The Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions hooked up in Week 17 of the 2020 season resulting in a Vikings win, 37-35. The key takeaway from the contest operationally was a shimmy up to the seventh pick in the 2021 NFL Draft for Detroit and a backward slide for Minnesota to the 14th spot.
Barring a late-career reunion, that Vikings-Lions game at Ford Field was Matthew Stafford’s swan song in Detroit. He departs the Motor City as the leader in all of the Lions passing metrics by a distance wider than Detroit and Damascus. As for NFL history, Stafford ranks 10th in game-winning drives, 16th in passing yards, 16th in passing touchdowns, 21st in Passer Rating, 28th in completion percentage, and 52nd in wins (if you put credence in the “QB wins” metric).
His exchange to another NFL team is instantly a Top 10 or so trade in NFL history in terms of name-related sex appeal. Gridiron brains will finally ascertain a verdict on whether Stafford was truly abused all of these years in Detroit or confirm that he is a good-but-not-great quarterback.
The Lions and Stafford arrived at this resolution mutually.
And this from Detroit: pic.twitter.com/M0L46PzCw2
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 23, 2021
Stafford gains a new address – perhaps won with a winning culture – and new Lions skipper Dan Campbell gets an unadulterated fresh start, cleansed of most reputable personnel of yesteryear.
Here are the most realistic trade partners for Stafford’s services.
4. Denver Broncos
A Vikings connection here – there are many of those around the NFL. New Denver general manager, George Paton, is a Viking through and through. Think Rick Spielman disciple. Paton knows Stafford as the Vikings have faced the 32-year-old 21 times during Paton’s purple employment.
The Broncos probably owe soon-to-be third-year quarterback Drew Lock one more audition. He likely would have received that chance had John Elway remained the personnel bossman. But Elway indeed took a step back from the Broncos roster specifically to let another man make these decisions. If Paton enjoys Stafford’s game, this his first big opportunity for him to wiggle a little bit.
Denver ranked 32nd in the NFL for passer rating during 2020. Yes, dead last. In 2019, a Joe Flacco, Brandon Allen, and Drew Lock combo platter propped the ranking up to 23rd. With Case Keenum the year before that, the team placed at 27th in team passer rating.
Stafford would instantly aid in bolstering this into the Top 15.
3. San Francisco 49ers
When Jimmy Garoppolo fell injured in 2020, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard gave the 49ers a fighting chance in most games. Imagine what Stafford could do with Kyle Shanahan’s brain and vice versa.
Stafford is a simultaneous statistical upgrade from any passer linked with the 49ers since Steve Young. Peak Colin Kaepernick was phenomenal, but he was not a passer quite like Stafford. Kaepernick was more of a designated Packer-killer.
Quarterbacks now – especially gritty ones like Stafford – are playing longer than ever. Tom Brady reached the NFC Championship this season at age 43. Stafford arguably has a decade of football left if he follows the Drew Brees or Tom Brady model. San Francisco should unsheathe the red and gold carpet for him.
2. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts would be downright spooky with Stafford. They executed their gameplan versus Buffalo in the Wildcard round of the 2020 playoffs arguably better than Bills. Of course, Indianapolis lost the game, and Philip Rivers retired about 10 days later. The Colts do not have a current, coherent solution at quarterback. Jacoby Brissett is a free agent. Rivers will now travel home to be a devout father to his herd. Then what? The Carson Wentz Sweepstakes?
Stafford is a more-sure thing than the Wentz rumors. We know that Stafford can play the position with consistency – he has done it for 12 consecutive years. With Wentz, it is a grab-bag of “maybe.” Wentz might have encountered a very bizarre down year in 2020, or his 2016-2019 aptitudes may have been wildly overblown in the first place.
The Colts won 11 football games with old-man Rivers. They would win no less with Stafford if the fearsome defense remains intact.
1. New England Patriots
The Patriots are not the national frontrunner for Stafford’s services, but on dollars and sense, New England is number one with a bullet. Bill Belichick, like Philip Rivers, is elderly. He may or may not have time to groom a young quarterback. Stafford has already taken care of his personal grooming and then some.
If you buy into Belichick’s head coach supremacy (you should), all he likely needs for another run at the AFC East crown [sans Tom Brady] is a player that is Brady-lite. That is Stafford.
The Cam Newton trial in New England ended with a whimper. To the eye-test, Newton looked like a leader on the field, and that is undeniably important. But let’s face it – Newton threw eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts. If Kirk Cousins did that, Minnesotans would burn the IDS Tower to the ground.
New England has around $60 million to spend in free agency before any Stafford talks. Adding him to the team with some respectable weapons gives Belichick another puncher’s chance inside the competitive AFC.