ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The question has come up often this season, posed to Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia, to offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, to other players and even to Matthew Stafford himself.
What has been going on with the franchise quarterback this year? Why has he played at a level that hasn’t been commensurate with what he has done in the past? And what, as he finishes his 10th season in Detroit -- another season without a winning record, a division title or, likely, a playoff berth -- does it all mean for the present and the future of Stafford with the Lions?
The immediate present is that Stafford is going nowhere, at least not for the 2019 season. The contract extension he signed, which would incur almost a $30 million cap hit if the team were to trade him this offseason, is too limiting. He’ll have at least next season, perhaps with a new offensive coordinator, to show that this season was an aberration instead of a regression.
But is he a quarterback with whom the Lions can win?
“Certainly, [he] is a leader of our team from a standpoint of his work ethic, his toughness, his energy, the way he pushes, the way that he drives to go out and compete every single day,” Patricia said. “As a coach, you want players that are going to go out there and try to work hard to get better, and that’s what he does every single day. So again, he’s the guy that leads our team, leads our offense. And he’s put in some really tough situations, and he sticks them out and pushes through and just does a great job of continually going after it.
“For us, that’s what we’re banking on, and that’s what he gives us, and we’re pushing forward with that.”
For 10 years, the Lions have banked on it, from taking Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009 to giving him a then-NFL record $135 million contract before the start of the 2017 season to keep him with the Lions, in theory, through at least 2022.
He’s also one of the few quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era who has played 10 years with one team. That is somewhat even more surprising because of the relative lack of success he has had in that time period. Yet Detroit has stuck with Stafford no matter what.
In the Super Bowl era, only 44 quarterbacks including Stafford have played 10 seasons with one team -- some didn’t do so consecutively -- and started at least one game in each of those seasons. Some quarterbacks, such as Brett Favre, went to other teams as well. Of those 44, only nine had losing records -- something Stafford will have even if the Lions win their four remaining games -- in their tenures with the team. Stafford, with a 64-73 record, has the fourth-worst win percentage among quarterbacks who have played 10 seasons for one team. Only Archie Manning (35-91-3 with New Orleans), Mike Livingston (31-44-1 with Kansas City) and Steve Bartkowski (56-69 with Atlanta) have done worse.
None of those quarterbacks lasted more than 11 seasons with his club.
Of the 44, only nine either never made the Pro Bowl or appeared just once, including Stafford (and former Lions quarterback Greg Landry). Just seven -- Manning, Livingston, Landry, Brian Sipe, Jim Hart, Steve Grogan and Stafford -- have never won a playoff game. Stafford and Grogan are the 10-year guys with the most playoff losses without a win, with three.
In this pass-happy era of the NFL, nine active quarterbacks have been with their teams for 10 seasons or more. Stafford is the only one with a win percentage under .500 and the only one not to win a playoff game. Actually, all of the other active quarterbacks have a minimum of four playoff wins -- Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers -- and they are the only other quarterbacks with under-.500 playoff records with 10 years with their teams. Other than Stafford and Joe Flacco, all have been to at least four Pro Bowls as well.
Stafford’s career statistics are undeniably good: 37,835 yards, 234 touchdowns and 129 interceptions, and he is one of a handful of players to have thrown for 5,000 yards in a season. His career is a tough one to judge, too. He came in taking over the first 0-16 team in NFL history, so his first two years in Detroit were awful. The Lions had a combined 3-10 record that, if it were stricken from his ledger, Stafford would still be under .500 in his career but at a more palatable 61-63.
Stafford is also on his third head coach, third offensive coordinator and second general manager. Some, such as Jim Caldwell, have made better progress with Stafford than others. None, though, seemingly has made the most of the talent he has, with the closest coming in 2016 and 2017 with Caldwell, Cooter and an offense that took chances downfield while trying to control clock.
This season hasn’t been kind. Stafford is on pace for his fewest yards since 2010, a career high in sacks and his most interceptions since 2013, when he was in an offense that took more chances and went deep far more often under Scott Linehan.
It all leads to the same question in a tough season: Is Stafford a quarterback you can win big with? That’s the answer Lions management needs to figure out over the next season-plus.
If he is, they need to work on supporting that. If he isn't, the Lions need to start putting together an exit strategy -- either via trade or by drafting his potential replacement -- for the long-term future of the franchise.
Information from ESPN Sports & Information was used in this story. Follow Sports & Information on Twitter @ESPNStatsInfo.