And so, it begins. So begins the 2021 NFL quarterback sweepstakes. If Saturday night’s news was any indication, it promises to be wild. Late Saturday evening, news came out that the Los Angeles Rams had struck a deal with the Detroit Lions to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford. In this blockbuster trade, the Lions received the Rams' 2021 third-round pick, 2022 and 2023 first-round picks, as well as quarterback Jared Goff. This type of trade is one we rarely see in the NFL and is surely going to cause a ripple effect across the league.
The two teams that made this trade will certainly feel good about what they were able to acquire. For the Rams, they now have a quarterback who they clearly feel is a massive upgrade over Goff, and that Stafford was the missing piece to what they consider a Super Bowl-caliber team. Stafford gives head coach Sean McVay a playmaking gunslinger who is much more explosive throwing the football than Goff was. I expect this offense to be more electric than the one we saw last season, and they should be able to score points against anyone. The Rams gave up a lot to get Stafford and it's clear they expect to compete for a Super Bowl next season. In my opinion, anything short of the NFC Championship Game would be a disappointment, and I do think they’ll be the heavy favorites to win the conference when the season kicks off in September.
The Lions on the other hand must feel great about this move. They were able to do right by their franchise quarterback and send him to a team that he wanted to go to, giving him a chance to win. They were also able to acquire two future first-round picks, a third-rounder in this year's draft, as well as Goff. Naysayers will question why the Lions didn’t choose a trade partner that would have been willing to give up a first-round pick in this upcoming draft, and while that is a fair question, I believe this just shows that the Lions are committed to a long-term rebuild and acquiring two future first-round picks is better than just one in 2021. I also really like the idea of bringing in Goff. Sure, you can knock the contract, but in reality, the team will be able to get out of the deal in 2023 when there is no more guaranteed money left on the contract.
This is honestly a great situation for the Lions because Goff’s contract really only becomes an issue when you are trying to compete and win big right now and you can’t pay top talent because of Goff’s deal. For the Lions, who know they are years away from competing, they can afford to pay Goff while focusing on drafting well and building this team up with young talent.
Adding Goff, who at this point in time is actually underrated by the media, gives the Lions a quality starter who is good enough to keep them competitive. Will Goff be able to win games by himself with that talent the Lions currently have? Probably not. But in my opinion, it's tough to build a culture when losing is the expected outcome. With Goff, the Lions can at least expect to compete. Goff also allows the Lions to be patient in their search for a new franchise quarterback and allows them to address other major holes on this roster. As you can see, I really do like the move for the Lions.
Now that it has been a few days since the deal was announced, a lot more information has come out regarding the other teams that were in talks with the Lions. We knew the market for Stafford would be robust, but I don’t think we expected it to be this active. Per Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, the Carolina Panthers, Washington Football Team, and New England Patriots made strong offers for Stafford, while other teams like the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, New York Jets, and Chicago Bears all made calls to the Lions but reportedly never made an official offer.
In total, eight teams showed genuine interest in acquiring Stafford, highlighting just how many teams are truly in the market for a new quarterback. With Stafford now off the table, these teams will have to look elsewhere for a new starting quarterback, or they will have to run it back with their current starter. Let’s take a look at what each team’s most realistic options are at quarterback moving forward.
From Breer’s report, the Panthers were the team that offered the most for Stafford outside of what the Rams ultimately gave up. The Panthers reportedly offered the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft along with a late-round pick. This is interesting because to me this team isn’t a Stafford away from competing, but it shows that owner David Tepper and head coach Matt Rhule want to win and win now. I believe they have every intention of upgrading the position and replacing Teddy Bridgewater. At this point in time, I think they are firmly in the running for Watson and I believe they will be very aggressive in their pursuit. If they fail to acquire Watson, then look for the Panthers to trade up into the top 3-4 and select either Zach Wilson or Justin Fields.
Washington Football Team
Washington being aggressive for Stafford makes more sense than the Panthers. I believe with Stafford as their quarterback they would be the heavy favorites in the division next year even with a healthy Dak Prescott returning to the Dallas Cowboys. This team has a great defense and some nice talent at the skill positions. With their pick in the draft being so low (19th overall), I expect them to be aggressive in acquiring a free agent quarterback this offseason. Obviously, Washington will be in the mix for Watson, but if they fail to win the bidding for him, there are some other options out there that could make sense. Free agents Cam Newton and Jameis Winston would be upgrades over what they currently have. The team could also make some calls on players like Raiders backup Marcus Mariota, or the Jets' Sam Darnold. One wild card I could see is if the 49ers decide to move on from Jimmy Garoppolo, as he would be a natural fit in this offensive system and wouldn’t be asked to do a lot of the heavy lifting with a strong defense and running game.
New England Patriots
The Patriots were definitely interested in Stafford, but unfortunately for them, the interest wasn’t reciprocated. Stafford apparently told the Lions to trade him to any team but the Patriots, and with their lack of talent on offense, it’s hard to blame him. The Patriots have a lot of holes to fill on offense outside of the quarterback, and it’ll be interesting to see if they opt to draft one or go for a veteran in free agency. If I had to guess, I believe they’ll sign a veteran and then draft a quarterback in the top of the second round. I think if they can sign Jacoby Brissett in free agency, and then draft Mac Jones in the second round, they will feel good about the quarterback position heading into the 2021 season. Brissett actually started his career with the Patriots before being traded to the Colts in 2017.
The Colts are in a pickle. I wrote a piece a week ago highlighting why they were the perfect team for Stafford, but unfortunately for them, they missed their shot. With this team being in a position to win now if they can get good quarterback play, they need to do everything they can to ensure they land a solid player at that position. With their first-round pick being later in the draft (21st overall), they aren’t really in a position to draft a top guy. Now, they could move up and get their guy if they fall in love with Wilson or Fields, but that doesn’t seem like a move that general manager Chris Ballard would do. I think they’ll turn their focus on quarterbacks who might be available via a trade, and I think the first call they make is to the Jets asking about Darnold. Darnold will be a much better player dropping back behind their offensive line and throwing to more talented skill players. If not Darnold, they can always throw their hat in the Watson sweepstakes, or perhaps they sign Winston in free agency.
San Francisco 49ers
Talk about a double whammy for the 49ers. They miss out on Stafford and then see him go to a team in their division. While the 49ers haven’t been as vocal as the Rams were about their displeasure about their current quarterback, I think the writing is on the wall here for Garoppolo. I believe that like McVay, Kyle Shanahan also wants a playmaker at the quarterback position—something that now every other team in his division has. I believe the 49ers have to do everything in their power to try and get Watson. I know the trade package would be historic, but I believe with the players coming back healthy to the 49ers, this team would be a Super Bowl contender with Watson and that alone makes this trade worth it. If not Watson, I think trading up for Wilson, Fields, or Trey Lance would make a lot of sense as they are all superior players from a playmaking perspective than Garoppolo. Lastly, there are rumors of a Kirk Cousins trade here, and that would be something to monitor.
Denver is in an interesting situation. They have Drew Lock, who showed some flashes in 2020, but for the most part, he didn’t prove that he is a quarterback to build around. The team’s interest in Stafford isn’t necessarily a huge indictment against Lock, it was more of an opportunity that a team had to upgrade at quarterback. I do think if the Broncos like a quarterback in the top 10 they will be aggressive in getting one, but Lock does give them some flexibility in being patient here. If I had my guess, we will see Lock under center again in 2021 at Mile High.
New York Jets
The Jets first and foremost must decide what they are going to do with Darnold. The Jets can either decide to keep him and try and build a team around him, or they can trade Darnold and either go all in for Watson or draft a top quarterback with the second overall pick. My guess is that the team will ultimately move on from Darnold and select a top quarterback in the draft. If it were me making the choices in New York, Fields would under center Week 1 for Gang Green.
The Bears had to have known that unless they offered the moon and the sun that the Lions were never going to trade Stafford to a division rival. That being said, you can’t hate on the Bears for inquiring. They clearly need an upgrade at quarterback and recognize they aren’t in a position to draft a top one. The Bears will certainly be in the Watson and Darnold sweepstakes and will make competitive offers for both. If they miss out on either Watson or Darnold, I think players like Mariota, Winston, or Newton would be intriguing to the Bears' front office.
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