Now that the reports are out there indicating the Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford are ready to end their long-term relationship this offseason, it’s time to try and figure out where the quarterback could wind up.
There are several NFL teams that could use a 32-year-old quarterback with Stafford’s impressive resume. Not all of them can absorb the considerable salary over the next two seasons ($20 million and $23 million including roster bonuses), but it’s possible he could restructure to accommodate a trade too.
Here are a few early ideas on where Stafford might get traded, in no particular order.
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Philip Rivers just retired after the Colts' playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, and they were reluctant to turn over the reins to Jacoby Brissett after Andrew Luck's surprise retirement. The Colts need a long-term solution and have considerable salary cap room. Stafford nicely checks those boxes for the AFC South team. They do not have many trade assets to offer, which is an issue. The Colts pick at No. 21 overall in the first round and (rightly) consider themselves a viable contender to win right away, so prying away a premium player along with picks seems unlikely.
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The Texans are a complete mess right now with key players and prominent alums outwardly criticizing the team's management and ownership. Chief among those is superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson, the NFL's leading passer in 2020. Any sort of trade involving Stafford and the Texans would have to include Watson, who has made no secret of his desire to get out of Houston. The salaries are close enough to make it work, though the Texans would eat considerable more dead cap room than the Lions would on Stafford in the next two years. Bottom line: it's unlikely but if both teams want it to happen, they can make it work. And it would be the Lions sending additional compensation with Stafford, not the other way around, to get the 25-year-old star off the Texans.
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Drew Brees has indicated he intends to retire, though that's still unofficial. The Saints could surely use Stafford's accomplished arm and leadership over what they have in Taysom Hill. Because the Saints are in a massive salary cap hole, the Lions would almost have to accept at least one player in return, along with the first-round draft pick that ESPN's Adam Schefter indicates is the starting point for the Lions.
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The Dallas Cowboys now have another alternative if they choose to move on from pending free agent Dak Prescott, who is coming off a serious injury. Stafford is a Texas native and has the type of physical arm talent that has made Cowboys owner Jerry Jones weak in the knees before. Stafford's salary with bonuses comes cheaper than what it would take for the Cowboys to use the franchise tag on Prescott once again, and Stafford is fully healthy relative to the younger Prescott. The Cowboys have some wide receiver depth (Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper) that could sweeten the pot along with their No. 10 overall draft pick in any deal with Detroit.
San Francisco 49ers
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This was the second team that popped into my mind (the Colts were first), but I'll graciously allow my colleague Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire to explain. Farrar wrote this of the Stafford/49ers potential in his piece at Touchdown Wire,
From San Francisco’s perspective, it seems that the Jimmy Garoppolo Experience has run its course. Moving on from the quarterback is a smart decision both on-the-field (as it seems that the team has run into a bit of a ceiling with Garoppolo under center) and financially. Trading Garoppolo, or cutting him outright, would generate a savings of over $24 million according to the handy salary cap calculator at OverTheCap.com. From Matthew Stafford’s perspective, think of what he saw this season. He saw Aaron Rodgers enjoy a career-year – and likely win another MVP – playing in a system that is an offshoot of the Sean McVay/Kyle Shanahan system. Play-action heavy, quarterback-friendly, designed to put quarterbacks in a position to succeed. Such a system might be a huge boost to Stafford’s production at this point in his career, and after languishing in Detroit for so many years now he’ll finally be in an offense that is totally committed to the quarterback, and has made even some poor quarterbacks look good. Imagine what Stafford could do in San Francisco?
Farrar's breakdown makes a lot of sense, and this should probably be considered one of the most viable options.
New England Patriots
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New England sorely needs a quarterback. The Patriots appear ready to move on from Cam Netwon and don't have much in the pipeline to replace him, with apologies to Jarrett Stidham. Acquiring Stafford would certainly be a big win for Patriots coach Bill Belichick. But they have a very limited roster on offense already and dealing for Stafford would strip them of any real resources — both draft picks and cap room for free agents — to build around No. 9. They do not have a third-round pick already this year. Then there is the Matt Patricia angle. The Patriots brought the recently fired ex-Lions coach back. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall for the conversations Belichick would have to have with both Patricia and Stafford to see if that would work.