Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Detroit Lions have been dating the
prettiest girl at the bar for four years now.
On Tuesday, they put ring to finger and officially committed. Now it's time to
see if the object of their affection has any real substance or is just a shiny
bauble wrapped in a comely package.
With their history, it's almost inconceivable the Lions could give up on
Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. Detroit has
literally spent decades trying to solve their quarterback woes, which date
back to the days of Bobby Layne in the late 1950s.
A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Layne was the last real elite signal caller to
call the Motor City home and the Lions have made due with stopgaps ever since.
If you ask locals who the best Detroit quarterback has been since Layne, you
might get votes for players like Greg Landry, Rodney Peete, Scott Mitchell or
Charlie Batch. Not exactly an awe-inspiring group.
In fact, the correct answer to the that query is probably Stafford, the
University of Georgia product who joined Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Dan Marino
as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to top 5,000 passing yards in a single
season when he tossed for 5,038 in 2012. In the past two seasons, the Tampa
native has thrown for a mind-blowing 10,005 yards.
That's why the Lions dove headfirst into the deep end of the pool Tuesday,
inking Stafford to a three-year contract extension which will keep him in
Michigan through 2017.
The Detroit Free Press reports that Stafford's gaudy deal now includes $43
million of guaranteed money when you count the final two years on his current
contract, along with a potential upside of $76 million over the next five
years. In return, the Lions were able to take some of the sting out of a $20.8
million scheduled cap hit for 2013.
"I wanted to do what was right for the club," Stafford told the team's
Those numbers may seem out of line for a QB with a career record as a starter
well under .500, but Stafford is unquestionably one of the most talented
throwers in football.
The warts in his game, however, remain significant. After missing a total of
19 games in his first two professional seasons, Stafford has answered questions
concerning his durability by toiling in all 32 contests over the past two
campaigns. That said, serious concerns over shoddy mechanics, accuracy and
decision making are still looming after 44 career starts.
Expecting the light to finally go off now is probably just wishful thinking on
Detroit's part, and Stafford's default settings as a quarterback seem to
include some very bad habits ingrained into his DNA as a player, particularly
shaky footwork and the occasionally awful arm angles he throws with.
Most troubling of all is the fact Stafford is just 1-23 as a starter against
teams that finished a season with a .500-or-better mark.
"It's a common theme in this league that teams that have a quarterback playing
at a high level consistently will win games," Stafford said. "It's about wins
in a lot of aspects."
Actually, it's all about wins in every aspect.
A year after leading the Lions to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth in 2012 -
the franchise's first double-digit winning season since 1995 and first
postseason berth since 1999 - Stafford regressed badly, throwing 21 fewer
touchdowns in 2013 despite setting an NFL record with 727 passing attempts. He
also finished with a completion percentage under 60 percent, a dismal number
for a player of his pedigree in today's pass-happy NFL.
Apologists point to the Lions' dismal running game and weak offensive line
when defending Stafford. Fair points to be sure but then you also have to
point out that he gets to throw to Calvin Johnson, perhaps the most physically
gifted NFL receiver since Randy Moss was in his prime.
Nearly all of Stafford's troubles as a player can be traced directly to
fundamental breakdowns. More than a few observers have whispered that he
simply isn't the type to do the extra homework to clean up things like his
amateurish footwork, feeling his prodigious arm strength will make up for any
Stafford would hardly be the first uber-talented athlete who got by on his
physical gifts and ignored the little things that can turn a good player into
a great one.
To his credit, however, Stafford has spent the entire offseason in Detroit in
an effort to downplay that kind of talk and set an example for his teammates.
"He's evolved into a leader," Lions president Tom Lewand told the Free Press.
"Now when rookies walk into the locker room, they see a quarterback who's been
here four years and they see a different guy who occupies a different spot on
the team, and a lot of that is because of his own efforts."
Optimists might spin that as a positive sign just as surely as a contrarian
might point to the fact that nearly all elite quarterbacks are regarded as
"leaders" far earlier in their careers and need no evolution. It's almost an
intangible trait natural to the position, at least for the upper echelon
Still, with Detroit's bleak history at the position, it was imperative for the
Lions to stick with Stafford moving forward.
The only question now is whether Stafford will finish his career in the
company of players like Layne or forever be labeled as the talented
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