Why? Because Matthew Stafford isn't worth it. Period. Zero chance. The Lions would have been better off packaging their first overall pick and their No. 20 pick for Jay Cutler, getting a proven NFL starter. Detroit is going to eat up Matthew Stafford and spit him out as quickly as Obama kicked GM's Rick Wagoner to the curb.
Why? Because Stafford is the preternaturally gifted kid from your fifth-grade baseball team. He'll hit a soaring homerun, jog back into the dugout, have more fun building a sandcastle out of the infield dirt while your team bats, and then confuse whether the New York Yankees are in the American or the National League. He's the kid who isn't consumed by the sport, he's just good at it.
In other words, Stafford is a lot like you and me. That speaks well for his ability to fit in at Thirsty Thursdays in minor league baseball parks, or for his ability to inspire other kids from his Dallas-area high school to apply to Georgia because it's a fun school (hundreds of kids have followed Stafford to Georgia), not so well when it comes to playing quarterback in the NFL. In order to be truly great at something, you have to fully commit your heart and soul to the endeavor. Most of us can't or won't do that; we aren't willing to put in the work, sacrifice everything to excel at one particular thing.
Neither is Stafford.
Even without $41.7 million guaranteed, I think he'd be a mediocre NFL quarterback. Why? Because of this highly complicated ClayNation Theory of Quarterbacking: In order to be a truly great NFL quarterback you have to lie awake after a loss staring at the ceiling thinking over and over, "I can't believe we lost to the Arizona Cardinals." Losing has to consume you, make your life miserable. You have to have zero perspective in your life, your guaranteed money, your massive mansion and fleet of cars, your ample contingent of willing women, none of it can act as a cushion to football defeat. Nope. There has to be nothing more important in your life than winning a football game.
I'm convinced this single factor is more important in distinguishing NFL success among drafted quarterbacks than any other. Crack the code that adequately quantified this number, and you'd help to explain why overall No. 1 quarterback picks either lead their teams to Super Bowls or bomb out so consistently. There's virtually no middle ground, utter success or abject failure.
I've watched Stafford play in person nine times over the past three seasons, against blood-rivals like Florida and Tennessee and lesser games like Vandy and Kentucky. Despite outsized talent, Stafford has found a way to become the first Georgia quarterback in a decade to lose to the Wildcats. After three years, his biggest win was beating an overmatched Hawaii team in the Sugar Bowl. Stafford has been consistent in those games, absurdly talented but quick to miss on short passes to open receivers, able to make throws that no other college quarterback can make, but seems unwilling or unable to be an NFL field general and consistently make the right decision. He doesn't concentrate that well, hasn't mastered the intricacies of the game. That's not because he can't, it's because he doesn't love the thousands of infinite details that conspire to make someone a success or failure at the most difficult position in all of professional sports.
Jason DeCrow, AP
Paul Jasienski, Getty Images
Doug Benc, Getty Images
Paul Jasienski, Getty Images
Mark J. Terrill, AP
Sportschrome / Getty Images
Matt Cilley, AP
Paul Jasienski, Getty Images
Jim Rogash, WireImage
Tony Gutierrez, AP
Put simply, Stafford isn't consumed by football. He enjoys playing the game, but it's not his life. That can work fine in college, where with limited practice hours and Stafford's extreme talent, that's all you need to succeed. But it's not going to work in the NFL, not in a league where being consumed by a passion for detail dictates your success. And that doesn't even consider where he's going to play, to Detroit, an NFL graveyard, the only franchise in America that manages to consistently fail in a league predicated on the mutuality of success.
My wife's family is from Michigan, I know why Detroit Lions fans are angry. I really do. Last Thanksgiving I went to a football game that doubled as an awful dinner party starring a couple that should get divorced only they won't. Time after time, Lions fans bad-mouthed their team, tore apart their effort, longed for the days when Barry Sanders and Wayne Fontes(!) patrolled the sideline. This isn't a fan base that's long on empathy and willing to grow with a young quarterback. This is a fan base that wants to win now. Immediately. Full of fans who watch football games like you and I watched Nightmare on Elm Street movies when we were too young to be watching the movies, with our hands in front of our faces, peeking through our fingers. And it's the worst possible situation to throw a quarterback like Stafford into.
Every bad throw that Stafford makes, and he'll make a ton, isn't just a young quarterback learning to succeed, it's the latest evidence that the boneheaded Lions have made another bad decision. For three or four games Lions fans will accept anything then they're going to turn on Stafford, suffocate him with their cloud of negativity. Eventually the culture of losing is going to become stifling, overwhelming for someone who plays the game because it comes easily to him and because it's fun. That's not good enough in Detroit. Stafford isn't just the golden-armed quarterback from the South, he's the latest antidote to Detroit Lions football suffering.
Only he isn't the answer. Not hardly.
And eventually, Detroit is going to turn on him. In blue-collar towns, they value work, hard, stifling, manual labor, the kind of work that makes you too tired to get up off the couch at the end of the day. Stafford, a guy who has never taken a snap in the NFL, just signed the most lucrative contract in league history. He got more guaranteed money than the Redskins gave Albert Haynesworth, the highest paid defensive player in the history of the league. Putting the most overpaid rookie in league history in the most-crippled city in America during the worst economic climate since the 1930s is a recipe for disaster. His contract will become an albatross, something that he can't escape.
Stafford's set for life, he's a happy-go lucky guy who gets to play a game for a living, but Detroit is screwed. So what else is new?
Matthew Stafford's days of building sandcastles in Athens dugouts are over. I just don't think he realizes it yet.