Matthew Stafford turns 33 this weekend. He's never won anything. Which means nothing because he played for the Detroit Lions — an organization that has wasted Barry Sanders, Calvin Johnson and now the best quarterback to wear Honolulu blue and silver. He's existed in a hell without an escape hatch for his entire life, managing to drag mediocre teams into the playoffs three times while amassing absurd counting stats.
People think they know who he is, but they don't know what he can be. It's impossible to know that, so bizarre and disconnected from broader NFL reality is the Lions experience. His track record suggests he's anywhere from the 9th-15th best signal-caller in the game. His track record suggests that he may struggle to stay healthy. His track record also suggests that he has the heart of a champion inside a body that bore the brunt of far too much losing.
Stafford is the new anointed one in Los Angeles now. His Detroit problems in the rearview mirror. The weighty baggage cast aside. A Midwestern diet cast aside for green smoothies and lighter living. It's a fresh start. A new year, a new him.
Fallout from his stunning trade is still smoking. And so much of it feels radioactive. There's been a drive to diminish this guy. To comb through his win-loss record and use it as evidence that he can't do the thing Brad Johnson or Trent Dilfer or broken-armed Peyton Manning did. There's an obliviousness to the realities of nature and nurture. Put the most gifted player in an impossible situation and results will be waylaid. Put a still gifted player in a situation to succeed and he will.
And on some level, I get it. Stafford's potential has been stymied and hidden under a bushel and only on display during an eventually pointless fourth-quarter comeback. He's never had a championship defense or reliable running game. He's never joined forces with a brilliant coach to create magic both on and off the whiteboard.
The lack of imagination, the inability to envision that there's a switch for Sean McVay to flip is understandable. At the same time, the naysayers and revisionists are going a bit too far in suggesting Stafford either has little left in the tank or never had a full one to begin with. So let's go the other way.
Let me type out something I believe after watching this man get his brain bashed in for a decade of Sundays.
In a different universe, Stafford is a repeat champion. An MVP. A surefire Hall of Famer already. And people will realize that in the next few years as he pilots the Rams into contention. They'll realize it when he's playing for and winning a Super Bowl.
Then it will all be clear. It will be clear that the Detroit version of Stafford was a beta test that glitched for far too long. That he always had the proper code, it was just in the wrong system.
Is this a bold call? Perhaps. But it's certainly more sensible than taking stock of a body of work chronically mismanaged and deeming it worthless. And outdated.
Read this now. Be overwhelmed with the proof later.