Matthew Stafford would make sense for the Patriots if:
- You’re certain the 2021 roster is a quality veteran quarterback and some requisite offseason tweaks away from being a playoff team again.
- You’re intrigued by the symmetry of Tom Brady being replaced (after the one-year Cam Newton bridge) by someone who is the modern version of the quarterback Brady replaced 20 years ago.
Let’s dig into that second part first, because I’m curious whether I’m alone here. Doesn’t Stafford, the soon-to-be-33-year-old Lions quarterback who has requested a trade from the only NFL franchise he has ever known, remind you of Drew Bledsoe in so many ways?
Former No. 1 overall pick (Bledsoe in 1993, Stafford in 2009) … breathtaking arm talent … tougher than the Salisbury steak in a Swanson’s dinner … conscientious about being an accountable teammate … not always the most trustworthy decision-maker when the outcome of a big game hangs in the balance …occasionally could author an improbable comeback (Bledsoe won back-to-back games in the last minute in ’98 while playing with a broken finger; Stafford led the Lions to eight 4th quarter comeback in 2016) … a lingering sense , even though both have delivered statistically superb careers, that there should have been more success.
Then there’s the all-important pro-football-reference.com confirmation. Bledsoe played 14 NFL seasons, retiring after the 2006 season with the Cowboys in which he lost his job to some unknown named Tony Romo. He was 34. Stafford just played his age-32 season, and per pro-football-reference’s Similarity Score, the quarterback with the most similar statistical profile to him in pro football history is … well, actually, it’s Romo. But Bledsoe is sixth on that list, and in terms of aesthetics and perception, they couldn’t be much more alike.
There are some differences, but not significant ones. Stafford is more mobile, having run for 1,198 yards in his 12-year career at 3.5 yards per attempt, while Bledsoe, who was what would be described in sophomore biology class as sessile, gained 764 rushing yards in 14 seasons, averaging a robust 2 yards per carry. And Bledsoe’s passing numbers – he’s 17th all-time with 44,611 yards, one spot behind Stafford (45,109) – should carry more weight since he did it in an era in which it was allowed and even encouraged for defensive players to hit quarterbacks.
Bledsoe enjoyed more playoff success – he was 3-3 as a starter, with one Super Bowl trip, as the Patriots quarterback, and deserves a relief win or a save for his performance in the 2001 AFC Championship Game against the Steelers. Stafford has had no playoff success at all, having quarterbacked the Lions to one-and-dones in 2011, ’14 and ’16. But Bledsoe usually had better teams around him. Stafford is the Lions, and as early retirees Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson could tell you, that’s something that wears on a man. It’s probably a credit to Stafford’s character that he didn’t ask out sooner.
Count me as curious to see what he would do playing for Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels. (I suppose it would get awkward encountering Matt Patricia in hallways of 1 Patriot Place.) But that takes us to the other point we addressed at the beginning of this thing: Will the Patriots be good enough with Stafford – and will they have enough surrounding him – to warrant giving up what it would take to acquire him?
The answer as of this moment on January 27, 2021 is a resounding no. The Patriots do feature some appealing young players – J.C. Jackson, Kyle Dugger, Damien Harris, Jakobi Meyers, Michael Onwenu, Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, Sony Michel (he averaged 5.7 yards per carry this year, you know) and a few others. And there is still plenty of we’ve-been-here-before veteran leadership. But there are significant holes all over the roster, and the status of free agents like Lawrence Guy, potential trade candidates (Stephon Gilmore) and 2020 opt-outs (most notably Dont’a Hightower) turn a few more periods into question marks.
Belichick has the money and the impetus to load up in free agency, and there is a particularly talented class of wide receivers. But the Patriots also require a greater influx of young talent on their first contracts on this roster. Trading the No. 15 pick and whatever else it would presumably take to acquire Stafford would seem counterproductive to the long-term … unless Belichick plans on making significant enhancements all over the roster in free agency, believes in more young players currently on this roster than we realize now, and sees Stafford as the piece that would get the Patriots back, after a one-year hiatus no one enjoyed, to playing meaningful games in January again.
Will it happen? I’m skeptical. Stafford will have several appealing options, and if the Patriots have true interest in him, I’m not sure it would be reciprocated. The Colts are a competent quarterback away from being a force. And the Niners would make a lot sense –Kyle Shanahan might be the ideal coach to bring out the best in Stafford.
Watching Stafford go to San Francisco could actually set in motion a chain of events that could lead to an even more fascinating outcome for the Patriots than acquiring him. If he goes to the Bay Area, and the Niners part ways with Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots would miss out on the quarterback so similar to the one Tom Brady replaced way back when. But they could bring back the one drafted to someday replace Brady here, only to be outlasted by him.
No matter how it shakes out, this much is all but certain. The Patriots offseason is going to be much more interesting than the season they just played.
Say, do you think the Packers would really think about trading Aaron Rodgers? …
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