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Best free-agent QB options for Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions will kick off its 2021 NFL season with a new quarterback under center.

Multiple reports came out Saturday afternoon that the longtime Lions’ quarterback went to team officials at the season’s conclusion, suggesting that it’s time for both parties to part ways. The reports stated that the team intends to honor his request and look for a trade partner. 

A Lions future without Stafford is on the horizon.

Any trade involving him for another team’s quarterback is highly unlikely, but anything is possible. Another possible scenario for the Lions is to move up in the draft, trading out of the No. 7 slot. They have no shot at Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. He is the odds-on favorite to the first overall pick in this upcoming draft. Additionally, draft experts are not expecting Ohio State’s Justin Fields to fall out of the top five picks. 

And the Lions should not look at taking BYU’s Zach Wilson at all. 

The more realistic approach for the Lions is to look at free agency. With a “retooling” of the franchise on the way, the smartest option would be to sign a veteran QB on a short-term contract. Here are three realistic options that the Detroit Lions could pursue while waiting for the next franchise QB.

Cam Newton

The New England Patriots did not have a season that lived up to “The Patriot Way.” 

After finishing 7-9 this season, the Patriots missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 years. According to Pats’ head coach Bill Belichick, it should be a surprise to no one. In his own words, the Pats’ “sold out,” mortgaging their future for the several Super Bowl appearances they’ve had in the last decade. The team was essentially handicapped. They had no money to add playmakers on either side of the ball. The writing was on the wall during Tom Brady’s last year in New England.

Here’s where Cam Newton factors in all of this. With a lack of weapons to throw or hand the ball off to, Newton still had one of the better passing seasons. In 15 starts with the Patriots, Newton threw for 2,657 yards, eight touchdowns, and ten interceptions. Additionally, he rushed for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

Now let’s be honest here. 

Newton’s passing yards are nothing special at all. Outside of his 2019 season, where he only played two games, he was a career-worst in that category. Despite that, he completed 65% of his passes, his career’s second-best completion rate. To go with that, the ten interceptions he threw matched a career-low. It is the same amount he threw during his 2015 MVP-season. Lastly, he engineered three game-winning drives this season for the Patriots. It marks the second time he’s hit that exact number in his career. Lastly, if one looks at his rushing statistics, the 12 touchdowns he garnered this year are the second-most of his career. 

New Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell spoke during his introductory press conference about the type of toughness and players he would want in his locker room. After Campbell spoke about changing the franchise’s culture and identity, Newton is the type of player who would come in on the first day and set the tone in Detroit. 

Newton will be 32 at the start of the next NFL season, and the reports are already out that he will not return to New England next season. Newton is the way to go if the Lions decide to look in free agency for a short-term fix. Just like the Lions’ organization, the 2015 NFL MVP has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. 

Jameis Winston

To say that Jameis Winston’s last few seasons in the NFL have been “interesting” would be a gross understatement. The former Heisman Trophy winner has fallen from grace after being ousted in Tampa Bay [Buccaneers] for Tom Brady. 

This past season, he “played” for the New Orleans Saints as a backup quarterback, registering stats that aren’t worth mentioning.

To determine his value, the Lions would have to revisit his 2019 season with the Bucs’. As the starting QB, Winston threw for 5,109 yards, averaging 319.3 yards per game and 30 touchdowns.

And he also had a horrendous 30 interceptions. 

Winston is only 26 years old, and just like Newton, one can bet that he has something to prove. There is no indication as of now that he’ll return to the Saints. He only signed a one-year deal with the team last offseason. Reports are surfacing that New Orleans could be a possible landing spot for Matthew Stafford. If that is the case, don’t expect Winston to stay there with other options on the table.

Winston is still mobile as ever. That trick-play the Saints tried against the Bucs’ in the divisional round indicates that his arm strength has not faded. While he may not be a long-term option for the Lions at quarterback, he should be a relatively cheap option.

Lastly, new Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell (along with new Lions DC Aaron Glenn) left the Saints organization to come to the Motor City. If Winston is looking for a new home, he could be on the Lions’ radar. Luring him to Detroit could work in their favor if he and Campbell established a healthy rapport.

Jacoby Brissett

Like Jameis Winston, Jacoby Brissett’s future with the Indianapolis Colts could come down to if Matthew Stafford heads there in a trade scenario. 

Brissett, who started in 15 games for the Colts in 2019, sat behind the now-retired Phillip Rivers this past season. So there aren’t stats this past season to determine his potential value. However, in those 15 starts in 2019, Brissett threw for 2,942 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was also pretty good at protecting the ball, only throwing six interceptions on the season. 

The alarming thing about a Brissett signing would be his completion rate. In his time with the Colts, Brissett completed less than 60% of his passes (59.5). Nonetheless, he’s only 28-years-old. For whatever the Detroit Lions are looking to do, he could just be a band-aid until they draft a franchise quarterback.

Contact Kory Woods at kory@woodwardsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @koryewoods.

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