Matthew Stafford has garnered a quiet respect in both the NFL film and analytics communities for his consistent production over the last several seasons. Unfortunately for Stafford, the improvements he made from a mental processing standpoint -- to add to his already elite arm talent arsenal -- were often overshadowed by the franchise he played for. We mean no disrespect to the Detroit Lions fans reading this, but via constant front office (and coaching) turnover, Stafford wasn't exactly put in the best position to succeed throughout his tenure. That's all about to change. Stafford and the Detroit Lions spent a few weeks after the offseason considering their options and they have reportedly agreed to part ways.
Now, for the next step in the process. The Lions will be opening up the phone lines to begin fielding offers for their franchise quarterback. The bidding is expected to be heavy. Stafford expressed a desire for a fresh start in recent weeks and the Lions agreed to put him on the trade block, according to Tom Pelissero of the NFL Nework. Since the regular season ended, the two sides have had "open and healthy" discussions, and with a new head coach in Dan Campbell and a new offensive coordinator, this certainly appears to be the right time to make a change.
The Lions are expected to receive at least a first-round pick in return for Stafford even though there are plenty of quarterbacks rumored to be on the market this offseason, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports. So, which teams would give up their first-rounder for the veteran signal-caller? There's expected to be plenty of interest from multiple teams.
Below, we will break down five teams that should at least pick up the phone and call the Lions about their quarterback. Stafford has plenty of connections around the league so he could be playing under a head coach or general manager that he's familiar with in 2021.
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As CBS Sports' R.J. White noted, new Washington general manager Martin Mayhew was the general manager in Detroit when Stafford was drafted with the top pick back in 2009. It proved to be a great decision and the University of Georgia prospect set multiple franchise and NFL records during his tenure with the Lions. Washington does have Alex Smith, who pulled off a remarkable NFL comeback this past season, but he struggled to stay healthy due to other nagging injuries. Washington had to start journeyman Taylor Heinicke in its postseason matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Washington has a star wide receiver in Terry McLaurin, a talented 2020 rookie running back in Antonio Gibson and an elite defense which is highlighted by a defensive line made up of all first-round picks. Even with a healthy Smith, Washington could stand to upgrade at the quarterback position, and it's a move that could potentially make them a legitimate contender. Washington should call and see if the Lions would accept the No. 19 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Philip Rivers recently announced his retirement, so, naturally, the Colts are also in the market for a new starting quarterback. Like Washington, this is a team that appears to be just a quarterback away, but they are much closer to being a legitimate contender. Rivers led the Colts to an 11-5 record this past season -- which was their best campaign since 2014. This is a franchise that has had bad luck with the quarterback position since they parted ways with Peyton Manning. Andrew Luck decided to hang up the cleats early, Jacoby Brissett didn't make the most of his opportunity as a starter and then Rivers gave Indy just one season. Stafford is under contract for two more years and appears to have a lot left. He also still has elite arm talent and knows how to spread the ball around to multiple talented wideouts, so he could fit right in with the likes of T.Y. Hilton and Michael Pittman Jr.
The 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo under contract for at least another two seasons, but that doesn't mean San Francisco won't move on from him this offseason. Last month, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked about Garoppolo, and he didn't sound extremely confident about his franchise quarterback.
"You can't say anything with certainty," the coach told reporters, per ESPN's Nick Wagoner. "You don't sit here and make promises on anything. When you build a football team, it's your job to put the best team together year in and year out."
Shanahan did open his dialogue by saying he believes Garoppolo "is going to be our quarterback next year," but his responses to questions concerning his quarterback certainly sounded like he was open to a change. It's hard to believe anything you hear from coaches -- remember when the Arizona Cardinals said that Josh Rosen was their quarterback before drafting Kyler Murray? The 49ers are just one year removed from the Super Bowl, but they failed to make the playoffs this past season. With a solid defense and then versatile weapons like Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle, this team would instantly get back to contending if they upgraded at the quarterback position.
Former Lions head coach Matt Patricia is returning to the Patriots so maybe he could put in a good word with Bill Belichick concerning Stafford. The Cam Newton experiment did not work and the Patriots are again looking for a new quarterback to fill the void Tom Brady left. It's true that New England has plenty of holes to fill this offseason on the offensive side of the ball, but the quarterback issue is clearly the most important. Stafford's contract is affordable, the Patriots have the No. 15 overall pick and Belichick obviously has some success when it comes to working with a veteran signal-caller and developing a system around him that works.
After going 4-1 as a rookie, Drew Lock took a step backward in his second season. He won just four of 13 starts, and he completed 57.3 percent of his passes for 2,933 yards, 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Despite having two capable running backs and plenty of weapons to throw the ball to, Lock's inconsistencies held back the offense in multiple games this past season, which could lead one to believe that someone else will be starting under center in 2021. John Elway is no longer calling the shots in Denver, but he's still in the front office and could be a fan of a big-armed veteran who fits the prototypical build. The Broncos could also be considered a team that is a quarterback away from finding success, as they have young weapons in Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and then tight end Noah Fant. Having Lock learn behind a veteran for a year or two would also be beneficial.