Barry Sanders on inevitable Matthew Stafford split from Lions: 'Always had a chance with Matt'

Jason Owens
·2-min read

Barry Sanders knows a thing or two about leaving the Detroit Lions with gas in the tank.

He can relate to Matthew Stafford.

The Lions icon who abruptly retired at age 30 on the heels of a 1,451-yard rushing season spoke about the inevitable departure of the longtime Detroit quarterback with NFL Network on Tuesday.

‘Tough to replace’

“It will be tough to replace a guy like Matt Stafford, who I feel like in a lot of ways carried the franchise for the last decade,” Sanders said. “A guy who showed up every day. You felt like you always had a chance with Matt. Maybe because of the new regime coming in and just seeing things different, things like this sometimes happen.”

Stafford’s not retiring like Sanders did. But the 32-year-old quarterback who’s played his entire 12-year career in Detroit appears on the way out the door. The two sides reportedly agreed that the Lions would seek to trade Stafford this offseason.

Detroit Lions former player Barry Sanders before the game against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Barry Sanders knows what it's like to leave the Lions with gas in the tank. (Tim Fuller/Reuters)

Lions saga seems familiar

The Lions are rebuilding under new head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes. Stafford has the talent to contribute to a quarterback-needy team otherwise built to win now — something the Lions are most certainly not.

The Lions are in a similar spot to the one that nudged Sanders out of the door when he retired in 1999.

“Management had let quality players slip away,” Sanders wrote in his autobiography. “We’d been losing for years. Now we were right back where we were when I arrived.”

That sounds like a position Stafford can relate to.

And while he’s certainly not on the same plane as Sanders as a player, Stafford’s the best Detroit quarterback most Lions fans have seen in their lifetimes. Sanders, who’s maintained a relationship with the Lions and advised the franchise in their offseason management search, knows what the team’s giving up in parting with Stafford.

"Things like this sometimes happen,” Sanders continued. “I know Matt has a lot of good football left in him. I know as a Lions fan, I wish him well.”

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