Sunday, July 18, 2010

Whadd'ya Mean, No Quarterback Controversy?

For the past few weeks at the Detroit Free Press, I've been noticing some reader columns that the paper has decided to publish (running short of actual columnists?). I don't know if they're doing this for the other major sports teams, since I don't follow too closely the Red Wings, Tigers, or Pistons.

But this latest article by a reader, Greg Eno, has got me to thinking, is there really no Quarterback controversy with the Detroit Lions? Eno insists like many others in print and radio that for once, the Lions are settled on the hardest position to play in Detroit sports (sorry Red Wings' goalies).

There's an old saying that the most popular athlete on the team is the backup QB. The Lions haven't had a regular standard bearer since Bobby Layne, that is true. And I kind of agree to some extent Eno's point about QBs not having enough gas left in the tank after fighting off an internal challenge (it's just that QB competitions are supposed to MAKE all your QBs better). After all, the constant looking over your shoulder could lead to distractions which will eventually lead to you making your way to the bench.

Nonetheless, I don't think it's true the Lions have no QB controversy. Matthew Stafford is the undisputed future of the team. But he's the undisputed future for this year. He has four years to show whether or not he can be "The Guy." Stafford is expected to make a serious leap this year.

At this point in Stafford's career, it is simply too early to tell how far he'll go. At this time in 2003, Joey Harrington was the future of the team. There was no controversy. It wasn't until 2005 when the Lions brought in Jeff Garcia to challenge Harrington. Harrington won the competition in training camp, but was eventually replaced by Garcia after five games. Garcia was clearly the inferior of the two, as his poor play hurt the Lions more than Harrington.

Same could be said for Charlie Batch in 1999. Or how about Chuck Long in 1987. Actually, I can't go back that far, since I wasn't following the team much when I was 7.

Rookie seasons cannot stand alone as an indicator of how far a QB will go in his career. Ben Roethlisberger and Chris Ryan are the anomalies. Rick Mirer outperformed Drew Bledsoe in 1993. But Mirer never got any better while Bledsoe flourished. Joe Flacco led his team the AFC Title game his rookie year, but seemingly took a step back last year. Mark Sanchez repeated Flacco's success taking the New York Jets to one game (or one half) of the Super Bowl. No one knows where the Jets will go this year with the attention on them.

Everyone knows Stafford had next to nothing to work with. This year, the Lions have brought in Nate Burleson, Jahvid Best, Tony Scheffler, and Rob Sims. All are expected to contribute significantly to the franchise's turnaround. They are key to Stafford's development. But they don't guarantee Stafford will go from a 13/20 TD-Interception ratio to a 20-15 or even better ratio.

Ultimately it is up to Stafford himself to make that leap forward this year. If he can't, it won't be long before Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz begin to look at their options again. If he doesn't show tangible progress between now and the end of 2011, the Lions are highly probable to either bring in a hot-ticket free agent that will compete/supplant Stafford, or look to the draft in 2012 or 2013. Stafford won't be here after four years if his potential isn't realized; the Lions simply don't have the option to pay a guy $15 million to lead them to a 6-10 record.

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