On Thursday, Local 4 dropped a deuce on the Detroit Lions’ offseason by reporting that the team is engaged in trade talks regarding quarterback Matthew Stafford. On Friday, Local 4 doubled down.
“The Detroit Lions have denied Local 4′s report that they’ve been engaged in trade talks with quarterback Matthew Stafford for the past few weeks,” the station posted earlier today. “We stand by our story and by our sources. We find tremendous validity in what we are reporting because of what Kelly Stafford posted on Instagram. Before our report was made, she posted that if Detroit was done with her husband, then they would like to go to the Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers need a quarterback after Philip Rivers left.
“The fact that Kelly posted that before our report tells us things were going behind the scenes, and our sources later confirmed it. Again, we are only reporting trade talks for Stafford and those talks have definitely taken place.”
That’s the entirety of the new item posted at the WDIV website.
Thursday’s trade-talks story from Local 4 initially attributed the reporting to sources close to Stafford and the Lions. The original item was quietly revised to abandon the reference to sources close to Stafford.
So here’s where it gets even more interesting. Last year, Kelly Stafford submitted to an extensive interview with Local 4. The station’s decision to justify its reporting after the fact by pointing to social-media comments from Kelly Stafford that predated the Local 4 report invites fair speculation that someone from Local 4 contacted her to see what’s really going on, after seeing her social-media comments. Which, depending on what she said to Local 4, possibly could make her one of the sources for the report. If not the only source for the report.
That’s where the station’s decision to quietly scrub “sources close to Stafford” from the original report becomes more significant. Removing any reference to Stafford from the sourcing of the report would be the equivalent of throwing dirt on the trail that could lead back to Kelly Stafford, if she was one of the sources and/or the only source.
Of course, today’s decision to specifically name Kelly Stafford and to cite her social-media comments that were made in response to trade speculation cuts against the idea that Local 4 is trying to conceal her as a potential source. But Local 4 has been under assault over the past 24 hours or so, and if (I’m speculating here) she told Local 4 that trade talks are happening and the Lions are pushing back aggressively and people are crying #fakenews, Local 4 may have decided to be a little (or a lot) less careful about protecting her as a source, if she was one of the sources or perhaps the only source for the original report.
Here’s why all of this is important: What if (and I’m speculating here) the Lions don’t want to trade Stafford but Stafford (who is due to make only $8.3 million this year) secretly wants to be traded? This is one of the ways that the process could get rolling, with certain sources close to Stafford trying to essentially speak (or at least leak) a trade into existence.
The Lions, if it gets to that point, would surely resist trading Stafford. But it’s one thing to tell a tackle or a tight end or a running back that he’s not getting traded. The starting quarterback needs to be all in. If Stafford wants out, and if he’s eventually willing to say and do things that show that (like, for example, staying away from offseason workouts, not showing up early and staying late, and not generally acting as an extension of management) it becomes very hard to keep him.
A starting quarterback under contract for multiple additional years has never really made a power play like that, at least not in the free-agency era. And I’m not saying it will happen now. But the Local 4 report and the tentacles flowing from it justify paying close attention to whether and when there will be an effort by Stafford to get him traded to a new team in a new town with a new contract that better reflects the current quarterback market.