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Lions' Dan Campbell: Too early to talk Matthew Stafford's future, but QB is a 'stud'

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

The Detroit Lions hold the No. 7 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, and in his first day on the job, new head coach Dan Campbell laid out his plans for using that pick to replace longtime franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford.

“You let (the new quarterback) go, and you let them win, until they can’t. And then if they can’t, they sit behind a veteran who can,” Campbell said.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will be 33 years old next season.

He immediately followed up: “That was a joke.”

Even for a man who’d already described — in great detail — his plans to figuratively destroy the kneecaps of all Lions opponents in 2021 and beyond, announcing the intention to rid Detroit of its franchise cornerstone would have been quite a dramatic step.

“Listen, I’m open to anything right now,” Campbell said. “There’s a million avenues you can go with the QB talk, this is just too early right now to talk about that. Literally, this is my second day in Detroit, and yesterday, I was on the phone all day.”

Frankly, moving on from Stafford in the first year of this new regime has seemed more unlikely as each press conference passed this week, despite nobody actually saying much about the topic. 

Neither man would commit to the idea of a "rebuild" — Holmes used the word “retooling” Tuesday. And then there’s the fact Holmes classified his ideal football players as “high-intangible” guys, and Campbell said his top priority for Lions is to “take on the identity” of Detroit. 

Removing Stafford from the locker room would be counterproductive to both missions. 

“Here’s what I would say about Matthew,” Campbell said. “He’s a stud. He’s a stud, he is one of the toughest quarterbacks you’ll ever see, he’s extremely talented, I know he’s a team guy, and listen: I know he wants to win. So I’ll leave it at that. That’s what I do know.”

When talking about establishing a culture, Campbell said, “It starts with people. It starts with the right people.” Those people, Campbell added, don’t have egos, are hard-working, “and want to be everything you represent.”

It’s hard to imagine anybody on the current Lions roster who fills that order more than No. 9.  And lastly, there’s the fact when describing the power structure he saw in New Orleans, he referenced another No. 9 — future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees. 

“(The Saints) always find a way to make it work … and listen, they had some damn good players, too,” Campbell said. “I mean, Drew Brees is freaking as classy as they get. He’s unbelievable, man, and that team took on that identity.”

None of this is to say that trading Stafford, 32, is off the table by any means. 

The Lions are coming off a third straight losing season, their talent pool on both sides of the ball has weakened tremendously in that span, and new faces at head coach and GM typically bring about sweeping changes. 

That’s on top of the fact that Stafford is on the back side of his career, has dealt with injuries on the tail end of his last three seasons, and, fair or not, has not won a playoff game in his 12-year NFL career.

Acquiring draft capital would help Holmes and Campbell get a jump on changing the direction of the franchise. Given Holmes’ statements about wanting to build through the draft, one could even argue that it might be a top priority for the new regime. 

Plus, if trading Stafford is an option they’ll explore, then they arrived at the perfect time — besides the whole global pandemic part, which figures to keep the salary cap from rising over the next few seasons. The Lions could save $14 million of Stafford’s $33 million cap hit in 2021 by trading him, whereas in years past, the dead money would have been too high to stomach.

But is it worth the price of losing a constant, in a place where the only constant over the last 60 years has been failure and dismayed departure? Especially when Campbell told DetroitLions.com that the roster isn’t “as far away as some may think it is”?

That remains to be seen. But even though some might roll their eyes at the statement, quick turnarounds do happen in the NFL — just not in Detroit, recently. 

“There’s some pieces here that I’m really fired up about,” Campbell said. “There’s always an ability to hit on a good draft and sign (the right) free agents … and listen, some things can happen.”

With a reported six-year deal, Campbell has been granted the courtesy of taking the short-and long-term future into consideration. And hey, maybe both he and Holmes can clearly see the benefits of trading Stafford — there are some, objectively.

But on Day 1 of the Dan Campbell regime, one cannot say that finding a new place for Matthew Stafford to play football appears to be near the top of his to-do list.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.