The Saturday news that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has agreed with the team to part ways probably shocked the football world.
But when you consider it from this perspective, perhaps it’s not such a surprise.
Matthew Stafford’s 45,109 passing yards and 282 Pass TD are the most by a player without a playoff win in NFL history.
His 74 wins as a starting quarterback is tied for the 4th most without a postseason win only trailing Jim Hart, Steve Grogan and Roman Gabriel. https://t.co/1Yg7jK2z7G
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 23, 2021
Stafford’s Lions teams have made the playoffs just three times, and he’s been the franchise quarterback since 2009. In that timespan, Stafford ranks fifth in passing attempts (6,224), sixth in completions (3,898), seventh in passing yards (45,109), seventh in passing touchdowns (282), and fifth in interceptions (144), tied with Drew Brees. Stafford has been a high-volume quarterback in several different offensive systems that didn’t always play to his strengths.
Over the last two seasons, Stafford has become a bit of a forgotten man when it comes time to discuss the league’s better quarterbacks. He was rolling at a near-MVP clip in the 2009 season before he missed half the season with a back injury, completing 64.3% of his passes for 19 touchdowns, just five interceptions, and a passer rating of 106.0. In the 2020 season, Stafford completed 64.2% of his passes for 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 96.3, which was completely obstructed by the Matt Patricia-led circus the franchise had become. When people are too busy making fun of your team’s defense, they tend to overlook your attributes as a quarterback.
But it could easily be argued that Stafford’s last two seasons have been among his best, and this is why any team in need of a quarterback over the next 3-5 years should be more interested in offing their first-round pick to the Lions as opposed to rolling the dice on any draft-ready quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence. Unless, of course, you can grab Deshaun Watson for a bag of Big League Chew and a couple of fifth-round picks in one of the Texans’ weirder moments.
Outside of that, we’re talking about a guy who can still define a franchise — now and in the future. Stafford will turn 33 next month, and the way things are going in the NFL today, that could give him a full decade left in the league, playing at a high level. Let’s dig into the stats and the tape, and investigate just how good Stafford still is.
Stafford's deep arm is still among the NFL's best.
Stafford can still throw the deep ball as well as anybody in the NFL. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)
When Stafford came out of Georgia for the 2009 draft, scouts both amateur and professional were wowed by his arm strength, and justifiably so. Not only can Stafford make the proverbial "every throw in the playbook," but his natural, easy velocity also allows him to complete big-play throws on the run and from multiple platforms that most quarterbacks would not be advised to try. Very little has changed in that regard, despite the fact that the Lions didn't ask him to throw deep a ton in 2020. Per Pro Football Focus, Stafford completed 28 of 67 attempts of 20 or more air yards for 936 yards, seven touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 123.8. Only Kyler Murray (128.9) had a higher passer rating on deep throws, and Stafford and Murray were the only quarterbacks with no interceptions on those types of throws. Including the playoffs, Tom Brady leads the league with 105 deep attempts, so imagine what Stafford could (and should) do in a passing game that accentuates one of his primary attributes. This 39-yard completion to Marvin Jones in Week 15 against the Titans shows just how well Stafford can zing the ball downfield with timing, accuracy, and velocity, despite the fact that he's not throwing from an ideal base and with chaos around him -- something that would lead to interceptions from a lot of quarterbacks. You'd think any offensive coordinator would like this ability in their quiver.
Stafford maintains his big-play ability under pressure.
If you pressure Stafford, you'd better take him down. (Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)
Let's take two quarterbacks from the NFC North this season: Quarterback A completed 50 passes in 114 attempts under pressure for 774 yards, eight touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 86.7. Quarterback B completed 58 passes in 115 attempts under pressure for 876 yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 91.8. Quarterback A is Aaron Rodgers. Quarterback B is Matthew Stafford. We know that Rodgers has always been one of the NFL's most effectively mobile quarterbacks, but Stafford has also always been great with this, and it's not talked about enough. Stafford is a good mover in and outside the pocket, and again, his velocity allows him to make high-quality throws from awkward and disadvantageous platforms. In Week 2, the Packers certainly thought they had Stafford in the weeds with a collapsing pocket, but Stafford moved on up like George Jefferson and then made a new pocket for a bang-on throw to receiver Marvin Hall in converging coverage.
Stafford makes this stuff look so much easier than it is, but his value-add as a guy who can consistently make things happen in pressure situations is enormous. Ask the coaches with quarterbacks who have plus-$100 million contracts who can't do this stuff at all (Hi, Messrs. Shanahan and McVay).
Stafford fits any offense... right now.
Stafford can win in any offense. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Stafford has had several offensive coordinators in his career -- from Scot Linehan and his compelling stop routes, to Joe Lombardi with a more integrated offense, to the fabulous Jim Bob Cooter, who worked with Stafford to be less random and more consistent, to Darrell Bevell over the last two seasons. When a quarterback has had to adjust to different systems throughout his career, the advantage is that he can adjust to more over time. It's never been a problem for Stafford, and his scheme-transcendence should perk the eyes and ears of NFL executives and coaches everywhere. Let's way you're Kyle Shanahan and you love to roll with two tight ends. In "12" personnel (two receivers, two tight ends, one running back) last season, per Sports Info Solutions, Stafford completed 42 of 74 passes for 546 yards, 363 air yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. Out of "22" personnel (one receiver, two tight ends, two running backs), Stafford had just five passing attempts, but he completed four for 62 yards, 28 air yards, and a touchdown. Maybe you're from the Kliff Kingsbury school, and you want to run a bunch of empty. No el problemo. Stafford completed 32 of 54 passes out of empty formations for 338 yards, 200 air yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Actually, "11" personnel, which is the standard in today's NFL, might be Stafford's worst construct. With three receivers, one running back, and one tight end, he completed 261 of 395 passes for 3,048 yards, 1,667 air yards, 15 touchdowns, and eight of his 10 interceptions. Then again, Jared Goff had 15 touchdowns passes and 13 interceptions out of "11," and that's supposed to be Goff's relative superpower. The point is, whatever offense you want to run, Stafford can run it at a very high level. From Day 1.
Stafford's contract is not a major problem.
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
As ESPN's Field Yates points out, once you give up the draft capital you need to acquire Stafford, it's pretty smooth from there over the next two years. https://twitter.com/FieldYates/status/1353119262773309442 Per OverTheCap.com, that would place Stafford as the league's 15th-highest cap obligation for the 2021 season -- we're obviously removing the $33 million for which he'd be on the books for the Lions in 2021. If you can pick this guy up for a first-round pick and about $4 million more in cap than the Saints have invested in Taysom Hill... well, why on earth wouldn't you? As our own Mark Schofield has pointed out, there are quite a few teams with desperate needs for quarterbacks, and a whole lot of good stuff going on with their rosters. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/lists/matthew-stafford-trade-best-destinations-for-the-lions-qb/ The point to be made here is that Stafford would improve any of those teams exponentially, and might be the difference for a couple between a Super Bowl berth and not.