By: Fantasy Football Clinic
After another lackluster season, the Lions find themselves with the 3rd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. A Stafford back injury, the 2nd in as many years, was a main contributor to the sunken season. But not all may be lost, as the Lions have the rare opportunity to take a potentially generational talent at the most important position in the game, Quarterback. It’s ironic that the Lions find themselves in the position to take an injured Quarterback due to their own injured Quarterback, but here we are. We have arrived at the Tua question. The Tua question has been thrown around by National and Local Media ever since the Lions secured the 3rd pick in the draft. Do the Lions take Tua Tagovailoa with their 1st round pick? Regardless of who you listen too; ESPN analysts, ex-NFL players, your die-hard lions friend Johnny, or the drunk guy at the end of the bar, there seems to be as many votes for as there are against. As for what we think? Well we’re not sure yet, but we’re going to give you the facts so you can decide for yourself.
It’s hard to find a more productive QB prospect. In 15 games as a Sophomore at Alabama, Tagovailoa threw for 3,966 yards, 43 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions. These numbers were backed up this past season when Tua threw for 2,840 yards, 33 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. In this Junior campaign, Tua improved from 264.4 yards/game to 315.5 yards/game and from 2.86 touchdowns/game to 3.67 touchdowns/game. If he hadn’t gotten hurt, and for example played the full 15 games like he did as a sophomore, he was on pace to put up 4,733 yards and 55 touchdowns. For comparison, the Heisman Trophy winner and near unanimous #1 pick Joe Burrow has put up 5,208 yards and 55 touchdowns through 14 games. To put it lightly, Tua was on pace to put up truly gaudy numbers. Tua holds a few career NCAA records also. He holds the records for passing yards per attempt at 10.9 yards/attempt, adjusted passing yards per attempt at 12.7 yards/attempt, and total yards per play at 9.8 yards/play. These stats show how truly dominant Tua was at the NCAA level.
Tagovailoa shines even brighter when his otherworldly efficiency numbers are added to the elite production. Tua owns the NCAA record for career Passing Efficiency Rating at 199.4 and has the 14th highest Pass Completion Percentage at 69.3%. This type of efficiency to go along with the high level production is unheard of, especially at what’s considered the highest level of competition in the NCAA, the SEC West.
Tua fits into what’s become the modern offense of the NFL. He combines the athleticism to move the pocket with elite arm talent that’s capable of fitting the ball into the smallest of windows. He has the look of a franchise qb that can bring a team to the forefront of an offense-centric league.
Although there are many positives to Tua, there are also some red flags, as there are with most prospects. The first and most obvious red flag is the injury situation. Tua is coming off a hip injury that is most common in major car crashes. As far as we’ve heard, he is rehabbing very well and declaring for the draft gives the indication that he has been given a good bill of health. There is still reason for concern though. This is just the most recent injury in what’s becoming a rather long list of ailments. Tua has suffered from less significant injuries such as his finger, knee and quad but has also suffered from more major injuries such as having surgery on his ankle and now the hip injury. These have all occurred before his 22nd birthday, which is not ideal for a top qb prospect. There is history of qbs being able to come back from major injuries (see Drew Brees’s shoulder) but teams may be cautious about spending a lot of draft capital on what has so far been an injury prone quarterback.
The other knock on Tua is what we call the Bama Factor. Alabama routinely surrounds its QB with top flight talent and Tua was no different. Tua had a supporting cast of 1st round caliber offensive linemen, wide receivers and running backs. What Tua has done is impressive, obviously, but one can ask the question of “how many QBs could put up similar numbers in that offense?” This is a valid question but one that may not be that simple. Although Alabama players seem to benefit from this in college, they succeed at a high clip in the NFL. For example, they put 7 guys in the Pro Bowl this year. While Tua seems to be the type of guy to rise above this viewpoint, teams will no doubt do their due diligence in determining how large of a factor this was to his success.
Now let’s look at the options the Lions have in front of them.
Trade Stafford, Take Tua
2009. The last year the Detroit Lions took a 1st round QB. By selecting Matthew Stafford 1st overall in the 2009 draft, the Lions were committed to finally “fixing” the QB position for good. With all-world arm talent and the stats to back up the talent, the Lions felt like they found the second coming of Peyton Manning. While, statistically speaking, Stafford has been one of the “elite” QBs in the NFL, he has not had the wins to back up the numbers. He routinely wins against lesser opponents during the regular season, with a career record (as of 2019) of 9-54 against teams with a winning record. Stafford has suffered through 11 years of a mismanaged franchise, and at age 31 with 2 years worth of back injuries mounting, the future does not look bright for Stafford in Detroit.
Let’s look at Stafford’s career numbers thus far for the sake of context. In 11 NFL seasons, Stafford has career marks of: a 62.5 completion percentage, 41,025 passing yards, 256 Touchdowns, 134 Interceptions, and an 89.3 career passer rating. The issue has never been Stafford’s talent, but the talent surrounding him. Multiply that with fractured vertebrae in his back the past two seasons and a large contract ($29.5 million in cap hit for the 2019 season, the largest figure in the league) and Stafford’s situation in Detroit is looking eerily similar to Tony Romo’s situation near the end of his career in Dallas. This being said, the Lions need to take advantage of Stafford’s age and contract– which is looking more affordable every season that new QB deals reset the market– and trade him to a contending team so that they can draft Tua Tagovailoa with the 3rd overall pick. This will allow the Lions to clear enough cap space to build out the roster around Tua and take advantage of his cheap rookie contract (in the mold of the LA Rams during their Super Bowl run).
Tua is also a perfect fit for Offensive Coordinator Darell Bevell’s scheme, which was built with Russell Wilson at the helm during his time in Seattle. Bevell has had to adapt his ideal offense around Stafford for the past year, with an obvious need for a more mobile QB that can successfully run fixtures of that offense, such as the RPO (Run-Pass Option) that QBs like Wilson run to great success in their offenses.
So let’s assume for the sake of argument that Stafford is traded in March prior to Free Agency (so that the Lions have as much cap space as possible), what are some realistic trade partners for Detroit, and what can we expect them to receive in return for QB Matthew Stafford? The ideal trade partner for Detroit will be a contender with some cap space to give, or teams who believe they just need a QB to put them over-the-top. Fitting those requirements, we have narrowed potential trade partners for the Lions down to the following:
- Dallas Cowboys
- Indianapolis Colts
- Los Angeles Chargers
- New England Patriots
- Oakland Raiders
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Carolina Panthers
Let’s examine how each of these teams could potentially be the perfect fit for QB Matthew Stafford going forward.
This would be the ideal landing spot for Stafford, as it would be a homecoming for Matthew Stafford, who is a Dallas, TX native. Jerry Jones has often been known to make the big moves, with a love for superstars with generational talent. Dallas has an all-world offensive line, a top 5 running back in Ezekiel Elliot, a defense that can hold its own when properly coached, and a bonafide #1 and #2 receiver Amari Cooper (assuming he resigns) and Michael Gallup. While this roster still has its holes, it would immediately become one of the most dangerous offenses in the league with the seam-stretching Stafford manning the gun. You may be wondering, “How can this work? The Cowboys already have Dak.” Well, curious reader, this article is assuming that new Head Coach Mike McCarthy opts not to resign or franchise tag QB Dak Prescott, allowing him to head to free agency. McCarthy got a first-hand look at Stafford’s talent during his tenure as the Green Bay Packers Head Coach, and has thus far been non-committal to Prescott as the starting QB going into next year.
Detroit Sends: Matthew Stafford, 2020 5th round pick
Dallas Sends: 2020 first round pick (#15 overall), 2021 first round pick. 2021 5th round pick.
The Colts have a lengthy history of elite franchise QBs. They have an above-average run game headed by Marlon Mack and an all-world offensive line anchored by All-Pro Guard Quenton Nelson, as well as an established #1 receiver in TY Hilton and a solid defense that can put the team in favorable winning positions more often than not. With the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck the Colts were left with below-average QB play with Jacoby Brissett. The Colts could realistically make a Super Bowl run with the above-average QB play that Matthew Stafford would provide them.
Detroit Sends: Matthew Stafford
Indianapolis Sends: 2020 first round pick (#17 overall), 2020 4th round pick, 2021 1st round pick.
Los Angeles Chargers:
With the anticipated exit of long-time Chargers QB Philip Rivers, the Chargers are left with a team full of talent on both sides of the ball with studs such as Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, Joey Bosa, among others. This talent is built to win-now and simply needs consistent QB play to put them over the top. When your team is in LA you have to put on a show at all costs. Adding a QB like Stafford may be the marketing that the Chargers need to get their fans back.
Detroit Sends: Matthew Stafford, 2021 4th round pick
LA Sends: 2020 1st round pick #7 overall, 2020 5th round pick.
New England Patriots:
After a disappointing wild card exit in the 2020 NFL playoffs, you can bet the Patriots will be looking to make another deep run in 2021. If Tom Brady leaves New England, then they could be prime candidates to trade for QB Matthew Stafford. The trade connection between the Lions/Patriots has been well-established, with the two teams executing multiple trades since GM Bob Quinn arrived in Detroit. McDaniels could adapt any offense to fit Stafford’s skill-set, and the Patriots are always in win-now mode.
Detroit sends: Matthew Stafford
New England sends: 2020 1st round pick (#23 overall), 2020 4th round pick, 2021 2nd round pick, 2021 5th round pick.
With Head Coach Jon Gruden voicing frustrations at times with current QB Derek Carr, it has become more and more likely that he will be looking for a way to move on to a different QB. This roster has holes, but before facing injuries to many starters, the Raiders were looking to be a dark horse playoff team. Gruden often falls in love with QBs that have a rocket arm and Stafford certainly fits that bill. Gruden has a long term contract as well, so he can essentially do whatever he wants so long as GM Mike Mayock signs off on it.
Detroit Sends: Matthew Stafford, 2020 2nd round pick
Oakland Sends: 2020 1st round (#12 overall), 2020 2nd round, 2021 2nd round, 2021 4th round.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Coach Bruce Arians loves to throw the ball, a lot. With Arians being non-committal to Jameis Winston due to his expiring contract and with offensive weapons all along the perimeter in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans, Tampa Bay could be an interesting fit for Stafford. Arians has made deep playoff runs with veteran QBs before (Carson Palmer in Arizona) and is one of the best offensive minds in the game.
Detroit Sends: Matthew Stafford
Tampa Bay Sends: 2020 1st round pick (#14 overall), 2020 2nd round pick, 2021 4th round pick.
With new Head Coach Matt Rhule coming into town, Cam Newton’s future becomes even more unclear. He has voiced his willingness to play for another team, and Newton turns 31 this year and is primarily a running QB (who has experienced injuries that are sapping away his athleticism). Stafford could be a better fit for another roster that is built to win-now with premier offensive weapons such as RB Christian McCaffrey and WR DJ Moore.
Detroit Sends: Matthew Stafford
Carolina Sends: 2020 2nd round pick, 2020 4th round pick, 2021 first round pick.
Keep Stafford, Draft Tua:
Aaron Rodgers behind Brett Favre
Patrick Mahomes behind Alex Smith
These are two examples of NFL teams drafting a QB in the first round, but not starting them until the season or multiple seasons after. In 2005 the Green Bay Packers selected Aaron Rodgers out of the University of California with the 24th pick. Rodgers had the luxury of learning from Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre for three seasons until Rodgers became the full time quarterback in 2008 after Favre departed to the New York Jets during that offseason. Rodgers would lead the Packers to a Superbowl victory in 2010 and has won two MVPs in the process on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
Recently the Kansas City Chiefs shocked many by trading up and drafting Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes with the 10th pick in the 2017 NFL draft. Mahomes would sit behind veteran quarterback Alex Smith for the 2017 season with the exception of starting the season finale to rest Smith and others for the postseason run. He would ultimately struggle in his debut which lead to many people questioning the acquisition of Mahomes. Surprisingly, in 2018 the Chiefs traded Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins just weeks after getting eliminated from the playoffs. This meant that it was Mahomes time to shine in Kansas City and boy did he. Mahomes would go on to win the NFL MVP in 2018, while breaking numerous single season records and throwing for the second most touchdowns (tied with Tom Brady) in a season with 50. Mahomes is on pace to become one of the best quarterbacks of this generation and much of it has to do from the learning experience he gained from Smith.
This now takes us to why the Detroit Lions should not trade Matthew Stafford right after drafting Tua Tagovailoa with the 3rd pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Stafford is an eleven year veteran NFL quarterback who has been the day one starter since being drafted. Stafford is the best quarterback in Detroit Lions history and has re-written the record book for the franchise. With that being said, Stafford is the perfect quarterback for Tua to learn under. With the Lions, Tua will have the opportunity to develop, learn and eventually replace Stafford as the Detroit Lions quarterback of the future.
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