Free agency? Draft? Lions will weigh their options for Matthew Stafford backup
Allen Park — With a win-now or move-on mandate for Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn in 2020, he faces a logical conundrum: How do you maintain the proper balance between the urgency of improving the roster short-term to maintain employment, while keeping the long-term health of the roster in mind?
Quinn insists, despite ownership demands, he won't alter his roster construction methodology.
"When I took this job in 2016, my vision was as a general manager you always have to have your lens on the short-term and the long-term, and that’s not going to change," Quinn said. "That is not going to change for me. Obviously, we need to win next year. I understand that. But when you’re trying to build the organization, you’re trying to create a lasting ability to win. You have to make decisions that are prudent for short-term and long-term. It has to be a combination of both."
Quinn realizes that going all-out to salvage his job for another year could easily sabotage any opportunity to continue in his role beyond next season.
"If you go after it one year, you might go 8-8 and not do anything or 9-7, and then the next year you have nothing," he said.
One of the big tests for the depth of Quinn's vision this offseason will be how he addresses the quarterback position.
The team remains committed to Matthew Stafford as the starter, despite a season-ending back injury that kept him sidelined the final eight games. Echoing the quarterback's own confidence about his long-term health, Quinn said there's an organizational anticipation that Stafford will be good to go for next season.
"In just talking to all the doctors, trainers and Matthew himself that he is going to be good to go for the offseason program," Quinn said. "So no issues there.”
But after installing a revolving door at the backup position in 2019, with nearly a dozen options coming through the door during the course of the year, and the two options who started in place of Stafford — Jeff Driskel and David Blough — combining to lose eight straight to end the season, Quinn was asked if he'd consider investing more in the position, whether via free agency or the draft.
Multiple teams around the league paid their veteran backups north of $5 million last season, including the New Orleans Saints, who got a return on their investment when Teddy Bridgewater stepped in for an injured Drew Brees and carried the team to a 5-0 record.
Quinn noted that could be a consideration, but also hedged by acknowledging how much cap space the the team already had tied up in Stafford.
"Sometimes when you have a higher-priced starter, it is a little bit more difficult to do," Quinn said. "If you have a quarterback under his rookie contract, it’s a little bit easier financially to do that. But that’s something we’ll look at and evaluate this offseason for sure.”
The other option the Lions have, which puts the short- and long-term vision of the franchise in focus, is the possibility of drafting a potential heir to the 32-year-old Stafford in the first round of the draft.
Holding the No. 3 pick come April, Quinn could have the opportunity to draft Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and groom him as the franchise's future, much like Baltimore and Kansas City did with Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes.
Even though that seems counter to landing an impact player the Lions need to win immediately, Quinn insists drafting a quarterback remains a possibility.
"Obviously, with where we’re drafting, we’re going to have to pay attention to everybody," Quinn said. "I think previously when we were drafting in the teens and 20s, you can really not spend a lot of time on the top seven or eight (prospects) because with what it would cost to get up there. you would really never do it. I think this year, with where we’re drafting, we’re going to have to take a closer look at everything and just know really from A to Z, 1 to 250 the draft, rather than not focusing on just the guys we’re going to be picking, quarterbacks included.”
Whether the Lions alter their approach or go back to banking on Stafford's durability remains to be seen. Quinn did ultimately offer a defense of this year's setup, particularly when it came to Driskel, who started three games before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury.
"I would say that he probably played good enough to win two out of those three," Quinn said. "We didn’t win those games and that was probably a byproduct of the defense not having a great day or special teams not having a great day. Jeff went in there and I thought played at a decent level to help us win the game."
Driskel completed 59.0 percent of his passes in those three games for 685 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. He's scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.