Matthew Stafford playing with a broken back is problematic

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions is brought down by Cory Littleton #58 of the Los Angeles Rams during the second halfat Ford Field on December 2, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions is brought down by Cory Littleton #58 of the Los Angeles Rams during the second halfat Ford Field on December 2, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford playing through injuries is very admirable. But with no depth behind Stafford, it is costing the team wins.

On Tuesday, Jelani Scott of reported that Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played with a broken back last season. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport got a bit more specific, describing the injury as tiny fractures that probably keeps other players sidelined.

The part about this kind of injury keeping other players off the field is exactly why Matthew Stafford is so beloved by this organization. Stafford is paid very well. And for the lack of a postseason resume, much of the time it feels like maybe a bit too well. But the guy never stops trying to help this team win.

That kind of sacrifice and willingness to risk further injury makes Matthew special in many ways. How many times a day on ESPN, sports radio, or during the course of a game broadcast are player injuries questioned by the media and fans? Rightfully, Stafford could have sat. But he didn’t because he tries to live up to his contract and play football whenever possible.

But there is a downside as well. That downside begins with the Detroit Lions not having anyone worthy behind Stafford to play in case of injury. The drop-off is very significant on the depth chart for the last five seasons. The last legitimate back-up this team had was quarterback Shaun Hill, who left the team after the 2013 season.

Hill was capable. Shaun could take a four, six, even eight game stretch and win at least half the games. The same couldn’t be said since. And unfortunately Hill retired following the 2016 season, so no chance of bringing him in – although he might be preferable to the likes of current back-up quarterback Tom Savage.

But this franchise has no plan in place for an injury at the quarterback position. As Scott explained on the league’s official website, Stafford’s iron man streak plays into this as well.

"“Stafford managed to stay in the lineup for the final three games, completing 55 of his 84 pass attempts for 425 yards and a touchdown, to extend his consecutive start streak to 128 in a row, the sixth-longest streak in NFL history.”"

This streak is the another problem. Honestly, Matthew probably doesn’t care all that much about the streak in comparison to being out there for his team. But this probably plays a small role because of the difficulty of playing for such a long stretch. And Stafford’s first two years only netted 13 games, so it is all the more impressive for him to have gotten past those missed games and be as tough as he is.

And, yes, when Stafford missed significant time those first two years, he was questioned for only caring about the money. But that clearly wasn’t the case. Those significant injuries sidelined Stafford, but since then he has pushed through even when there was risk of more damage by continuing to play.

Stafford’s reputation for playing hurt does play well with the ownership. And even as a fan, I admit to being impressed. But is it what’s best for the team?

The idea that Matthew Stafford may see another extension from the Detroit Lions when his deal ends in 2022 – or just before that – is not inconceivable. This kind of commitment makes getting rid of Stafford nearly impossible to do. It makes him very likeable, not to mention reliable – and who doesn’t like that?

Stafford shows loyalty that goes beyond many players. He truly cares about winning. Unfortunately, playing hurt is a recipe for losing. But what if this team had a legitimate player to come in and relieve Stafford? Allowing Matthew to rest and play at his best upon return. The Detroit Lions have done Stafford no favors in this regard.

This team already has to contend with what is being called the strongest division in the NFL. The last thing they need is for their quarterback to play hurt. Yet, as currently constructed, Stafford really is there only chance at pulling out a victory.

The Detroit Lions need to find someone that can fill this major void in the roster. The back-up quarterback is important in a league where injuries are the norm. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins provided the perfect opportunity for a cheap, but talented back-up to learn the game for a few years behind Stafford. But the Lions passed on him in the first round of the draft.

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Haskins might have taken the job from Stafford down the road. But he also might have just been a reliable back-up until you find the next guy. Having a back-up does not mean Stafford’s replacement is on the roster. It just means that the team is prepared when injuries occur. And, most importantly, still win games when those injuries occur.