Can Stafford become football’s all-time leading passer?

Last week, Drew Brees dusted off his golden arm and fired a pass that made him the greatest passer in NFL history. Brees now has more passing yards than Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, or Dan Marino. Even Tom Brady, who’s still slinging the pigskin, is more then 5,000 yards behind Brees.

When Brees broke Manning’s record of 71,940 passing yards, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford had almost exactly half that many yards through the air. Entering their game this weekend, Stafford has 36,134 yards passing in his nine-plus years in the NFL.

Can Stafford someday pass Brees, or whoever holds the record in the future? A look at the numbers reveals that the much-criticized Detroit quarterback has an excellent chance.

In his seven full 16-game seasons, Stafford has averaged 4,564 yards passing. He’s on pace for about 4,450 yards this year, but that figure could go up. He has 11 more games to add to his totals.

Stafford won’t turn 31 until next February. He has several years left on his contract with Detroit. He’s clearly one of the best signal-callers in the game. He’s durable, he’s started 117 consecutive regular season games. He has one of the strongest arms of his generation, and he keeps getting better as he matures in the league.

At his current pace, Stafford will need about seven more years after 2018 to catch Manning. Brees has one mor eyear on his contract, he’s previously hinted that he wanted to play into his mid-40s. But the 39-year old recently said retirement “may come sooner than people think.” At any rate, if Brees or someone else (Tom Brady?) pushes the record closer to 80,000 yards, then Stafford would need a decade to catch up. He’d be 39 years old in 2028, could #9 be inching up to #1 on the passing yards list at that time in the future?

Lions’ fans love to grumble about Matt Stafford. He doesn’t beat winning teams. He doesn’t make smart decisions with the football. He tries to do to much. He’s not a winner.

Gripe if you want. But there’s no denying Stafford is putting up numbers that no other QB has. He’s already broken the 27, 28, and 29-year old passing yard records that Marino previously held. Stafford had more 4,000-yard seasons before his 30th birthday than all but four other quarterbacks ever had in their careers. He’s orchestrated 32 game-winning fourth quarter drives, which places him eighth all-time in football history and he hasn’t completed his tenth season yet.

Through five games in 2018, Stafford ranks 26th all-time in passing yards. Assuming he stays healthy, he should pass Matt Hasselbeck, Donovan McNabb, Boomer Esiason, and Dave Krieg before the end of the season. That would leave Stafford right behind the great Johnny Unitas. In 2019, Stafford could potentially pass five more QBs on the all-time list, moving into the top 15 all-time. While there are several active QBs ahead of him, like Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Eli Manning, time is on Stafford’s side. He’s younger, much younger in most cases, than all of them. And he’s been healthier. The last two years, Rodgers has suffered two major injuries, and the Green Bay Qb is now only 4,400 yards (about one season) ahead of Stafford.

As these older QBs fall off due to injury, or retire, Stafford could zip pas them on the all-time list. By the end of the 2020 season, just two years from now, #9 could be in the top ten all-time in passing yards.

“He’s the franchise, he’s the leader who takes us where we want to go,” General Manager Bob Quinn said last season of his still-young quarterback.

Could all the way the top of the passing list be where Stafford eventually goes? Time will tell.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a web producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @thedanholmes or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.