Longtime NFL quarterback Neil O’Donnell carved out a respectable career from 1990 to 2003. As he’s watched the next generation of players during his retirement, Detroit Lions signal-caller Matthew Stafford stands out as someone he thinks is a Super Bowl-caliber player who’s never gotten close to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
O’Donnell spoke to Rich Salgado on Big Daddy & Friends about how tough it is to see someone like Stafford toil away in Detroit, only to emerge with only three postseason appearances and zero playoff victories in 12 seasons.
Neil O’Donnell: Matthew Stafford is a championship QB
Unlike Stafford, O’Donnell wasn’t as highly touted coming out of the University of Maryland. He went in the third round of the 1990 NFL Draft to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a famously stable and historically great organization, whereas Stafford wound up going No. 1 overall to the Lions in 2009.
“You know how many great quarterbacks never even get a chance of getting near a Super Bowl?” O’Donnell explained. “The ball bounces one way or the other. Sometimes the best team doesn’t always win.”
Well, in the case of the draft, that “bad-luck bounce” analogy really fits.
Stafford was tasked with turning around a perpetually losing culture, and with numerous coaching changes and not enough help around him, he’s been unable to lift the Lions to prominence.
Super Bowl experience on a great team
As for O’Donnell, he guided the Steelers to four straight playoff appearances, including Super Bowl 30. Although Pittsburgh fell to the Dallas Cowboys in that game, it speaks to how much more a player’s draft destination matters than how high they go.
“I feel bad,” O’Donnell said of Stafford. “He’s a great quarterback, but he never got a chance to even look at a Super Bowl, or even a long run at the playoffs.”
O’Donnell ended his career in a variety of stops, playing two seasons for the New York Jets, one with the Cincinnati Bengals and the rest of the way as a backup with the Tennessee Titans. He finished with 21,690 passing yards, 120 touchdowns, 68 interceptions and an 81.8 passer rating, appearing in four conference championship games.
Hope may be on the way during the 2021 NFL offseason for Stafford, who’s thrown for 45,109 yards in his illustrious career. The Lions are in the midst of searching for a new coach and general manager after the team of Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn failed spectacularly. Detroit also has the seventh overall pick in the upcoming draft, which is high enough to find a new face of the franchise to rally the new regime and fanbase behind.
Stafford’s chances at a Super Bowl increase exponentially if he leaves Detroit, either through getting released or in a trade. It’s possible the San Francisco 49ers and Kyle Shanahan may acquire Stafford as an upgrade over Jimmy Garoppolo, or that legendary coach Bill Belichick anoints Stafford the long-term successor to Tom Brady for the New England Patriots.
Whatever happens with his future, Stafford does indeed deserve better.