The best player on the last Lions title team was Joe Schmidt. Does that make him the greatest Lion of all time? Here’s our countdown of the franchise’s 10 greatest players. Video by Kirkland Crawford/DFP
Jamie Samuelsen, co-host of the “Jamie and Stoney” show at 6 a.m. weekdays on WXYT-FM (97.1), blogs for freep.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Detroit Free Press nor its writers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jamiesamuelsen.
Is the Matthew Stafford criticism overblown, or is he getting the heat he deserves?
Matthew Stafford is the best quarterback the Detroit Lions have ever had.
To this day, I don’t know whether or not that’s a compliment or a criticism. It’s a fact. And it’s a fact Stafford supporters and detractors love using to praise or attack the Lions quarterback.
I’ve long supported Stafford and long believed he is not high on the list of Lions issues.
At various times during his tenure, they lacked a pass rush. They lacked a running game. They lacked a good draft record. They lacked a secondary.
They didn’t lack a quarterback though. Stafford could make all the throws. He could rally the team from a deficit, no matter how large. And he could put up gaudy numbers with the best of them.
So I say this as a long time Stafford supporter and as someone who long believed that there were so many other places to start when criticizing this team: He has to be better. Isn’t it that simple?
For all the hand wringing about being elite and making millions of dollars and signing the biggest contract in the game in 2017, Stafford has to be better. He has to play well enough so there isn’t a debate. He has to play well enough so people can’t point to his record against teams with winning records. He has to play well enough so people don’t entertain the absurd possibility that the Lions will trade him in the offseason and cripple themselves financially as GM Bob Quinn enters a pivotal fourth season at the helm of this franchise.
Some will say it’s up to Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia to put Stafford in a situation where he can play better, to surround him with better talent.
To that I say: Stafford is 10 years in. He has been in virtually every single situation there is. He had Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson. He had good blocking tight ends (Brandon Pettigrew) and more talented tight ends (Eric Ebron). He has had some bad offensive lines and some good offensive lines. And now, at long last, he appears to have a running game.
For years, Lions fans have bemoaned the “one constant” that has kept them from being a true contender. And that one constant was always the Ford Family’s ownership of the team. Perhaps, the one constant should now refer to Stafford because other than long snapper Don Muhlbach, he’s the only player that has been here this entire decade. A decade during which the Lions have failed to win their division and failed to win a playoff game.
Former Lion Ndamukong Suh had some unpleasantries directed at Stafford over the past week and past few months. By omitting him from the list of quarterbacks he has enjoyed playing with, Suh raised eyebrows.
Then when he shoved Stafford to the turf late in the Rams 30-16 win Sunday, Suh said the hit was “a long time coming.” I have no idea what the genesis of that quote is and I certainly don’t give Suh the benefit of the doubt when taking the high road in a dispute. But I thought it was a notable entry in the annals of the “It’s not Stafford’s fault” defense. Stafford, Suh and Johnson are without question the three most talented players that have been on this roster over the past 10 years, and when one holds seeming ill will towards another, it should be noted.
This is not a take down of Stafford. He still represents to me the Lions best chance to get this right sooner rather than later. The notion Stafford “can’t” win a playoff game is ridiculous. He hasn’t won one yet. But when you tell me Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota and Brock Osweiler have all won playoff games, pardon me if I think it’s possible for Stafford to win one. To do so, he has to be better.
As all offseasons are, this is going to be a fascinating one for the Lions. Some valuable veterans will likely retire. The Lions will most likely let some significant free agents move on, like Ziggy Ansah. Quinn can’t play the “rebuild” card just because Patricia is entering his second year. As the Bears, Seahawks and Colts are showing us this season, it shouldn’t take more than a few years to turn things around.
Like with most teams, it will start with the quarterback. No more excuses. No more looking for other reasons that the offense isn’t succeeding. We live in a salary cap world. And for the players under contract for 2019, Stafford is scheduled to count against the cap $14.1 million MORE than the second highest paid player on the roster (Darius Slay). It’s kind of hard to point the finger elsewhere when there’s that much of a disparity (Stafford has a cap number of $29.5 million in 2019.)
Stafford figures to have a new offensive coordinator which could help. He should have a healthy Kerryon Johnson which should help. But all of this is predicated on Stafford making the right throws and the accurate throws, and making his receivers better.
I don’t believe the book is fully written on Stafford. But a lot of the chapters are done and his editor is ready to publish — soon. So he better start finishing things up.
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