Even though New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees hasn’t officially retired, it feel enough like a forgone conclusion that inspecting potential options for the future makes sense. With the future of the position uncertain, another veteran quarterback could help the Saints maintain their competitive streak if acquired.
Assuming that both Brees and Ben Roethlisberger retire this offseason, Stafford would then be fourth in career passing yardage amongst active passers next season. Fifth, obviously, if Big Ben does play another year for Pittsburgh.
Going from the guy that’s currently atop that list in Drew Brees to Matt Stafford and his 45,109-yard regular season count would be a huge win for New Orleans. With so many key offensive players still on contract, a defense that was top five across several major categories in 2020, and the ability to retain talent if they choose to this offseason, adding Matthew Stafford is within the Saints’ abilities in both trade compensation and eventual cap space.
Salary Cap Situation
NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill has broken down to a tee the Saints’ cap situation next season and how it can be navigated. The Saints essentially can pick and choose how they’d like to go about the 2021 season. If they want to take the cap hit and bleed the cap, they can. If they want to restructure, extend, and maneuver their way through it, they also can.
In order to add Stafford, they would have to choose the latter. Which would allow them to maintain as many weapons as possible around the quarterback who will be 33 years old by the season’s start.
Currently, the cap hits taken on by a team trading for Stafford are about $20M in 2021 and $23M in 2022. Both are very manageable numbers and New Orleans could add years to the end of his deal and “extend” him if necessary. But even that wouldn’t really be necessary in order to fit him in. The key would be waiting to make the Brees retirement, if declared, official after June 1st. That takes the savings for the Saints from $13.5M all the way up $25M. That, and a possibly restructure to Taysom Hill’s deal would do enough in concert with the several surrounding moves to get New Orleans where they need to be.
Lions Receive: 2021 first-round pick (28th overall), compensatory third-round pick (TBD)
Saints Receive: Matt Stafford
It’s expected, per Adam Schefter, that the Lions would receive at least a first-rounder in exchange for the 12-year NFL veteran. Considering the Saints’ first round selection is a late first, it may take more to sweeten the pot. Assuming the competition isn’t overwhelming, throwing in a third round pick (now that compensatory selections are tradable) would make sense. Though they’d have to wait for the picks to become official, the selection received after Terry Fontenot was hired away to fill the Atlanta Falcons general manager position is a sure thing.
If the competition is a bit more present, which is completely possible, a veteran player may be of interest. Considering former New Orleans assistant head coach Dan Campbell is now in Detroit, perhaps a player he’s familiar with and fond of could be leveraged to top the other offers.
The Case Against the Critiques
The criticisms around Stafford tend to come from his regular season and playoff records. The soon-to-be former Lions signal caller is 70-94-1 in his regular season career while an unfortunate 0-1 in the playoffs. The Stafford-led Lions have only finished with winning records four times since he was drafted first overall in 2009. Two of those seasons were 9-7 (2016 and 2017) and the only double-digit win seasons came in 2011 (10-6) and 2014 (11-5). That 2014 season was also Stafford’s only Pro Bowl year despite throwing for over 5,000 yards 40 touchdowns in 2011. Stiff competition that year...
However, in those seasons Stafford has consistently missed elements of the game that New Orleans has recently thrust into the forefront of their team-building focus. Let’s start with the defenses on the other side, as Saints fans can painfully remember defenses squandering good to great quarterback play.
Matt Stafford’s Defenses in Detroit
|Year||Total Defense||Scoring Defense||Total EPA|
|Year||Total Defense||Scoring Defense||Total EPA|
Asterisks designated missed games due to injury.
Since 2017, New Orleans has fielded neither a defense worse than 17th in total yards nor 14th in points allowed.
The Lions’ 2014 season had almost everything that Detroit needed to field a great team. A top-five defense, steady quarterback play, and two 1,000 yards receivers with Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson. The missing ingredient that year (and several others) was a run game to complement the aggressive passing attack. That team ranked 28th in the NFL in rushing yards.
In the last six seasons, the Lions posted rushing yardage totals that ranked 30th or worst in the NFL. Since 2009, the best they’ve ranked amongst the NFL is 21st. The Saints have produced a top-ten rushing attack in three of the last five seasons. The 2019 season was still a 16th ranked season, five spots better than Detroit’s best over the last decade.
Stafford has also been sacked 385 times since coming into the league. That’s the fifth-most in the 2009-2020 span. In that same amount of time, Drew Brees has been sacked only 281 times, good for only 14th-most on the list. That’s despite Brees playing 15 more games in that time, nearly an entire season more. The Saints offensive line would do a much better job protecting the former Georgia Bulldog.
Not all of Stafford’s sacks come down to the offensive line, though. He does have a propensity to hold on to the ball a little too long. But it seems pretty evident that is not an issue afflicting only this Saints quarterback option. He has shown the ability to get the ball out quickly though, averaging between 2.41 - 2.52 seconds in almost each season since 2011. All except the 2012 season where he averaged a 2.56 second time to throw, per PFF, but was only sacked 29 times, his second-lowest total in season where he played 16 games. This was the one season he had an offensive line that held up despite his usual quick-throw ability.
One might consider the short-fallings of the team around Stafford as the purpose for some of his subpar outings over the course of his career. I think Saints fans know better than just about any other fanbase that wins are not a quarterback stat, rather a team stat.
What Stafford Brings to New Orleans
What Stafford does bring to the Saints for sure are increased arm strength, a player at the age of some of Drew Brees’ peak seasons, and a bit of a clutch gene much like the number nine who’d be his predecessor in this scenario.
Matt Stafford has 8 game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime this season. That’s a record: pic.twitter.com/Z6eRCmua0a— SB Nation (@SBNation) December 11, 2016
Stafford will be 33 years old when the 2021 season begins and arguable the best year’s of Brees’ career in New Orleans were from the ages of 32 (2011) to 37 (2016). Over that six year span Brees threw for four of his five career 5,000 yard passing seasons. In 2014, he was only 48 yards show of a fifth over that span and sixth all-time.
Stafford’s being 33 should not deter Saints fans, considering there are still several good years left as evidenced by not only Brees, but other signals callers around the league.
Lastly, Stafford has 38 career game-winning drives. Going from the second all-time in that stat with Brees (53) to Stafford who is tied for eighth all-time, fourth among active passers once Brees retires, and third if Big Ben does as well.
For Saints fans, Stafford should be viewed as not only a possible option, but an advantageous one. If Brees does retire this offseason as expected, the Saints will only have Taysom HIll on the roster unless they are able to re-sign Jameis Winston. Until then, all options are on the table. Including a veteran quarterback with a big arm, fantastic finishes, and whose career has been stifled by a lack of talent around him. Something the New Orleans Saints would be able to alleviate.
How would you feel about the Saints moving for Matt Stafford this offseason? Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints.