MIKE O'HARA

Matthew Stafford says without hesitation that this is "his team"

Posted May 22, 2013

With the loss of veterans this offseason, quarterback Matthew Stafford believes his teammates understand and respond to his role as a primary leader

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

The simple equation of attrition of teammates, job experience and the nature of playing quarterback have combined to put Matthew Stafford at the top of the Lions' leadership chart.

It's a natural progression, and one that he wears well.

When Stafford met the media Wednesday after the Lions' first OTA workout of this offseason, there weren't any questions about the status of his contract or his health.

The key question was whether -- with the loss of veterans in the offseason -- Stafford feels this has become more his team as he prepares for his fifth season.

Stafford reacted as quickly as if he saw a defensive back fall down and he was throwing a TD pass to a wide-open Calvin Johnson. He didn't flinch.

"Yeah, absolutely," Stafford said. "I'm a year older. I've been through it that much longer. I think guys on the team understand that and respond to it."'

There is nothing that has to be read into Stafford's answer, and that might be the most important thing about it. He was answering a question, not offering up a self-serving declaration. He wasn't proclaiming himself to be an elite quarterback, or leveraging his position in contract negotiations.

Stafford's answer to a legitimate question was proof that effective leadership is a way of life for quarterbacks, not a role they play and turn on and off when it suits them. Before Stafford arrived in 2009, the Lions had enough role players at quarterback who said the right things but failed to deliver.

In the Red Wings-Blackhawks playoff game Monday night, one of the national announcers revived an old line that the two most difficult jobs in Detroit are playing goalie for the Red Wings and quarterback for the Lions. That caused a mild stir within the Twitter universe.

As accurately as I can remember, that line was first mentioned by Scott Mitchell, a much-maligned quarterback for the Lions from 1994-98. Chris Osgood was the Wings' primary goalie during Mitchell's reign.

There was a huge difference in their respective careers. Osgood played on Stanley Cup champions. Mitchell played -- badly -- in two losing playoff games, and he never embraced being a leader. He often leaned on being "one of 11 players" on offense.

Wrong. There's a quarterback and 10 other players looking at him to lead them to a championship.

The Lions are in transition this year. They're rebuilding the offensive line, retooling the backfield with the addition of Reggie Bush, and they're younger on defense.

As a group, they've experienced for the first time what it's like to fall from grace. They were 10-6 and a playoff team in 2011 but skidded to 4-12 last year.

If there's a rebound, and there should be, Stafford will be one to lead it.

I believe Stafford when he says he isn't obsessed about where he'll stand on the quarterback pay chart in his next contract. His current deal has two years to run.

I also believe what he said on Wednesday about not paying attention to where he ranks on the NFL Network's list of the top 100 players for 2013. He fell from 41st in 2012 to 76th for 2013.

"I don't need that to motivate me, honestly," he said, sounding almost amused. "It's not a big deal to me."

Quarterbacks are measured by performance and winning games. Those two areas take care of everything else -- contract status and position in polls, and they settle any issues about leadership.

Stafford had a season for the ages in 2011 with 41 TD passes on a team that went 10-6. Last year he fell to 20 TD passes on a team that went 4-12.

What the Lions have in Stafford is a 25-year-old quarterback who has been their opening-day starter for four years and with a howitzer for a passing arm. There are some things he could do better. Sometimes he has too much faith in his ability to fit passes into tight coverage.

But I'll take that over a quarterback who's afraid to pull the trigger – or one who's afraid to lead.