaid,” Gannon said. “He’s been one of the highest-paid quarterbacks over the last four or five years, and he’s a stat king. He picks up a lot of yards and production in garbage time.”
The criticism might not have gotten the attention that it has gotten had the team been winning or at least the offense playing better than it has been. They lost to the Minnesota Vikings in Week Nine, 24-9. But what was more disturbing than being held out of the end zone was the 209 total yards the offense generated.
It was the second-worst offensive day the Lions have had since 2010. Stafford gave a pretty generic response when asked what the team needed to do:
“Put it in the end zone. Make some plays,” Stafford said. “It’s not one thing. It’s not, ‘Hey, we’re missing this throw every time or that throw or this run or whatever.’ It’s getting down there and having negative plays. If we can just avoid some of those negative plays, we’ll be in a good place.”
Okay, so how are you going to avoid those negative plays?
Of course, to succeed in today’s NFL, you have to have a quarterback that can throw the ball. Matthew Stafford can certainly do that. But the Lions haven’t really been succeeding with him. They haven’t been winning games.
They certainly aren’t favored to win the one game that matters—the Super Bowl. According to Betway Sports, their odds are pretty long at 150 to 1 (as of November 9).
There has to come a time when the team will decide to get rid of the one piece they haven’t changed in almost a decade. But Matthew Stafford’s job will be safe for at least a few more years. There is a potential out in his contract following the 2020 season.
Otherwise, he is not scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent until after the 2022 season.