It’s been a month-and-a-half since Matthew Stafford last played football for the Lions, there are only two games remaining on the schedule, and the Lions are 3-10-1. So, it should come as no surprise to hear that Stafford won’t be making his return in 2019. On Tuesday, the Lions finally made it official by placing Stafford on injured reserve, thus ending his season.

Stafford hasn’t played since Week 9 due to a back injury. Before he went down with that injury, he was playing at an MVP level with career bests (not including his three-game season in 2010) in yards per attempt (8.6), touchdown percentage (6.5), and passer rating (106.0). But even he wasn’t able to overcome the Lions’ horrific defense. The Lions went 3-4-1 with Stafford as their starting quarterback. With Jeff Driskel and David Blough in the weeks since, the Lions have gone 0-6. Even still, for reasons unknown, the Lions have decided to bring back both general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia next season.

Stafford should be back too. He’s under contract through the 2022 season and his contract’s structure basically makes him uncuttable until 2021 at the earliest. Plus, he played at a high enough level in 2019 to justify his contract. By DVOA, a Football Outsiders’ metric that measures value per play, he ranks sixth, one spot behind Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. His cap hit of $31.5 million next season ranks fifth among all quarterbacks (that could change if someone like, say, Dak Prescott signs a monster extension before next season). Before this season, that seemed like way too much money to pay a quarterback of Stafford’s caliber, but if the Lions are going to get this year’s version of Stafford next year too, then they can feel comfortable with their quarterback and his contract.

To put it another way, the Lions have far bigger problems than Stafford — like their defense, which ranks 26th in DVOA, 31st in yards allowed, and 26th in points allowed, their coach, who is supposed to be a defensive guru, and the overall state of the NFC North (strong). To have any shot of turning things around in 2020, the Lions will need a healthy Stafford and the rest of the team to offer him a bit more support. 

But if things don’t get turned around in 2020, we could see massive changes in Detroit, including at quarterback. The Lions can cut Stafford in 2021 and save $20 million against the cap or they could look to move him to a contender in need of a quarterback. There’s plenty of teams that would kill to have Stafford. And there’s plenty of teams who would make better use of him.