HOUSTON - Kurt Warner was speaking to a group of reporters at an NFL Network event this week on how the Chicago Bears should move on from quarterback Jay Cutler after eight seasons, when he was asked about Matthew Stafford's first eight seasons in Detroit.
"I think we saw a lot of growth from him this year," Warner said of Stafford. "You lose Calvin Johnson and everyone goes, 'okay, this can't be good for anyone, especially the quarterback.'
"But I think (Stafford) became more of a complete quarterback this year, more than he's ever been, without Calvin Johnson. Without that crutch of, 'okay, if nothing else, I can just throw it up to Calvin and he'll make a play for me' and you get into that mode of not necessarily playing the quarterback position."
In his first year playing without Megatron, Stafford ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in yards (4,327), completion percentage (65.3) and TD-to-interception ratio (24-10).
To Warner's point, the Lions became just the third team in NFL history to have five players catch at least 50 passes.
"Now, he became a more complete quarterback and I think we saw some really good things from him," Warner said of Stafford. "I think they have to build some guys around him, they have to get better around him, but I think there were some great signs there that says, 'maybe he can become that complete quarterback and take us to the next level if we surround him with the right guys.'"
Stafford was humming along and was mentioned among the midseason MVP candidates before a finger injury on his throwing hand affected his play down the stretch. The Lions lost their last four games of the season, including a playoff matchup in Seattle. Stafford threw just two touchdowns and had three interceptions over that span.
"I think you've got some good weapons on the outside," Warner said of the Lions. "I think they have to improve their running game first and foremost. They just have to get better there and take the pressure off the quarterback."
The Lions ranked 30th in rushing this past season, averaging just 81.9 yards per game on the ground.
"And then defensively, I think (Detroit) needs some game changers over there to be able to step up and carry that team," Warner said. "I just think you need to add some of those pieces and not put it all on Matt Stafford and that right arm to win games for you."