There are potentially three franchise-level, Super Bowl-caliber quarterbacks on the trade market this offseason: Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and Matthew Stafford.
“Potentially” is the operative word there, and the one that looms large as Indianapolis, Washington, San Francisco, Denver, Miami, the New York Jets or any other club that wants in on what could be a historically deep shopping list.
Again, the words. In this case: “could be.”
Currently, Stafford is the only quarterback of the three on the trade block. The 12-year veteran and former No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft approached Detroit in early January and asked to be dealt rather than go through another rebuild.
The Lions agreed, their new general manager and coach combo eager to use whatever they can get to help retool the roster while freeing up salary-cap space.
Stafford has listed his house for sale. His wife has posted goodbye messages on social media. The Lions have begun talking with teams about what it would take to get him. He's gone.
As for the other two … who knows?
Watson reportedly wants out of Houston, but the team is loath to trade a 25-year-old star with such a high level of talent and leadership. Maybe the relationship is fractured beyond repair, but it doesn’t appear yet that the Texans have accepted such a conclusion. They’ve hired David Culley as head coach and now it’s a full-on blitz to keep Watson. You just don’t punt on someone like him.
The same is true in Green Bay, where Rodgers shook the league Sunday with comments that questioned his prospects after 16 seasons with the Packers.
“A lot of guys’ futures, they’re uncertain – myself included,” Rodgers said.
His tone of voice made it sound like a goodbye. The interview, however, occurred in the depressing moments after a disappointing loss in the NFC championship game. Rodgers has been less pronounced since. The Packers certainly haven’t decided, and are unlikely to be eager, to deal the presumptive league MVP even if they drafted Jordan Love in the first round a year ago.
All of this is the curveball for anyone shopping for a quarterback.
Teams don’t have to just contemplate the normal questions – can this player help us, is he the best available option, what can we afford to offer as trade compensation, and so on. They have to decide without knowing the full market. It’s a massive uncertainty.
“Is Stafford the only guy available or is he the third-best guy available?” is how one NFL agent put it.
Each team will rank its preferred options, but Rodgers was the best player in the league this season and at 37 and with his experience, he might – might – be the best “plug and play” choice.
An equal argument can be made that it’s Watson. There is no question he is the long-term choice for anyone. Guys like him are almost never available for trades. He does, however, have a no-trade clause, which essentially allows him to choose where he goes to as well. If you’re not his preferred choice, then that’s a factor in who you go after.
Stafford, meanwhile, is about to turn 33 and while his talent and statistical production is undeniable, he never won a playoff game or a division title in Detroit. That isn’t all his fault, but he’s 16 games under .500 as a starter and has taken a battering physically through his career. While there is a belief that he can win big with a well-run franchise, it’s still just a belief.
While he likely commands the least in return compensation, Stafford is almost certainly the third choice here, no matter how you rank the first two.
He also might be the top choice if he’s the only choice.
Detroit is ready to move now. Can, for example, the Colts or Niners afford to sit out or soft play their interest? Maybe a better option comes, but maybe not. Then you’re stuck shopping on a B-list of quarterbacks (hello, Jacoby Brissett) and that gap is significant.
Or do you jump on Stafford only to cringe later when Watson or Rodgers comes on the market for a similar price?
In this case, timing is everything. Bold decision making, too.
Either way, it’s a gamble, with big talent and even bigger stakes on the line.
More from Yahoo Sports: