Detroit Lions Need To Consider a Future Without Matthew Stafford

Daniel MuthSenior Analyst INovember 9, 2010

DETROIT - NOVEMBER 07:  Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions bends over in pain against the New York Jets during the third quarter of the game at Ford Field on November 7, 2010 in Detroit, Michigan. The Jets defeated the Lions 23-20 in overtime.  (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

When the Detroit Lions drafted Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL draft, I was against it.

In my pre-draft writeup, I indicated that I wasn't impressed with his collegiate accuracy, and I was even more wary of the woeful history of underclassman QB busts in the league, names headlined by the likes of Ryan Leaf and Todd Marinovich.

I was also nervous about drafting a franchise quarterback to play behind the Lions swiss-cheese offensive-line and argued that we needed to sure-up the big men before we asked an untested rookie to trust them with his blind side.

Along this train of thought, I was then shocked when the Lions drafted a tight end when Michael Oher was still on the board, and felt they were over-committing to skilled players when they were in desperate need of a solid core.

As a Lions diehard, however, I instantly got behind our guys, as there is no use crying about things that can't be changed, and it turned out that Stafford was better than I'd hoped, and Pettigrew was turning into a solid play-making tight end.

I was also cognizant of the fact that it would have been silly to hand first-pick money to anyone but a quarterback, unless there was a once-in-a-lifetime talent to be had with the pick, and there really wasn't.

Stafford seemed to have it all: a strong arm, football savvy, a winner's mentality, good vision and toughness.

But he still didn't have an offensive-line, and when he was crushed in a game against the Browns in his rookie season, his resultant separated right shoulder ended what appeared to be a promising campaign.

This was after he had already suffered a knee injury, and there was little doubt that the right thing to do was to shut him down for the season and get him ready for the next year.

And we watched him grow.

The confidence, the skills, the arm, all took marked steps forward and an impressive preseason indicated that the Lions offense would be one to be reckoned with.

And then, halfway into the first game of the season, Stafford got crushed again, separating his throwing shoulder and dooming him to once again ride the pines as the world's most expensive bench warmer.

Even without him, the Lions were scoring points, leading the NFC in that regard and scrapping together close defeats and one blowout victory over up-and-coming St. Louis.

And the table seemed set for the Lions to take that next step upon the return of their 70-million-dollar man.

And they took that step.

In an impressive win over the Redskins, Stafford threw four touchdown passes, securing a victory over a quality opponent and setting up an intriguing matchup against the Jets, a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

And for three quarters of that game, the Lions seemed poised to take that next decisive step towards legitimacy, thoroughly handling the Jets and leading 20-10 in the fourth quarter.

And then it happened again.

For the third time in his brief NFL career Matthew Stafford separated his shoulder, this time without even taking much of a hit, and early reports indicate that he may be done for the season.

And though Detroit still should have won that game, they could get nothing going on offense without their young star, and the dominoes just kept falling down as if the injury to their quarterback started a tsunami of poor coaching, poor tackling, thoughtless penalties and further player injury.

And as a long-time Lion fan, you could see it coming, you could feel it build and you could predict the inevitable outcome long before the Jets kicked an overtime field goal to win the game.

It was all too familiar.

And so we come to a question that now has to be asked, given the precarious future of our franchise quarterback, and by association, the Detroit Lions.

"How soon is too soon to be considering a potential replacement for Matthew Stafford?"

The Lions have some hard decisions to make.

Calvin Johnson has had injury problems of his own and an impending free agency coming up.

He is going to have to thoroughly assess his situation and whether he feels like hitching his wagon to a quarterback who can't stay on the field.  He is going to receive interest from nearly every club in the NFL and will have the opportunity to go to a proven winner.

Are we confident that he'll stay in Detroit?  I'm not.

Beyond this potential pitfall, the Lions are a team that is ready to take the next step right now.

They have youth and a number of key players that will be around for years to come.

They have an impressive defensive front, an improving secondary and an array of offensive weaponry.

Another good draft and free agent season will have this team complete and loaded to make a legitimate playoff run.

But not without a quarterback.

And as impressed as I am with Shaun Hill, I like him exactly where he is, in the backup role providing veteran leadership and solid play when called upon.

And as good as Stafford has looked in his brief appearances on the field, the truth of the matter is that there is something intrinsically wrong with his shoulders that make them susceptible to separation, and there is now a trend that goes beyond flukey or poor offensive-line play that is a cause for major worry.

And I'm trying to think of anyone in the whole of professional sports who had repeated injuries early in their careers that somehow then got healthy for lengthy periods of time afterward.

I can't. At least not while being the player they once were.

Lord knows that I hope Matthew Stafford is the exception, but in answer to my own question, I think the hard truth is that it isn't too early to start thinking about acquiring another starting caliber quarterback.

I've become a fan of Matthew Stafford and I wish him no ill, but windows in the NFL are short for any team, and we can't afford to spend the next three years shuttling him in and out of the lineup while our promising draftees move on to greener pastures.

There are so many qualities that a quarterback needs to be successful in the NFL and Matthew Stafford seemingly has them all.

But that does the Lions absolutely no good if he can't stay on the field.


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