Broncos’ approach to Matthew Stafford was best for team (and KC Chiefs)

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 03: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions drops back to pass during the third quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on January 03, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. Minnesota defeated Detroit 37-35. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 03: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions drops back to pass during the third quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on January 03, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. Minnesota defeated Detroit 37-35. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Denver Broncos likely could have upped their offer. Instead, their new general manager, George Paton, stood his ground. In the end, another team won the sweepstakes for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

On Saturday, the Lions decided among the “several” offers they’d received for Stafford in the previous couple weeks and chose the L.A. Rams deal, which included taking Jared Goff’s expensive contract in exchange for multiple first-round picks and more. Analysts applauded the Lions’ haul in the deal, a good return for a team trying to turn the corner after years of mediocrity. It’s a good thing for the Broncos that they didn’t overreach for Stafford.

It’s also a good thing for the rest of the AFC West.

The Broncos’ inability to trade for Matthew Stafford is good for both Denver and the Chiefs.

For the Broncos, reporter Mike Klis noted after the trade that Denver had a competitive offer but Paton’s commitment to his young offensive core, including quarterback Drew Lock, didn’t allow for him to deal away so much talent.

This was the right move for the Broncos. You can’t invest a second-round pick in a potential future franchise face like Drew Lock and give him one late-season run and one full yet injury-plagued season. Bringing Stafford would have apparently cost the Broncos Lock plus that pick and maybe more—perhaps the Lions were asking for another offensive weapon.

Lock’s primary pass catchers are as green as he is, which means Paton was right to allow this young offensive core—which includes wide receivers Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler as well as tight end Noah Fant—time to grow together. It should also be noted that the backfield also boasts Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon. The Broncos were excited to see the potential fruit from their investment only 12 months ago, but reaping what one has sown takes time, and the Broncos need to give it another year.

This is especially in true in light of a season in which so many key players were lost for the entire season. Von Miller is one of the NFL’s single most effective pass rushers, and he never played a single down. Sutton is the Broncos’ most reliable target, and he was also lost for the year. Imagine the Chiefs having lost Travis Kelce and Tyrann Mathieu for the entire season and you get an idea of the injury picture for Denver. There were others lost, too, of course, but every team suffers such losses and it’s important to keep all things in perspective.

It”s also good for the rest of the West

But there’s a flip side here for the Broncos. Based on the evidence presented so far, there’s very little reason to believe that Lock is the answer going forward. If you employ him, there’s every reason to hold out hope that he is the answer. After all, mortgaging the future on an upgrade, such as Stafford, also fails to address significant other needs on the Broncos roster. If they were playoff bound save for their quarterback concerns, that’d be one thing, but the question marks are simply too many on both sides to Paton to push his chips into the middle of the table.

But back to Lock’s unimpressive resume. Plenty of great or even good quarterbacks have suffered on poor teams and still showed themselves to be the right guy. Deshaun Watson won a handful of games this season in Houston, but there’s little doubt the Texans have a franchise quarterback—at least until they trade him. Even Stafford warranted a nice return despite having played for over a decade for one of the NFL’s most miserable franchises.

Last season, Lock won as many games in 13 starts as he did in 5 starts the previous season. He threw 16 touchdowns and a league-leading 15 interceptions, and his completion percentage dropped by seven points, from 64 to 57 percent in year one to year two. His passer rating was a miserable 75.4, good for No. 32 in the NFL and just above that of Dwayne Haskins, who was released by the Washington Football Team earlier this season despite being their first-round pick just two years ago.

Lest there be any doubt about the importance of quarterback play—and the supremacy of it above all it—just look at this year’s competitors in the Super Bowl. While the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are both talented teams on both sides of the ball, the matchup of the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady vs. the NFL’s current best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes makes it clear that a team will only go as far as their signal caller will take them.

Lock’s misery vs. Chiefs

That’s not good news for the Broncos in 2021—at least if Lock remains their best option. Then again, they likely have no choice. That is good news for the Chiefs and everyone else in the AFC West, however. While the Broncos have to cross their fingers and hope their young offensive core can make the leap in 2021, the rest of their AFC West rivals get to provide the obstacles to prevent that from happening. The Chiefs once again swept the Broncos in their season series and doubled the Broncos overall scoring output in the matchups, 65-32.

In three career games against Kansas City, Lock has completed only 53 percent of his passes with 2 touchdowns compared to 5 interceptions. He averages a mere 203 passing yards per game. With his 1 fumble, he averages 2 turnovers per game and almost 2 sacks per game as well, and it all computes to a miserable 56.6 passer rating.

The Broncos were right to hold back from raising their bid at the table for Stafford. It was too much for a team that wasn’t ready for that single upgrade to take them to the next level. Patience is the right approach given the predicament that the franchise is currently in. However, while the Broncos are waiting and hoping for change, the Chiefs and their fellow rivals are likely going to enjoy providing the growth curve for Lock in year three. It was the right move for all involved, at least for now. Only time will tell whether or not it was best in the long run.

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