Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Matthew Stafford Has That MVP Look

Mike Freeman

Could Matthew Stafford crash the MVP party? Can anything break up the love affair between NFL owners and Roger Goodell? And why are the Colts going back on their word?


1. Is It Time for Matthew Stafford to Take That Next Step?

Could the Lions quarterback be the NFL's MVP this season? 

It's not as unhinged as you might think.

"He's my underdog," said one AFC general manager.

"I think he's going to surprise people this season," Lions safety Glover Quin told B/R. "He's always been a talented guy, but he gets better and better. He's an elite guy."

Stafford is also a guy around whom a few ingredients—some subtle and some notare coalescing at the right time.

First, and most clearly, Stafford is developing into a really talented quarterback.

He's reading defenses better. He's putting more touch on the ball. He's just...nastier. And that's meant as the greatest of compliments.

"I'm uncovering every stone I can to try and get better," Stafford said. Then he joked: "I've got the fastballs down."

Translation: Stafford has a strong arm. But after looking at film from last season, he saw some touch passes he could have made. So he worked on them, and he's made several throws this preseason with a more refined sense of "touch."

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Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said Stafford has always been able to make every throw. "He's trying to refine his game more than anything else," Caldwell said.

In his ninth year, Stafford is becoming a total quarterback.

"He just gets better," receiver Golden Tate said.

He's also become more of a leader.

In speaking to some Lions players while in Detroit this week, both in the locker room and over text and phone, there's a sense that this team is truly Stafford's since receiver Calvin Johnson retired.

Privately, some players said Johnson was the true leader of the Lions. Now that Megatron is gone, Stafford has grown exponentially.

AJ Mast/Associated Press

Stafford's growth is a big part of why it feels like the Lions organization is turning a corner. Detroit has more offensive weapons, better depth and an improved coaching staff. And it has a solid defense in place, too.

It isn't a perfect situation. Detroit has issues on both sides of the line at tackle and has no true pass-rusher. Still, these are no longer the sorry-ass Lions. The future is actually pretty bright in Detroit.

And Stafford has the pieces in place to be a stealth MVP candidate. (I realize that if I say he's a stealth candidate, he's no longer stealth and his cloak has failed, but you get me, right?) It might be impossible for him to beat out Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady, but weird things happen in this league every damn day. He's also in a division whose lack of quality depth should provide for some stat-stuffing Sundays.

After we just experienced a total solar eclipse across the United States for the first time in decades, the notion that Stafford could cast a shadow over the NFL is totally possible.



2. Lions, Stafford Aren't Rushing Into a New Contract Yet

Speaking a bit more about Stafford, he's going to get a new contract; it's just a question of when. As of now, however, things don't seem to be moving quickly. That can always change in an instant, but speaking to someone close to Stafford, I get the sense his side isn't overly optimistic something can get done before the start of the season.

Meanwhile, Stafford continues to take a laid-back approach.

"I told you guys the last time we talked about this, I had no expectations going into it," Stafford said. "I'm doing myself and our team a disservice if that's what I'm worried about. I truly am letting the guys upstairs here and my agent hash it all out, and I'm just trying to be as good a football player as I can be and help our team."

There may be a lot of hashing ahead.


3. The Professional

Leon Halip/Getty Images

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin retired Sunday after 14 NFL seasons. Just like almost any longtime veteran, he leaves behind as many memories as numbers.

One of the better stories came from former Lions teammate Golden Tate, who remembered a game last season when Boldin broke one of his fingers. Boldin went into the locker room for several series to get the finger taped, and then he returned to make several big catches.

Before Boldin went into the locker room, his glove "was dripping with blood," Tate recalled.

Among players, Boldin was considered one of the toughest, most professional players they've ever known, on the field and off of it.

"I model my game after him," Tate said. "When you imagine what a pro looks like, it's Anquan."


4. You Can't Put a Price on Love

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

What does it mean that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will likely have his contract extended through 2024, according to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal (via Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk)?

Only one thing: The owners love him.

What the media and fans think of Goodell is irrelevant to owners. They don't care if he screwed up the Ray Rice case or caused the league to go through one of its most embarrassing chapters with Deflategate.

They only care what Goodell does for them, which is make money. Lots of it.

Goodell also serves as a public relations flak jacket for the owners.

So long as the cash keeps pouring in and the owners are protected, the owners will back Goodell. 


5. Why the Preseason Is Terrible, Part 1 Trillion

David Richard/Associated Press

After Giants star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. took a nasty hit in Monday night's preseason game against the Browns, talking heads have been debating whether the play was dirty. That's fine to discuss.

The larger issue not being discussed: Why was there a preseason game to begin with? Exhibition games remain a dangerous waste of players' finite playing time.

One of the dumbest things in all of sports is the NFL's insistence on asking the lifeblood of the leaguestars like Beckhamto risk their seasons for a few meaningless games. Yet that's what the NFL does every year.

Imagine if a spectacular talent like Beckham had been lost for the season because of that hit. The risk is not worth the possible cataclysm. Not even close.


6. Colts Do as They Do, Not as They Say

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

During the lead-up to Super Bowl XLVII, 49ers defensive back Chris Culliver created a stir because of some ugly comments he made about the possibility of playing with gay players.

"No, we don't got no gay people on the team," Culliver told comedian and radio host Artie Lang (via Martin Rogers of Yahoo Sports). "They gotta get up out of here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff. Can't be…in the locker room man. Nah."

That was in 2013. Later that year, he made nasty comments about women on his Instagram account.

In 2014, he was arrested for misdemeanor hit-and-run, misdemeanor driving on a suspended license and felony possession of brass knuckles after allegedly hitting a bicyclist with his vehicle.

After playing six games for Washington in 2015, Culliver missed last season with a knee injury.

This week, the Colts signed him.

What's interesting is that owner Jim Irsay, knowing quarterback Andrew Luck might miss Week 1, considered signing a veteran stopgap quarterback, but Colin Kaepernick was not an option. I was told the Colts feared the distraction and backlash they believed would come with signing Kaepernick.

Yet someone like Culliveran anti-gay, alleged hit-and-run jerkisn't a distraction?

The flexible standards with which some owners operate their teams remains one of the fundamental problems with how the NFL is run.


7. Do Jets Have the Worst Quarterbacks in NFL History?

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

The Jets will name their starting quarterback by next Monday, according to Ethan Greenberg of the team website, but it likely will be Josh McCown. He basically won the job by default because Christian Hackenberg has been so putrid.

After looking at rosters going back 15 years, I tweeted the Jets' quarterback rotation of McCown, Hackenberg and Bryce Petty was the worst of any in that time. That prompted hundreds of responses from people who shared similarly horribleor worsequarterback staffs than the Jets have now. Which is truly saying something. (One of my favorite suggestions was the 2004 49ers quarterback trio of Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett. My God.)

The end result is that the Jets might be lucky to win two games this year.


8. Anthem Protests Aren't Going Anywhere

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Based on conversations I continue to have with players, the consensus remains that we'll see more like Seattle's Michael Bennett and others take a seat during the national anthem. As the Browns' prayer circle Monday night showed, this story continues to grow, and it isn't going away any time soon. 


9. Bill Belichick and the Great Eclipse

When asked if he was an eclipse guy, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick responded: "Yeah, it's great." Then he laughed.

I'm not sure why this made me laugh so hard. Maybe it was because someone decided to ask Belichick about it, or perhaps it was the way he responded. Either way, that might be the best NFL quote of the month.


10. Eric Dickerson Could Be Must-See TV

Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

The last time Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson held a major role as an NFL analyst, it was as a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football in 2000. It did not go well.

In fact, it went so poorly that Saturday Night Live lampooned Dickerson.

Dickerson is a different guy now, one who's far more comfortable in front of the camera. That may be why Fox just hired him as an analyst.

You may not remember Dickerson as a player, but as an analyst, he will be entertaining to watch.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL. 


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