Martin Mayhew has always been a big believer in Matthew Stafford. When both were with the Detroit Lions, the general manager had this to say about his quarterback in 2015: “If we had 22 Matthew Staffords — we’d win a championship every single year.”
Mayhew said that suggesting the Lions would move on from Stafford that coming offseason was “comical,” calling the former No. 1 overall pick a “phenomenal talent.”
More than five years later, the Lions appear ready to ditch Stafford. According to multiple reports, Detroit is willing to accommodate Stafford’s recent trade request. That leaves Mayhew, Washington’s newest general manager who was hired Friday, in a position in which he could explore a reunion with the player he drafted — if interested.
With Washington coming off a surprising 7-9 playoff season, Stafford makes perfect sense for a team trying to capitalize on its window to compete with a young, talented core. Since entering the league in 2009, Stafford has the seventh-most passing yards, the most fourth-quarter comebacks and remains a highly productive player.
Stafford’s pedigree, however, is why Washington could face a tough time in trying to trade for him.
Quarterbacks like Stafford, who turns 33 in two weeks, don’t become available often. And this offseason, there figures to be a slew of teams besides Washington looking for an upgrade under center. And unlike Houston’s Deshaun Watson — the potential crown jewel on the trade market if the Texans decide to move on from the disgruntled 25-year-old — Stafford would cost far less.
Beyond Washington, the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints are all teams rumored to be interested in Stafford. Others like the Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots and possibly the Denver Broncos have been floated as possible candidates.
There’s no shortage of options for Detroit, and ESPN reported that Stafford is likely to fetch at least one first-round pick in this year’s draft.
Washington holds the 19th overall pick — drafting ahead of teams like the Colts and the Saints but behind the 49ers and Patriots.
Stafford is also an appealing option because, compared to most starting quarterbacks, his contract is relatively affordable. With two years left on his contract, Stafford would cost $20 million in 2021 ($9.5 million base salary plus $10.5 million in roster and workout bonuses) and $23 million in 2022 for any team that deals for him. The Lions would be left with $19 million of Stafford’s contract on the books because of bonuses already paid.
The potential downside in trading for Stafford is that there are injury concerns. The one-time Pro Bowler played in all 16 games in 2020, but was hindered by a broken thumb late in the year. He also missed eight games in 2019 with a fractured back. Broadly, Stafford is known for playing through injuries.
And Stafford over his 12-year career is 0-3 in the postseason, though he’s certainly been hampered at times by a lack of talent in his supporting cast.
Since 2009, the Lions have only had two defenses finish in the top 10 of Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA metric, a stat that measures efficiency.
Still, Stafford’s talent — specifically his arm strength — is undeniable. Even last year, when the Lions went 5-11, Stafford finished with 4,084 yards and 26 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions. It was the eighth time that Stafford topped 4,000 yards in a season.
Stafford’s 38 game-winning drives are second only to New Orleans’ Drew Brees.
This past year, Washington saw Stafford’s ability to engineer such a drive when he led Detroit down the field to set up a 59-yard game-winner from Matt Prater. (Chase Young’s roughing the passer penalty, to be fair, helped matters)
If Washington wants to pull the trigger on Stafford, the team must decide what to do with Alex Smith. The 36-year-old hasn’t publicly made a decision whether he wants to play in 2021, but the team can release Smith in order to make room for Stafford. Interestingly enough, Smith and Stafford share the same agent in Tom Condon.
Ultimately, Washington coach Ron Rivera will be the one to dictate what he wants to do at quarterback. Despite the team’s recent front office shuffling — Washington also hired former Panthers general manager Marty Hurney in addition to Mayhew — the two new hires report to Rivera, who retains final say over football matters.
Rivera, though, has indicated he wants people he can trust. And if he leans on Mayhew for an opinion on Stafford, he’ll likely receive a glowing recommendation.
“If you know what you’re looking at, you see a really talented guy playing,” Mayhew told reporters in October 2015, a month before he was fired by the Lions. “If we had 11 of him (on offense), we’d be winning a lot of games. We don’t have 11 of him. We haven’t had 11 of him — or 22 of him.”