Potential Trade Packages, Landing Spots for Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford
In the immortal words of the great newsman Ron Burgundy, things have escalated quickly on the NFL quarterback market.
Said market had already been sent into a feeding frenzy by the news that Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans was looking for a new helmet. But Saturday afternoon, things were thrown for another massive loop—by an announcement that teams might not have to send out multiple first-rounders to get a proven veteran under center.
This one comes with a 5,000-yard season and everything.
With a 32-year-old Pro Bowl quarterback with 282 career touchdowns available, every team in the league that isn't sold on its starter at the position will at least kick the tires on Stafford. Speculation about his next home will be the hottest of topics in the days and weeks to come.
But this handful of clubs has the best combination of need and assets to pull off this blockbuster.
New Orleans Saints
This first one is admittedly unlikely, for a few reasons.
The Lions may have agreed in theory to trade Stafford, but all things being equal, the team will want to deal him as far away as possible. That most assuredly means outside the NFC South (sorry, Chicago)—and hopefully outside the NFC altogether.
The Saints are also facing quite the cap conundrum in 2021. Per Over the Cap, no team in the NFL is in worse shape regarding the salary cap than New Orleans, which sits over $100 million in the red.
But hey, why sweat details?
The Saints also just won 12 games and the division in 2020. Head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis both know as well as everyone else that if the Super Bowl window in New Orleans hasn't slammed shut, it won't be open much longer.
That could be worth punting the rebuild down the road a year if it means adding a sizable upgrade over Taysom Hill at quarterback.
The good news for Stafford would be his best shot at the postseason in years.
The bad news would be the whole "replacing" Brees thing.
Proposed Offer: Round 1 pick (No. 28 overall), Conditional Round 3/4 pick.
New York Jets
This would be the trade that defines Joe Douglas' tenure as the New York Jets' general manager, for better or worse.
Before fans of Gang Green start shouting, no one is suggesting that New York deal its first pick in 2021 to get Stafford—and that's what makes this a relatively unlikely transaction.
But the Jets have something to offer that other suitors wouldn't: a former top-five pick who is still on his rookie contract in quarterback Sam Darnold.
Yes, this assumes new head coach Robert Saleh and the Jets are ready to move on from Darnold. But if that's the case, a trade for Stafford lets the new regime have its proverbial cake and eat it too.
Not only do the Jets get their most proven quarterback in recent memory (who will still be just 33 years old when the 2021 season starts despite a dozen years in the NFL under his belt), but New York would also still have that second overall pick in this year's draft to use at another position—or trade to get back the compensation lost in acquiring said veteran signal-caller.
If Douglas and Saleh are sold, this year's No. 2 and the Jets' first pick in 2022 would rocket them up the list.
The Lions, on the other hand, get the second pick on Day 2 this year, a Day 2 pick next year and a young passer who might benefit greatly from a change of scenery.
Proposed Offer: Round 2 pick (No. 34 overall), 2022 Round 3 pick, Quarterback Sam Darnold
We are about to find out exactly how new Denver Broncos general manager George Paton feels about Drew Lock.
Paton's in a rough spot—with the ninth overall pick, he's probably looking (in a best-case scenario) at being the third team to draft a quarterback in Round 1 this year. And after Lock's mostly abysmal second season, it's clear that he's not the long-term answer in Denver.
There's also the matter of a fanbase growing increasingly impatient. Denver hasn't made the playoffs since winning Super Bowl 50—a stretch of futility the team hasn't surpassed since it joined the NFL in 1970 and missed the playoffs for seven seasons.
If this rebuild doesn't kick into overdrive in short order, Paton and head coach Vic Fangio's tenures won't last long. The latter is already on thin ice.
The Broncos aren't a bad football team. There's skill-position talent at running back, wide receiver and tight end. The offensive line is at least decent. Any Fangio defense will at least be average—and Denver has the personnel (when healthy) to be significantly more than that.
It comes down to the belief (or lack thereof) that Stafford can get the Broncos the three to four more wins in 2021 that will get them in the playoff conversation.
If Paton's answer to that question is "yes," then Detroit's will be too. If the Broncos offer a top-10 pick, deal…done.
Proposed Offer: Round 1 pick (No. 9 overall)
Washington Football Team
This is one of those deals that almost makes too much sense.
The Washington Football Team was the surprise champion of the NFC East in 2020, despite winning just seven games. Washington has maybe the league's best defensive line. Young playmakers at running back (Antonio Gibson, 22), wide receiver (Terry McLaurin, 25) and tight end (Logan Thomas, 29).
There is just one glaring void on the roster: quarterback.
Dwayne Haskins Jr. was released during the season. Alex Smith will likely be the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, but he's not the player he once was and is considering retirement. Taylor Heinicke was a great story for one playoff game, but as long-term solutions go, "gamble" doesn't begin to cover it. And thanks to the division title, Washington barely picks inside the top 20 despite losing more games than it won.
Through a dozen (mostly) futile years in Detroit, Stafford has been prolific. He's been (mostly) durable. By all indications, he's a hard-nosed "pro's pro" through and through.
Stafford would improve the Washington offense immeasurably—more than any player the franchise could pick at No. 19. The fans would love it. Head coach Ron Rivera would love it. It would instantly elevate the WFT to front-runner status in the division in 2021.
And as it so happens, the new general manager in Washington, Martin Mayhew, is the guy who drafted Stafford first overall in 2009.
It almost seems like fate.
Proposed Offer: Round 1 pick (No. 19 overall), 2022 Round 2 pick
This is where that "almost" part from the last entry kicks in.
There is one general manager above all others who probably tripped on the carpet while rushing to make a phone call to the Lions as soon as the Stafford news hit the airwaves.
His name is Chris Ballard. And he works in Indianapolis.
The Colts just won 11 games and made the postseason for the second time in three years. But with Philip Rivers retiring and Jacoby Brissett about to hit free agency, the only quarterback still on the roster in Indy is Jacob Eason.
In Indianapolis, Stafford would play behind one of the league's better O-lines, with an ascending young back in Jonathan Taylor and a capable stable of pass-catchers. He'd all but certainly be amenable to the move and then some.
In return, a Colts team in win-now mode wouldn't have to convince itself that Ryan Fitzpatrick might not be a terrible idea in free agency. Or reach for a quarterback with the 21st pick.
Adding a quarterback of Stafford's caliber (who is also substantially younger than Rivers, 39) is the kind of move that could completely alter the trajectory of the franchise—in a good way.
Get this done, Mr. Ballard.
Proposed Offer: Round 1 pick (No. 21 overall), Conditional Round 2/3 pick, Round 6 pick