Mike Florio: Lions Could Look For Successor To 'Reluctant Leader' Stafford In Upcoming Draft

With Quinn and Patricia overhauling the roster, time could be running out on No. 9.

The Valenti Show
November 30, 2018 - 4:31 pm

© Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Categories: 

In the growing chorus of national critics starting to question Matthew Stafford, the latest is longtime NFL analyst Mike Florio. In Florio's mind, time is running out on Stafford to prove he can take the Lions to the next level. One more season of middling numbers and losing football could spell the end for him in Detroit. 

"I think next year is going to be the prove-it year for him. If we don’t see improved performance, that’s when I think the Lions are going to start looking around," Florio told the Valenti Show on 97.1 The Ticket. 

Stafford is without a playoff win through nine NFL seasons, a fact that's not going to change in year 10. The Lions are in last place in the NFL North, and their franchise QB bears a good deal of the blame. His passer rating is the lowest it's been since 2014 and he's on pace for his most interceptions since 2013. The improvements he made over the last thee years are fading from his game. 

With Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia starting to reshape the roster, ostensibly in the mold of the Patriots, Stafford could soon find himself under legitimate pressure to perform -- or else. 

"Who knows, it was year two for Bill Belichick in New England when Drew Bledsoe gets injured and the sixth-round guy they drafted in 2000 ends up stepping in and stepping up," Florio said. "Not that there’s going to be a Tom Brady floating around, but I'd keep a close eye on what happens in the draft next year. Fourth round, fifth round, sixth round, seventh round, quarterback comes in and maybe that’s a guy they start trying to coach up quietly behind the scenes to be the successor to Mathew Stafford.

"I’m not saying it’s going to happen, I just think based upon Patricia's DNA and what we've seen out of Stafford over the course of his career, it wouldn’t be a shock."

It was just a year ago that Stafford was being praised for his growth under Jim Bob Cooter, namely cutting down his turnover rate. He was one of only five quarterbacks to throw at least 85 touchdowns and fewer than 35 interceptions from 2015-2017. The others on the list go by the names of Brady, Brees, Rodgers and Wilson. But Stafford has regressed this season while Cooter's offense has hit a wall, and there's a strong feeling he's already peaked. 

As far as Stafford's leadership goes, Florio has long been skeptical. He recalls a moment from the 2013 season when Reggie Bush called for a players-only meeting amid a two-game skid and Stafford called it off

"That's when I really started to wonder, is this guy the full package from a leadership standpoint or is he just a great passer who doesn’t otherwise have that desire to take a team over? I’ve always viewed him as kind of that reluctant leader," Florio said. 

It's a misgiving that echoes that of Boomer Esiason, who earlier this season questioned Stafford's fire and called him a "locker room lawyer." Rich Gannon piled on shortly thereafter, deeming Stafford an "overpaid stat king." Stafford has long been given a pass for the Lions' shortcomings because the team has rarely given him help, but it seems public opinion is starting to turn. 

Florio isn't sure Stafford can handle a different approach under Patricia. 

"I think now that you've got a coach there who has spent his entire career in New England, 15 years with Tom Brady, I just feel like maybe they’re pushing Matthew Stafford in ways he's not comfortable with, maybe they’re coaching him in ways he’s not comfortable with. I think maybe in the past he was used to going out there and just playing backyard football, now maybe he’s being a little more micromanaged, and I think that’s showing up," Florio said. "The numbers are middle of the pack at best." 

It's interesting. Another national NFL analyst, Chris Simms, made the same observation when discussing Stafford on this week's episode of the Always Aggravated podcast

"I do think the culture change is a real thing, and I think he’s probably in culture shock right now," Simms said.

To Simms, it's like Stafford spent the first nine years of his career playing streetball, "and now he’s gotten with Matt Patricia and they’re going Hoosiers style, ‘We want five passes before you ever even take a shot.’ My analogy there is, he’s being made to play a game that he’s never had to play.

"It’s always been, ‘Hey, get in the shotgun and throw it all around, we need you to save the day and make amazing plays or we can’t win the game.’ Now he’s having a guy saying, ‘We want to run on first, run on second and then on third down we’d like you to get the first down, but be careful, we don’t want you to turn the ball over.' He’s adding all these situational football thoughts to his brain." 

Unlike other critics, though, Simms still​ gives Stafford the benefit of the doubt. 

"I understand the frustrations with Matthew Stafford, but I'd also say you’ve had no-names on your defense throughout his career other than (Ndamukong) Suh and you’ve had no-names on your offense other than Calvin Johnson. It’s a team sport, and when there’s not great coaching or great players around you, No. 12 in Green Bay is the only guy I’ve seen in my lifetime who can overcome those type of things. And thats not fair to put anybody in his class, Simms said.