For Matthew Stafford, franchise quarterback isn’t simply a generous title. It’s not a product of his $76.5 million contract or his status as a former No. 1 overall pick, either.
There are few others who embody what it means to be a franchise (read: coddled) quarterback more than the Detroit Lions’ gunslinger. And it’s shown in spades this offseason.
Let’s take it back to January, when Detroit fired head coach Jim Schwartz and hired Jim Caldwell as his successor. Caldwell is a respected offensive mind who’s worked closely with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis and, most recently, Joe Flacco in Baltimore.
Less than a week after his hiring, Caldwell told reporters he’d watched every single throw Stafford made in 2013, when he completed just 58.5 percent of the 634 passes he attempted. They needed a coach and got one. He’s viewed some tape.
No big deal, right?
A few days later, Detroit tabbed Joe Lombardi, former Saints quarterbacks coach, as offensive coordinator, “chiefly” to help correct Stafford’s mechanical passing issues. Then, a few days later, Jim Bob Cooter was brought on as the quarterbacks coach. Cooter spent last season in Denver, working with that Peyton Manning guy.
During last season, Stafford was adamant against working with a quarterback tutor, saying “it’s not my thing.” Too bad, Matthew. Even with the game’s best receiver at your disposal, you threw 29 touchdowns compared to 19 interceptions — five of which came in the final four regular season games, all losses.
If those off-field upgrades weren’t enough, Lions brass did Stafford a major solid in free agency, inking former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate to a five-year, $31 million deal. Paired with Calvin Johnson, Tate gives Stafford a more than respectable one-two punch at the position.
With big money spent on the offense — again — the Lions turned their attention to the NFL draft. They badly needed secondary help. They could have used some reinforcements for a defensive line that’s an injury away from becoming a liability. An outside linebacker or two would have been nice.
Did they go with any of those options in the first-round? Nope, nope, and nope.
“With the tenth pick in the 2014 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions select Eric Ebron, tight end, North Carolina,” Hall of Famer Barry Sanders announced at the podium in Radio City Music Hall.
To recap, in a span of four months, the Lions assembled a brand new, offense-centric coaching staff, dropped millions on one of free agency’s premier wideouts, and spent their first-rounder on college football’s top tight end.
Johnson and Tate at receiver. Ebron and Joseph Fauria, a forgotten but talented player, at tight end. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell forming a fear-inducing thunder and lightning rushing attack.
Life’s good as a franchise quarterback, isn’t it?
Stafford prepares for his sixth season under center with more job security than on the day he was drafted. But, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility.
Can he improve the fundamentals of his game? Can he prove last season’s disappointing finish was merely an aberration? He’s getting paid like an elite quarterback, but can he consistently perform like one?
These are all questions, among others, that Stafford must answer in 2014. Considering the talent level around him, he’s already out of excuses. Now he’s running out of time.