Published Aug. 31, 2019
Here we go again. Another Labor Day approaches, another NFL campaign is nigh.
For the Lions, it means the start of the 62nd season since their last championship. Time flies, even when you’re not having fun.
Speaking of time, don’t look now, but this is Matthew Stafford’s 11th year in the league. He’s far past the middle of his career; he might have five good, productive years left. Maybe.
Yet the Lions have been acting like Stafford will play forever. The team hasn’t come close to drafting, much less grooming, Stafford’s heir apparent. Last week’s retirement of Colts QB Andrew Luck, just shy of his 30th birthday, should be a wake-up call. Stafford is 31 years old.
Though Stafford hasn’t battled injuries nearly to the degree that Luck did, which led to the latter’s retirement, the reality is that the league is evolving. I think more star players will call it quits sooner rather than later, while they still have their faculties.
Did Lions dodge a bullet?
Frankly, it could have been Stafford at the podium, announcing his abdication from the Lions’ throne. And it wouldn’t have been about him.
Who could have blamed the University of Georgia grad if Stafford decided that, due to his wife’s brain surgery (in April) and ongoing recovery, he has a different perspective on life and football’s place in it?
The Staffords have three small children, including twin girls. Between the kids and Kelly Stafford’s situation, it could have been Stafford who announced that he was getting out of the game.
Where would that have left the Lions?
The team continues to play musical chairs at quarterback behind Stafford. They’ve been signing and releasing signal callers at a whirlwind pace in recent weeks. None of the men they’ve brought in could remotely be considered the Lions quarterback of the future.
It’s another reason why the Lions, for too long, have been like a Ford spinning its wheels.
Having a plan is, like, a good thing
The Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers out of California in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, when iconic starter Brett Favre was 35 but showing no signs of slowing down. Rodgers held a clipboard for three seasons before taking over in 2008 after Favre was traded to the New York Jets. Rodgers has been entrenched in Green Bay ever since.
That’s just one example. The successful organizations always seem to come up with a quarterback. Usually, it’s the result of cunning and planning ahead.
The Lions have absolutely no viable option at QB if Stafford were to step into a divot and tear his ACL tomorrow. None.
I won’t even bother listing the names of the quarterbacks behind Stafford on the Lions roster, for two reasons: One, none of them are any good; and two, those names might change before I hit publish on this blog post.
It’s high time the Lions start thinking about life post-Stafford.
Stafford started his NFL career as if he was going to have a reputation as being a china doll. He missed significant time in his first two seasons (2009-10). But starting in 2011, Stafford has been the picture of durability, starting every game for the past eight years.
But he can’t play forever.
Whistling past the graveyard?
I understand the Lions have had other holes to fill on the roster in recent years. Lots of them. But they haven’t come close to drafting or trading for a quarterback who the team feels can be groomed to take over when no. 9 calls it a career.
Now, granted, Stafford may continue his consecutive games streak and the Lions won’t have to worry about quarterback for a few more years. And it only takes one bad year for a team to qualify for a top three draft choice the following spring, which could net your QB of the future.
But that doesn’t seem like a plan to me. That seems like being reactionary and hoping for some good luck. And if you’re the Lions, expecting the football gods to smile on you is hardly a winning proposition. You know, 1957 and all.
The last time the Lions were bestowed with that kind of fantastic football luck was when the Packers (ironically) passed on Barry Sanders in 1989 to draft offensive tackle Tony Mandarich.
I’m keeping my eye on Stafford this season. I won’t be alone. But this is an interesting season, potentially, coming up for the Lions quarterback. There’s a new offensive coordinator, his wife continues to recover from brain surgery and he’s coming off a less than stellar season. Plus, things can happen to NFL players, even the durable ones, once the age passes that 30 year mark. Tom Brady notwithstanding.
1979: A cautionary tale
The Lions were wise to hold Stafford out of most of the preseason, which is another column in and of itself. It was 40 years ago this week when the 1979 Lions lost starting QB Gary Danielson to knee injury during the final exhibition game in Baltimore. That led to the Jeff Komlo-led, 2-14 season.
Of course, the 1979 horror brought the Lions Billy Sims in the 1980 draft.
Notice, not another quarterback, however.
The Lions have Matthew Stafford and a bunch of bums at quarterback for the 2019 season. They have no plan of action for when Stafford mulls retirement. They might have another year or two, tops, before the situation could get truly dire.
Stafford’s durability has lulled the Lions into a false sense of security. Of course, it usually doesn’t take much to cause such an effect on the franchise. If the league gave out awards for striking fool’s gold every year they’ve handed out the Lombardi Trophy, the Lions would have the most hardware in that category.
In the wake of Luck’s retirement, the Lions not only have to be concerned about keeping Matthew Stafford upright, they have to be real about what might be going on in his head. Because if Stafford drops a similar bombshell in the next year or two, the Lions are freaked.