The NFL's offseason quarterback market added yet another domino over the weekend, with Matthew Stafford eyeing a fresh start.
As NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported over the weekend, Stafford and the Detroit Lions have agreed to mutually part ways after the veteran quarterback expressed his desire for a trade. And I understand why he'd want out. Since being chosen first overall by the Lions in the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford has played for three head coaches (four, if you include interim coach Darrell Bevell, who replaced Matt Patricia during the 2020 season) in 12 seasons, going 0-3 in playoff appearances. And, if he were to stay in Detroit, he'd be operating under yet another new coaching-front office regime, with the Lions hiring Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes.
The 32-year-old has battled a number of injuries in recent years and is coming off his third consecutive losing season. Still, knowing signal-callers are now playing into their 40s, I believe there is going to be a competitive market for a player of Stafford's caliber and relative youth. In 2020, he put up an impressive stat line (4,084 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns and 10 picks in 16 games) while showing his arm strength is as great as it has ever been. He also moves much better than most give him credit for.
Now, Stafford can't just walk away, because there are two years left, worth $43 million, on his current deal. Any team acquiring him in a trade would have to think about the cap hit they'd incur, although there is the possibility his contract is restructured if he lands elsewhere.
The Lions are in rebuild mode, with a new staff in place, and will demand a pretty penny (rather, a bevy of draft picks) in return, and I can't blame them. Just look at some other comparable trades from the last 10 years. A 31-year-old Carson Palmer was worth a first- and second-round pick in 2011; an inconsistent and injury-riddled Sam Bradford was worth a first- and fourth-rounder in 2016; and a steady Alex Smith was worth a third-rounder and cornerback Kendall Fuller in 2018. I'd give up more for Stafford than any of those players commanded; with the going rate seemingly increasing for valuable players by the year, I'd actually be the crazy person who would trade three first-rounders for him. OK, I know that might be a little steep, but there are so many unknowns when drafting a quarterback. There would be zero questions about what I'd be getting with Stafford.
Stafford has played in a number of offenses with several offensive coordinators/play-callers, and his play has remained relatively consistent. He's been thrown into a lot of different scenarios and has proved he can succeed, no matter how grim the situation.
Below, I've provided a list of six potential landing spots for Stafford -- in order from most likely to least -- along with potential trade packages.
What the Colts should give up: Two first-round picks.
This landing spot makes the most sense across the board, with the Colts having plenty of cap space ($64.9 million, per Over the Cap), draft capital and an opening at the quarterback position. Philip Rivers gave the team everything he had in his swan song and played well, considering the guy could barely move. With Rivers retiring and Jacoby Brissett slated to become a free agent, general manager Chris Ballard has a big decision to make, given that the Colts are in position to make a run at a Super Bowl with a talented, well-rounded roster. Stafford would be an upgrade in all areas of the position and fit well into Indy's offense as a QB who excels out of shotgun, who has the arm strength to rip it all over the field and whose mobility allows him to make off-schedule plays. Not to mention, the Colts' offensive line is one of the very best in the league (a luxury Stafford hasn't had in Detroit), the rushing attack is on the come-up, the defense is young, fast and effective, and the Colts have a solid group of skill-position players. (Ballard will have to decide whether to re-sign T.Y. Hilton or let him hit the market in the coming months, as well.)
What the 49ers should give up: Two first-round picks.
When the 49ers aren't dealing with an avalanche of injuries, this is one of the most complete teams in the league. We saw what they could be when they made the Super Bowl in 2019, and quite frankly, they put together an impressive 2020 campaign, with a number of their star players sidelined for a majority of the season. We know Kyle Shanahan's team is capable of getting back to the Super Bowl, and there aren't a ton of holes. That's why GM John Lynch can afford to theoretically give up two first-rounders. Sure, he could try to hold the price to a first and a second, but I wouldn't let the difference between these two options deter me from pulling the trigger.
Replacing Jimmy Garoppolo with Stafford would immediately elevate this offense. Garoppolo struggles at times with his mechanics and is too robotic when going through his reads; the experienced and knowledgeable Stafford, meanwhile, is able to read defenses and knows which player to get the ball to and when to get it there. Garoppolo's contract is easy for the 49ers to move on from, as they'd take a mere $2.8 million dead-money hit if they released him, while saving $24 million against the cap. Whether by acquiring Stafford or another quarterback (see: Deshaun Watson), the 49ers should jump on the opportunity to improve at the game's most important position.
What the Bears should give up: Two first-round picks.
Stafford donning a Bears uniform is hard to picture, and I'm not sure Detroit would trade within the NFC North. The Lions know Stafford, and playing against him twice each year doesn't seem like something they'd welcome. Nonetheless, Stafford would fit well into the Bears' offensive scheme and (finally) provide the Bears with consistent QB play -- something pending free agent Mitchell Trubisky hasn't been able to do. Making an upgrade at quarterback could allow the Bears to keep talented receiver Allen Robinson from signing elsewhere as a free agent and potentially bring in more offensive help.
Projected to be $10.7 million over the cap and not exactly in possession of a bounty of picks in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft, the Bears might need to get creative if they want to snag the QB. I, for one, would approve trading Khalil Mack back to the Raiders for a first-rounder, which would fall right into play for the Stafford trade. No, but seriously, GM Ryan Pace is under a lot of pressure this offseason to get this Bears team ready to win, and he'll have to make a good amount of moves to make that happen. Let's just hope he makes the right ones.
What the Football Team should give up: A first- and third-round pick.
The Football Team has a decent amount of cap space and at least eight picks, including No. 19 overall, in this year's draft, so I definitely feel like this could be a potential landing spot for Stafford. The 36-year-old Alex Smith is under contract through 2022, but after making a truly miraculous comeback, he's taking time to consider his future, while both Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen are set to become free agents. This decision is tough, because we've heard Ron Rivera say Smith could be the team's QB1 past the 2020 season, and Smith proved as much, going 5-1 as a starter. That said, I do think it's worth (discreetly) finding out what price Washington could get Stafford for. If it's reasonable, by all means, I think they do it. Potential obstacles include Smith deciding he does want to come back, and Rivera's view on draft picks. Is giving up a first-round pick or more worth it knowing they nabbed Defensive Player of the Year shoo-in Chase Young with one last year? I'm not so sure.
What the Panthers should give up: A first-rounder and QB Teddy Bridgewater.
There's a lot of pressure on Bridgewater this offseason, with the team already vocalizing its intent to keep all options open. Bridgewater is a solid starter but doesn't do the dynamic things someone like Deshaun Watson, whom the Panthers have expressed interest in, or a big-time arm talent like Stafford can do. There's a real possibility Carolina upgrades this offseason, and if the front office chooses to bring in another veteran, it might have to ship out Teddy, whose contract will count for $23 million toward the cap next season, in exchange to make room for the incoming QB's contract.
Because the Panthers still feel like they're in still in rebuild mode under Matt Rhule, I wouldn't be surprised to see them pass on veterans and go after one in the draft. Draft picks play such an instrumental part in the rebuild process, and trading away their No. 8 overall pick might be too much of an ask.
What the Rams should give up: A second-round pick, a third and QB Jared Goff.
Where there's smoke, there's fire. That's apparently what we have in Hollywood between Sean McVay and his frustrated quarterback, Jared Goff. After a rocky postseason, McVay vowed to "evaluate everything," and that includes the quarterback position. I can't help but think McVay feels Goff's limitations at the line of scrimmage are preventing him from tapping into another level of his offense. Goff has shown improvement, but a guy like Stafford could elevate McVay's scheme in more ways than we're seeing now. It gets tricky when you actually consider what has to happen if the Rams desire to trade for Stafford, because they are projected to be $30.4 million over the cap -- with Goff counting for roughly $35 million toward the cap in 2021 and another $33 million the following year -- and don't have a first-round draft pick this year. The Rams would almost certainly have to ship Goff and his contract to Detroit if Stafford were to come to L.A. In reality, this trade feels a little far-fetched, but weirder things have happened in the NFL.