Five Potential Landing Spots for Matthew Staffordby Mike Fanelli January 6, 2021 3 comments
Entering the 2020 NFL season, the Detroit Lions were unlikely to make the playoffs. However, they had expectations to push for a Wild Card spot. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as the team started the season 3-3 but finished 5-11 after losing four straight games to end the year. After their embarrassing loss to the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving, head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn were fired. The biggest question for their replacements is: what to do with Matthew Stafford?
Last offseason, the Lions had the third overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. There were rumors that the team would trade Stafford and start a rebuilding project centered around former Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa. In the end, the Lions selected former Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, and the rest is history. However, with a new head coach and a new general manager coming in, they may determine it’s time to rebuild and trade Stafford to a contender for draft picks. If they do, they will move on from the best quarterback in franchise history.
The Lions will have the seventh pick in the 2021 NFL Draft after finishing the season with a 5-11 record. While they have no shot at Trevor Lawrence, they are in the range to potentially land either Zach Wilson or Trey Lance. They would also be in a prime position to trade up and select Justin Fields if they desired. What may ultimately force the Lions’ hand into trading Stafford could be their salary cap situation.
According to Over the Cap, the Lions project to have just over $12 million in cap space this offseason. Stafford has a $33 million cap hit, but the team can open up $14 million by trading him. More importantly, according to Over the Cap, Stafford has a $10 million roster bonus due March 17. If the Lions are going to trade Stafford, expect the deal to be done before then, as Stafford’s new team would be responsible for the $10 million roster bonus.
Of course, the Lions aren’t going to give Stafford away without suitable compensation coming back to them. At almost 33 years old, the Lions aren’t likely to get a first-round pick for him. Instead, the compensation would likely be a 2021 second-round pick and a conditional 2022 draft pick, depending on how Stafford performs next season. With that kind of trade package in mind, here are the five teams most likely to trade for Stafford.
Washington Football Team
Despite their 7-9 record this season, Washington made the playoffs as the NFC East had a .367 combined winning percentage in 2020. However, this team has the pieces in place to make some noise in the NFC next season if they upgrade at the quarterback position. The return of Alex Smith to the football field, after almost losing his leg two years ago, is the ideal feel-good story we all love. However, on the field, Smith is far from the same quarterback he was years ago.
Smith hasn’t played in more than 10 games in any season in Washington. During his team with Washington, Smith has 16 touchdowns in 18 games. He has thrown under two touchdowns in 14 of those games. Furthermore, Smith has only eight games with more than 200 passing yards during his time in Washington. Smith will turn 37 years old in the offseason, and with his injury history, Washington needs to find a replacement at quarterback.
Washington is in a position where they can move on from Smith. His 2021 cap number is $23.3 million, but the team can save $14.7 million by releasing or trading Smith. There won’t be much of a trade market for Smith at that price, but if he agrees to a reworked deal, Washington could add a day three draft pick for the veteran. With potentially $62 million in cap space after releasing Smith, Washington would have plenty of cap space to trade for Stafford. Furthermore, they will still have enough cap space to potentially add his top wide receiver, Kenny Golladay, in free agency.
New England Patriots
Currently, the only quarterback under contract for next season is former fourth-round pick, Jarrett Stidham. However, in eight career games, Stidham has two passing touchdowns compared to four interceptions. If Bill Belichick believes Stidham was the long term replacement for Tom Brady, he wouldn’t have signed Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer to one-year deals last year.
Reportedly, the Patriots and Newton agree that a parting of the ways is best for both parties. With Newton gone and Hoyer a career backup, the Patriots are at a crossroad at the quarterback position. After finishing the season 7-9, the Patriots will have the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Patriots have the draft capital to move up into the top 10 or even top five to select a rookie quarterback. However, Belichick has rarely traded up and even more rarely selected a quarterback in the first round.
At soon to be 69 years old, Belichick isn’t looking for the next young quarterback to lead the franchise for the next 15 years. He is looking for someone that can get them back into the playoffs next season and push for a Super Bowl if they add the right pieces around him. The Patriots project to have almost $63 million in cap space. They will get back several players who opted out this season because of Covid-19 as well. Even after trading for Stafford, the Patriots will have plenty of cap space. Combine that with all their draft picks, the Patriots could return to the playoffs next season with the addition of Stafford.
Reports earlier this week were that Philip Rivers would either retire or re-sign with the Colts this offseason. They also stated that Rivers is seriously considering retirement after one season in Indianapolis. Rivers played well for the Colts in 2020, throwing for 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns, and only 11 interceptions. However, at 39 years old, Rivers’ time with the Colts might end this offseason.
Even if Rivers decides to come back next season, the Colts need to look elsewhere at the quarterback position. Currently, 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason is the only quarterback under contract for next season as Jacoby Brissett and Rivers are free agents. Reportedly, Carson Wentz will ask the Philadelphia Eagles for a trade this offseason. His top landing spot would be Indianapolis, according to reports. Given the history between Wentz and Frank Reich, the Colts could pursue a trade for Wentz.
However, Wentz is coming off the worst season of his career, as he got benched for Jalen Hurts. To make matters worst, he has three years left on his current contract, totaling over $100 million. The safer option would be trading for Stafford. The Colts could give Stafford the best offensive line in the league. He would also have an emerging star running back in Jonathan Taylor, a talented young defense, and $65.5 million in cap space to sign potential free-agent wide receivers. If Stafford could force his way anywhere, Indianapolis would be his best option.
The Cowboys are in a tough spot. They are projected to have just under $24 million in cap space this offseason but have to figure out what to do with Dak Prescott. Before his season-ending leg injury in Week 5, Prescott was setting career-highs in several categories. The Cowboys’ record was more a reflection of the Cowboys’ injuries and defense. However, if they can’t come to a cap-friendly deal, the Cowboys will be forced to use the franchise tag on Prescott.
Even though the salary cap will regress this offseason, the Cowboys don’t get a break on the franchise tag. Because Dak was tagged last season, his franchise tag cap number for this season would be almost $38 million. To make matters worst, according to Over the Cap, they don’t have any easy way to open up cap space. The best way would be to either restructure expensive contracts or work out extensions to lower their current cap hit. Either way, the Cowboys don’t have much time to do either if they plan to place the franchise tag on Dak.
However, if the Cowboys decide not to re-sign Dak either by a long term extension or the franchise tag, they could try to tag and trade him. Rarely does that work out given the complex nature of the franchise tag and the contract for it. Whether Dak is tagged and traded or just allowed to hit free agency, Stafford would be the ideal replacement. He grew up in Texas and could agree to a contract restructure to facilitate a trade to Dallas. More than likely, Jerry Jones will find a way to bring Dak back next season, but if he decides against it, Stafford should be at the top of the replacement list.
San Francisco 49ers
Recently, Kyle Shanahan came out in support of Jimmy Garoppolo, saying that he should be the starting quarterback next season. However, the 49ers are projected to have just under $21 million in cap space and must re-sign left tackle Trent Williams. Garoppolo has a $26.9 million cap hit for next season, but the 49ers can save just over $24 million by releasing or trading him. Given their cap situation and Garoppolo’s limited success, the 49ers might look into upgrading at quarterback.
The odds of the 49ers moving on from Garoppolo are slim. The only way the 49ers will is if they can trade him to add draft picks as they don’t have a third-round selection after dealing it for Williams during last year’s draft. Rumors are out there that the Patriots could be interested in trading for their former quarterback. If New England reaches out to acquire Garoppolo, expect the 49ers have a deal in place to trade up from their 12th overall selection to draft one of the top four quarterbacks or acquire Stafford.
On the assumption that the 49ers trade Garoppolo away and add Stafford, they would be in a prime position to make another Super Bowl run in 2021. Between their offensive line, running game, and weapons like George Kittle, the 49ers would provide Stafford with an excellent supporting cast. Furthermore, the 49ers will get back several critical players on defense, including Nick Bosa, next season. The NFC West has three Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks and Garoppolo. If the 49ers want to make another Super Bowl run, trading for Stafford could put them over the top.