By: Will Burchfield
The age-old defense of Matthew Stafford is that the Lions haven't surrounded him with enough talent. Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw echoed that sentiment on Tuesday, saying he'd have "no problem paying Stafford the money" to keep the quarterback in Detroit.
Stafford's contract expires at the end of next season and it's been rumored he's seeking an extension that would make him the highest-paid QB in the NFL.
"Listen, take these kids and put good people around them," Bradshaw said, via the Free Press. "You've got a hell of a quarterback in Detroit, you've gotta put the pieces around him. You built him an offensive line that's young, (Theo) Riddick gets hurt...(Eric) Ebron drops too many passes...you've gotta put pieces around these kids so they can perform. You can't draft a guy in the first round and then give him nothing."
It'd be a fair opinion, if it were true. But history shows the Lions have invested heavily in Stafford's supporting cast since drafting him first overall in 2009. They chose tight end Brandon Pettigrew later in the first round that year, then selected running back Jahvid Best in the first round the year after. Tackle Riley Reiff came along in the first round two years later, followed by another first-round tight end in Eric Ebron (2014), a first-round guard in Laken Tomlinson (2015) and yet another first-round tackle in Taylor Decker (2016).
Don't forget about second-round wide receivers Titus Young (2011) and Ryan Broyles (2012), and second-round running backs Mikel Leshoure (2011) and Ameer Adbullah (2015). All told, the Lions have spent 10 first- or second-round draft picks on offensive players since adding Stafford to the fold, including each of their past three-first rounders and four of their past five.
That's without mentioning big-money free-agent acquisitions in receivers Golden Tate (2014) and Marvin Jones (2016), and the fact that Stafford played with one of the best wide receivers ever for the first seven years of his career. But heck, while we're here, let's remember that Stafford had both Calvin Johnson and Tate on his wing for two full seasons, including one in which both receivers were selected to the Pro Bowl (2014).
Still, Bradshaw pointed to a dearth of a talent around the Lions' quarterback.
"He needs another wide receiver, I don't like their tight end, they've gotta get a running (back), probably need an offensive lineman. You've gotta have two really good wide receivers."
That's a lot to ask of any team, but especially of the Lions. They signed three receivers last offseason, including the prize of the WR pool in Jones and a future Hall-of-Famer in Anquan Boldin. At running back, they're just two years removed from drafting a three-time 1,000-yard rusher out of Nebraska and, when Abdullah went down in 2016, they brought in a number of different veterans to help fill the void. On the O-line, they've spent three first-round draft picks in the past five years. And Ebron, for all his inconsistencies, remains one of the most talented tight ends in the league.
But the Lions haven't done enough to support their quarterback?
Bradshaw contrasted Stafford's case with that of Dak Prescott, the fourth-rounder out of Mississippi State whose rookie season with the Cowboys culminated in a trip to the Pro-Bowl.
"If you look at the guy in Dallas and ask yourself, 'Man, how did Prescott, play so well?' just look at the pieces around him. And then he had the intangible, he had the poise, he had that savvy, that 'it' factor that great quarterbacks have. He showed that, but he was allowed to show it because he had some good pieces around him, some really good pieces," Bradshaw said.
There's no doubt Prescott stepped into a favorable situation in Dallas, especially in regard to his offensive line. But it could be argued the Lions have done even more to insulate Stafford. Their 10 first- or second-round picks on offense since 2009 trump the Cowboys' six.
Bradshaw drudged up another example in illustrating how the Lions ned to help Stafford.
"I'll tell you what, just go look at New England. How did (Bill) Belichick get (Chris) Hogan and no one else wanted him out of Buffalo? Who's over here doing the scouting? You gotta have people smart enough to understand your needs and then go out and get some players who do their job...But you've gotta have pieces. I don't care who you are, you've gotta have pieces."
First of all, the Lions weren't the only ones who missed out on Hogan. And the receiver is likely a product of his circumstance more than anything else, his ability maximized by a Hall-of-Fame coach and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback. Of course, that's what great quarterbacks do. They bring out the best in those around them.
Second of all, perhaps no team has invested less in its offense in the past eight years than the Patriots. Of their 20 first- or second-round draft picks since 2009, just five have been offensive players, one of whom was a quarterback. But you rarely hear anyone bemoan the lack of talent around Tom Brady.
Care for a couple more comparisons? Matt Ryan, Brady's counterpart in Super Bowl LI and a 2016 MVP favorite, has seen his Falcons spend a total of three first- or second-round draft picks on offensive players since 2009. Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the league, has seen his Packers spend six.
Yes, the Cowboys, Patriots, Falcons and Packers have all had more success in the draft than the Lions. And yes, many of Stafford's aforementioned weapons have been felled by injury. But at some point, it's on the quarterback to make the most out of what he's given. That's where Stafford has fallen short in Detroit, and maybe it's time we start holding him accountable.
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