The Detroit Lions veteran quarterback has given everything for his team in every way possible. The team now needs to step up and support him properly.
Most football players are, in real terms, disposable. It’s no secret. Their team will sign, train, teach, and motivate them. They’ll have them out in their respective communities doing public service and help them bond with their city.
Then, they eventually let them go in favor of someone younger and cheaper who can perform similarly. The Detroit Lions are no different. Despite the element of immorality to it, this is the reality of the salary cap driven business of NFL football.
The often exception to this is the so-called franchise quarterback. These relatively few men are the team leaders that carry the weight of the fortunes of the offense, and often the entire team as a whole. They get lauded when the team does well and often gets blamed when they don’t, deserving or not.
The best signal-callers may remain with the team that drafted them for their entire career, especially when they win championships. But these are few and far between.
Matthew Stafford has been with the Detroit Lions for 11 years. He came to the team as a first overall draft pick in the 2009 NFL draft, by virtue of the Lions historic 0-16 season in 2008.
A team devoid of talented athletes, except for wide receiver Calvin Johnson. A city and metropolitan area reeling from an economic crisis that threatened it’s very existence. A team owned by a family with a questionable reputation of competence overseeing an NFL franchise.
From the beginning, the young quarterback from the University of Georgia got to see what it meant to be a part of the Lions saga of misfortunes. The questionable draft choices, the myriad of offensive coordinators, and assistant coaches that come and go.
Then there’s the type of bad luck that only seems to happen to Detroit. A winning touchdown pass negated by what would become known as the Calvin Johnson Rule. A pass interference call that would have put them in a position to win a playoff game only to see the flag picked up for no discernible reason.
Through it all, the young quarterback never complained. He never chewed out a teammate, did his best with what he had to work with. He accepted responsibility. Every summer he returned with a positive attitude, improved mechanics, a bit bulkier, and always in great shape. He has regularly restructured his contracts to allow the team to acquire more talent with more salary cap money.
Thus far, he’s been sacked 347 times. When throwing wasn’t an option he ran for 1,069 yards. He struggled through broken fingers, broken bones in his back, and a mysterious hip injury nobody seems to be able to explain.
In 2016, Lions general manager Bob Quinn arrived. He brought with him the reputation of the Patriot Way, the ways and methods of a consistently winning team. He knew Stafford’s value and rewarded him with a new contract in 2017 which, at the time, made him the highest paid player in the history of the NFL.
Through the draft and free agency, Quinn acquired numerous players to surround him. He hired Matt Patricia two years later to be the head coach. Most experts generally agreed that this would be an upgrade from former head coach Jim Caldwell. Then he hired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in 2019 with a reputation for being able to develop a more balanced attack.
But this year, that capable offense was hampered by numerous injuries and a defense that was terribly disappointing. Then, against the Oakland Raiders, in a valiant attempt to salvage the season, the veteran quarterback powered forward while running rather than sliding in order to get a crucial first down.
Bones in his back were broken again when tackled from the front and back. Stafford’s season ended, along with the Lions hopes for the postseason.
The frustration of losing brought the inevitable criticism of the quarterback. Matthew’s wife Kelly, who has 249,000 Instagram followers posted that the angry fans have no idea of the pain and suffering her husband goes through in order to play each week.
Last summer, football fans in Detroit and across the country got to know the Staffords’ in a very personal way through the story of Kelly’s brain tumor. The surgery, the remarkable recovery, and the human and private side of the quarterback and his family.
Until that time, Kelly was of the belief that Detroit didn’t like them. Their touching and emotional story helped Lions fans realize that the Stafford’s were, in effect, Detroit’s First Family Of Football. The support they received from the entire community brought the sincere love and humanity that Detroiters inherently display when one of their own is dealing with dire personal struggles.
The Detroit Lions are very close to being a playoff worthy team. And while others may also not agree, Matthew Stafford is the quarterback that can get them to the promised land. He has the desire, toughness, and durability to play at a high level well into his late 30’s.
The idea of trading away the veteran signal-caller for some untested draft pick is ludicrous. It ensures a total front-office housecleaning and several more years of futility and frustration with no guarantee of success.
Stafford is in the prime of his career. He exemplifies everything a team could ever want from a franchise quarterback. A fierce leader and competitor, short on ego and long on humility. A man of exemplary character and toughness. The complete team player and human being that one rarely comes across in sports, or in everyday life.
A truly professional team doesn’t base decisions on the knee jerk outbursts of frustrated fans. Quinn and Patricia have a one year mandate to make this team a winner in the short and long term. They have quite a task this offseason but they can do it, the Patriot Way, and with Matthew Stafford under center.