The NFL is down to its final two teams as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. There are, however, 30 other teams that have a lot to figure out between now and next September. Their offseasons have begun already.
One team with a particularly large decision to make is the Detroit Lions and their new head coach. Matthew Stafford has, like many of us, sensed the time for a complete rebuild has come and asked ownership for a trade. Stafford is a divisive player with a past filled with eye-popping statlines and exactly zero playoff success. But even average quarterback play is a valued and rare commodity in the National Football League and Stafford has the skillset to provide even more than that.
He also just finished up the third season of a five-year, $135 million contract and will count for $33 million against the cap next year barring any renegotiation. What the market for Stafford will be is therefore a matter of much debate. In the right organization, he feels like a quarterback who could elevate his team to championship contention, but the lack of hard evidence and the financial investment does not make for an open-and-shut case.
Peter King discussed the matter in his weekly column for NBC Sports this morning. King certainly has his finger on the pulse around the league in these situations and put together a set of possible transactions for Stafford's services. One in particular that stood out was a hypothetical Denver Broncos trade:
"2. Broncos. Doubt new GM George Paton, who has watched Stafford closely for 12 years while in Minnesota, would be sold on Drew Lock. Competition needed. Compensation: Two second-round picks (including 39th overall this year). Or Lock plus this year’s second-rounder."
Even the most adamant of Stafford's doubters would admit that a pair of second-round picks is a worthwhile investment for what he can bring to the table.
However, King presented six other possible trade scenarios for teams like the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. In those other scenarios, Stafford is going for a first-round pick in the mid-to-late part of the round. That is not as easy a choice to make, but in general suggests the going rate for Stafford at the moment is more likely to be a premium first-round pick.
The fact that Stafford could potentially be had for second-rounders is enticing, though. There will be another year of QB musical chairs going on this offseason and Stafford may fall down the totem pole of preference given his combination of age, money owed, and lack of postseason presence. Detroit will want to trade Stafford, not only because the man stood tall in the pocket for a terrible franchise for a dozen years, but also to give their rebuild a better chance to succeed by starting a worse quarterback. There is definitely a timeline in which the Stafford trade market is not particularly competitive and discussions around compensation fall to the second round.
In that case, the Lions should have plenty of suitors. Stafford for a pair of second-rounders could be a bargain for certain teams. The Washington Football Team would love that deal. So would the aforementioned Broncos. Bill Belichick might even grumble his way to an agreement if only seconds are at stake.
Stafford's playoff struggles are notable, but he did play for the Lions and never had a great team around him. He is definitely good enough to win games for his franchise, and most of the time will not be the sole reason for a loss. That kind of quarterback play is hard to find. Stafford's expiration date will come quicker than anyone drafted in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft, but he's a known commodity. Anything other than a first-round pick is a no-brainer for that kind of quarterback.