With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the Detroit Lions.
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Matthew Stafford: $26.5 million
Jake Rudock (exclusive rights free agent who should return): $705,000
Alek Torgersen: $480,000
Pending free agents: None other than Rudock, who is expected to return when tenders can be offered.
Key stat: Stafford will have a new head coach but not a new offensive coordinator, which is key. He’s coming off one of his better overall seasons, with a 65.7 completion percentage, 4,446 yards, 29 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a career-best 99.3 passer rating. He has improved every year that Jim Bob Cooter has been on staff.
Money matters: In August, the Lions made Stafford the highest-paid player in the NFL (since eclipsed by Jimmy Garoppolo and soon to be by others). That was needed to lock up the best quarterback Detroit has had in at least a half-century, and it gave the franchise stability at one of the most important positions in the game.
Big picture: The “picture” really starts and ends with Stafford. He isn't going anywhere, and the Lions have synced up the contracts of Stafford, head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn to end at the same time -- 2022 -- with significant investment in each. This is the present and future of the Lions on offense. If Stafford continues to play at the level he has -- or better -- it’ll end up being a worthwhile investment. By having Stafford locked up, Quinn can work on building the team around him (starting with a running game that works) to help Detroit reach the consistency it has been trying to find for decades.
The game plan: Build around Stafford. This position is locked. Detroit’s game plan will be to find better protection and a run game with which to surround him. The backup situation is pretty clear, too, with Rudock returning for his third year. The only intrigue would be if a team were interested in Rudock, who has shown potential, in a trade situation. If that happens -- and depending when -- it would signal whether the Lions would bring in a free agent or try to draft a quarterback. It’s possible Detroit takes a quarterback late in this draft if one seems appealing, as Brad Kaaya did last season, but it is not a pressing offseason need.