By Ashley Scoby
The list is a graveyard of NFL quarterbacks: Jake Plummer, Donovan McNabb, Drew Bledsoe, Jake Delhomme. When NFL.com put together this chart in April, 2014 of franchise quarterbacks who had been benched (and the aftermath for that player’s career), Matthew Stafford had yet to earn his place on it.
After Sunday, though, when Stafford was benched in favor of backup Dan Orlovsky after three interceptions against the Cardinals, the former No. 1 pick of the 2009 NFL Draft is officially in the same category.
Player: Matthew Stafford
When benched: 2015, age 27
Aftermath: To be determined
An in-season benching can be a nail in the coffin of an NFL quarterback’s career. Plummer and Bledsoe never played again after they were benched midseason by the Broncos and Cowboys, respectively. Neither did Marc Bulger of the Rams.
Of the benched franchise quarterbacks on the NFL.com list, the youngest was 29-year-old Aaron Brooks of the Saints. After his 2005 demotion, he went 0-8 as the Raiders’ starting quarterback, then never played again.
Stafford is two years younger than Brooks, but is still a $50-plus-million man. He signed a $53 million extension in 2013, with $41.5 million in guaranteed money. But he’s currently on pace for the worst year of his career. Through five games this season, he’s thrown six touchdowns and eight interceptions and has a total quarterback rating of 47.2.
If he continues at his current pace, Stafford would throw 26 interceptions. The most picks he’s ever thrown was 20 during his rookie year in 2009.
And to boot, his team is 0-5. But after Stafford was relegated to the sideline Sunday, head coach Jim Caldwell minimized the situation and likened it to baseball, when a starting pitcher is pulled.
“Really it’s like a pitcher not having a very good day and the first pitcher comes out and … obviously, he’s still the starter, so there will be no issues there,” Caldwell said. “Just in terms of overall, we just weren’t getting anything done consistently on offense. We just weren’t consistent enough in any phase, so we just tried to get something going, a little change in direction at that particular point in time.”
Of course, it’s extremely unlikely Stafford would be sent to the “never played again” label. But there are other quarterbacks who were benched, continued their careers and were just never productive again.
McNabb is perhaps the most high-profile example: After his benching by the Eagles in 2008, he was traded to the Redskins, where he was promptly benched again, then sent to Minnesota, where – you guessed it – he stood on the sideline some more.
Mark Brunell, of the Jaguars, never started for more than 10 games in a season after he was benched in 2003. Bernie Kosar – benched by Bill Belichick and the Browns in 1993 – started three more games the rest of his career.
“It’s a collective effort. The media and people from the outside are going to attack Stafford when we’re down, but it’s a collective effort,” said Lions receiver Golden Tate. “We’ve all got to help him out and help ourselves out.”
Should the Lions – and Stafford – turn it around, he would be on a pretty short list. Kurt Warner is the lone player on NFL.com’s collection who came back from a benching with any kind of success. He was released by the Rams, at age 32, in 2003, and signed with the Giants. The next year, he left New York for Arizona, where he led the Cardinals to the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl in 2009.