The Detroit Lions nearly sent Matthew Stafford to Carolina, and as they get set to face the Broncos and Teddy Bridgewater they may wonder if they’d be better with him this season.
The Detroit Lions ultimately let Matthew Stafford pick his trade destination last offseason, sending him to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff and draft picks. But a deal was nearly done with the Carolina Panthers before Stafford nixed it. That deal would have reportedly netted Detroit the eighth overall pick in the 2021 draft, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a fifth-round pick.
The quarterback carousel set in motion by the Stafford trade led to the Panthers acquiring Sam Darnold from the New York Jets, and they sent Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos in what amounted to a salary dump for a sixth-round pick.
The Lions will travel to Denver to take on the Broncos this weekend. Denver is on the fringe of the AFC playoff conversation with a 6-6 record. Bridgewater has brought stability under center, completing over 67 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
Would the Lions be better with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback?
At 1-10-1 and with Goff generally struggling the way he has this season, it’s easy to say the Lions would have more wins with almost anyone else under center. Bridgewater played for the Saints when head coach Dan Campbell was on the coaching staff there, so a reunion would’ve happened had the Lions acquired Bridgewater.
Let’s look at Goff and Bridgewater’s numbers this season side-by-side. Remember, for whatever it may be worth, that Goff has made one fewer start. Bridgewater also missed a solid chunk of a game due to injury in Week 4, and he also exited Week 12 for a time. Goff has 20 more pass attempts.
Goff: 234.2 passing yards per game, 13 TD, seven interceptions, 66.7 percent completion rate, 88.1 passer rating, 30.8 QBR, 9.7 yards per completion, 6.5 yards per attempt, 6.3 adjusted yards per attempt
Bridgewater: 231.3 passing yards per game (246.4 yards per game in his 11 mostly full games), 16 TD, seven interceptions, 67.3 percent completion rate, 95.0 passer rating, 47.4 QBR, 10.9 yards per completion, 7.3 yards per attempt, 7.3 adjusted yards per attempt
Bridgewater has the general edge, in some areas more than others. But in another sense, que the two Spider-Man GIF.
Goff has been a checkdown-Charlie for the most part this year, to a frustrating level, as reflected by a substantial lead in percentage of throws short of the sticks on third down.
But Bridgewater is second in rate of passes thrown short of the sticks on third down, so it’s not as if he has changed his feathers as a cautious (and limited) quarterback. And he has had Jerry Jeudy (aside from his absence with an ankle injury), Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick to throw to this season. Any of those three is better than most of the Lions’ wide recevers.
If the Lions had Bridgewater as their quarterback, they probably would’ve beaten the Cleveland Browns in Week 11. But it’s not like he could’ve been any worse than Tim Boyle was filling in for an injured Goff in a 13-10 loss. The Week 10 tie to the Pittsburgh Steelers, when Goff was injured early, might have been a win too if Bridgewater was under center. In those games, a fully healthy and even marginally more capable quarterback may have made a difference.
But other than that, if other games played out the way they did otherwise, Bridgewater would not have been the difference in a win or a loss for the Lions. So they might be 3-9 instead of 1-10-1, or just good enough to not have the No. 1 pick in April’s draft right now. What they would’ve done with that top-10 pick last April from Carolina (Justin Fields? Mac Jones?) is a separate, albeit intertwined in a sense, conversation.
Goff is a quarterback who can’t raise the level of those around him in a significant way. But Bridgewater is absolutely in the same boat, and he might even be worse in that respect given what he has had around him at times in his career. So the results for the 2021 Lions would be no different if they hadn’t allowed Stafford to pick his trade destination, and landed Bridgewater instead of Goff.