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The Colts Need to Acquire Matthew Stafford

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions have mutually agreed to part ways and Stafford will be traded this offseason, most likely before the start of the new league year. Stafford has been the face of the Lions franchise over the last decade, but with another new change in leadership and a new head coach, Stafford has requested to be traded and play for a new team. While Stafford will not be a Detroit Lion next season, I believe it’s in the best interest of Stafford and the Colts for him to end up in another blue uniform.


Production

Stafford has been one of the most productive and consistent quarterbacks over the last decade. While he is clearly in a tier or two below the Rodgers’, Brady’s and Wilson’s, he has still performed at a high level for many seasons.

Has he hit his wall or come close to it? The answer is almost certainly no. He has attempted around 6300 passing attempts in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers is playing some of (if not the best) football of his career and he’s attempted over 7200. Philip Rivers has attempted over 8500 career attempts and his last season in Indianapolis was one of his better ones in years. Drew Brees’ arm only deteriorated when he hit the 10,500 attempt mark. If Brees is used as the wall, then Stafford has about 4200 throws left in him, which means if he were to average 650 (his average over a 16 game season plus a playoff game or two), then that leaves him with at least 6 seasons and some change of good play left. He has a lot of miles on him for a 32-to-be-33 year old quarterback, but there’s still a lot of tread left in the tires.

Matthew Stafford has 31 comebacks, 38 game winning drives and sports nearly a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Those numbers are even more impressive when you consider he’s had defensive coaches as head coaches for most of his career, a slew of offensive coordinator and mediocre offensive line play on top of having horrendous defenses for years. He has carried the franchise on his back for the last decade.


Asking Price

Dane Brugler made a good comparison in the Carson Palmer to Oakland trade. There are a few other deals that we can use as a comparison. The following three deals since the turn of the century serve as good benchmarks:

  • Carson Palmer to Oakland for a 1st and 2nd round pick
  • Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo for a 1st round pick (traded in 2002 but received 2003 first round pick)
  • Jay Cutler to Chicago for two 1st round picks, a 3rd round pick and Kyle Orton

The reality is Stafford is older than Cutler, so the Palmer and Bledsoe deals should serve as better reference points. Bledsoe had played 9 seasons in the NFL and his trade was not done because of poor play but rather because of the emergence of Tom Brady. Palmer’s trade happened because he was disgruntled and essentially refused to play anymore for the Bengals. Palmer had been in the NFL for 8 seasons (and played for 7).

Stafford has played for 12 seasons in the NFL but will be 33 years old (in February). As shown earlier, he still has plenty in the tank and could be a very good quarterback for many more years.

The tricky part will be demand; plenty of teams will be inquiring about Stafford’s services. In my opinion, I could see any of the following teams making a move for him, based on their quarterback situation, draft capital and their salary cap room:

That’s 7 teams (plus the Colts) who I would bet a lot of money will at least inquire and potentially make an offer. Supply and demand tells us that more demand results in an increase in price. The more bidders there are for Stafford, the higher the price will be.

Jamal Adams and 4th round pick went for 2 first round picks, a 3rd and a player. Adams is a star defensive player just entering his prime, but many believe that the Seahawks gave up more than they needed to for a player who wanted out. Nevertheless, it’s important to look at what he got.

I believe, based on previous deals and the expected amount of demand for Stafford who will be on a cheap contract (explained after), the Colts will most likely have to give up:

  • 2021 1st Round Pick
  • 2021 3rd Round Pick
  • 2022 2nd Round Pick

Chris Ballard has shown in the past that he is wiling to part with 1st round picks to get someone he wants. He would have to do the same with Stafford.


Fit on Colts

In my opinion, there is no team in the NFL that is a better fit for Stafford than the Colts. The Colts have an offensive minded head coach, a very strong offensive line, an extremely good running back group, young receivers and the cap space to get themselves a star receiver. Even with the loss of Anthony Castonzo, the Colts have three star offensive linemen in Quenton Nelson (a perennial All-Pro), Ryan Kelly (a borderline All-Pro) and Braden Smith (a future All Pro) and they possess a reliable starter in Mark Glowinski. The 2021 NFL Draft is filled with a lot of talent at offensive tackle so the Colts could find a good starter with their 2nd round pick if they choose to go in that direction. Philip Rivers was able to make an easy transition from the Chargers for 16 seasons to the Colts; Stafford should be able to do the same.

The Colts’ offense asks for the quarterback to make quick, rhythmic throws and get the ball out of his hands quickly. Stafford has one of the quickest releases in all of football and he played in a similar type of passing offense with Jim Bob Cooter. The Colts will look to run the ball a lot more than Stafford is used to, but that may present plenty of opportunities that Stafford has not really seen in his career. When teams played the Lions, they would rarely stack the box since they were never a running threat, which meant Stafford saw more blitzes and more defenders in coverage. A top running game would mean more stacked boxes and better opportunities in the passing game.


Contract Situation

Stafford is in the middle of a 5 year, $135M contract with the Lions and has two years left on his contract. If traded before he’s due his contract (which they almost certainly will), the Colts will pick up Stafford’s deal and have to pay him only 43M over the next two years. He will be on the books (in terms of cap hit) for 20M in 2021 and 23M in 2022. At 20M and an estimated salary cap of 180M, Stafford’s cap hit would only account for 11.11% of the salary cap, a fantastic price. It’s amazing value for a quarterback in his prime who’s playing at a high level. If the Colts were to get Stafford, that would leave them with around 45 to 50M (depending on what the salary cap is set at) in cap space for them to re-sign key free agents like TY Hilton, Xavier Rhodes, Justin Houston, Zach Pascal, Al Quadin Muhammed and Mo Alie-Cox. It would also leave them enough space to target a star free agent or two, while having more than enough money to sign their cheap draft class and leave a few million to have during the season.

The Colts can easily afford Stafford’s contract, which is of tremendous value.


Recap

To me, this should be a no-brainer for the Colts. It’s expensive but the quarterback position is the most important in the NFL and it will be very hard for the Colts to make the playoffs, let alone make a playoff run if they don’t have a viable quarterback option. Stafford solves that issue. It costs a lot, but the 1st round pick they gave up for DeForest Buckner is already paying dividends as he was one of the best defensive players in all of football in 2020.