When football fans woke up across the United States on Thursday morning, many saw the news that the Detroit Lions were shopping their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford. The report from WDIV Local 4, a local television station in Detroit, said that trade talks around Stafford have been underway for several weeks.
Some other outlets went so far as to double down, saying they had sources who were confirming this news. But soon after, the report was debunked by Lions general manager Bob Quinn, who told the Detroit Free Press that the report is 100% false.
Considering this is the time of the year where teams may leak information to the media and other sources, many fans were not fully buying Quinn’s denial. This is evidenced by the fact that as of Thursday afternoon, there were still many reports being written by various media outlets and fan sites about the rumored trade talks.
However, Pro Football Network Insider Ben Allbright can confirm that the report of the Lions actively shopping Stafford is false. In fact, Allbright reports that multiple teams around the league have called the Lions, and they have all been told that Stafford is not available.
The Lions not actively shopping Stafford makes sense
The short message from Quinn, along with the scoop from Allbright, makes sense. The Lions re-structured Stafford’s contract in December 2019, turning a $6 million roster bonus into a signing bonus. This cleared up $4.8 million in cap room for the 2020 season, which the Lions need to put some pieces around their franchise quarterback.
If the report was true, perhaps we can say that the Lions did not properly foresee the events to come. But they re-structured this contract even when Stafford was injured. That’s why it doesn’t make a lot of sense from a financial standpoint.
According to Sportrac, trading Stafford would leave the Lions with $32 million in dead money against their 2020 salary cap. That would be a $10.3M increase over what Stafford would cost the Lions if he remains in Detroit this upcoming season.
Stafford was also playing well before he got injured. In fact, he was playing so well that he was the QB01 in our Offensive Share Metric grading system until he got injured. Furthermore, his grade was so high that he remained QB01 until Week 17, when Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill narrowly passed Stafford into the top spot.
In eight games last season, Stafford threw for 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Stafford was on pace for arguably the best season in his entire NFL career under new offensive coordinator Darren Bevell.
To bring in a new quarterback – whether via free agency or the NFL Draft – would not make much sense. That’s because head coach Matt Patricia, his staff, and most of the front office need to contend for the playoffs if they want to keep their jobs.
What might the Lions do in the 2020 NFL Draft?
Presumably, the questions around Stafford are being thrown around because the Lions have the third pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. With the Cincinnati Bengals expected to pick LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow and the Washington Redskins expected to select Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, that would give the Lions the opportunity to draft Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
And if all his medicals check out, they could be looking at a potential franchise quarterback who can lead their team for the next 10+ years. But it still goes back to this main point – the Lions’ coaching staff and front office are on the hot seat entering 2020.
They cannot afford to draft a young quarterback, who will likely need to sit out most of the 2020 season as he continues his recovery. By doing that, they will put their jobs in jeopardy and their chances of making the playoffs without Stafford or another veteran quarterback would be slim.
Instead, look for the Lions to try to trade out of that pick and move down several spots. Allbright has reported that the Miami Dolphins have already inquired about the pick, but there has not been much movement to this point. There are also other teams who have likely inquired about the pick, especially those in need of a franchise quarterback.
If Tagovailoa is there with the third pick, which he is expected to be, the Lions can secure a boatload of draft picks for this season and beyond, thus setting them up for long-term success if they select the right players.
For more NFL news and rumors, follow Ben Allbright on Twitter: @AllbrightNFL. Be sure to also follow Pro Football Network for all of the latest news and rumors around the NFL and College Football: @PFN365.