The Detroit Lions just hired a new coach and general manager ahead of the 2021 NFL season, and they are about to add a new quarterback to the lineup. The team and longtime starter Matthew Stafford are mutually parting ways after a 5-11 season. His tenure with the team will end after 12 seasons and a 74-90-1 record.
According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the two sides began discussing a possible trade to send Stafford to a new destination after hiring Dan Campbell as head coach and Brad Holmes as GM. Stafford expressed the desire for a "fresh start" and said that it was time to move on amid another restart within the building. The team officials reportedly agreed with the franchise QB.
The first overall pick in 2009, Stafford landed with the Lions as the top college prospect out of Georgia. He struggled with injuries during his first two seasons, only starting 13 games. However, Stafford then returned to full health in 2011 and proceeded to start every game until the end of the 2018 season.
Stafford missed half of the 2019 season with a back injury, cutting short a season in which he played like one of the NFL's best QBs. He had thrown for 2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns and only five interceptions before the injury but did not return to the field.
In 2020, however, Stafford returned to full strength and started the final 16 games of his Lions' career. He played through a rib, right thumb, ankle and neck injuries while throwing for more than 4,000 yards, 26 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. None of these injuries will require surgery as Stafford prepares to join another franchise.
Despite dealing with myriad injuries and several changes at the head coach position, Stafford has continued to produce for the Lions on the field. He set franchise records with 45,109 passing yards and 282 touchdown passes and led the Lions to the playoffs three times. He also earned a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Stafford has two years and $43 million left on his contract. Releasing him would leave the Lions with $17 million in dead cap money for the 2021 season, but trading him would yield $14 million in cap space and $20 million in cash. Stafford is also due a $10 million roster bonus when the new league year begins in March.
Where Stafford ends up remains a question. Several teams have question marks at the sport's most important position and will look to address them in the NFL Draft or via trade. The Broncos, Colts, Panthers, Patriots, Saints and Washington Football Team are among this list. The Jets have a first-round pick in Sam Darnold but have also explored trading for another starter.