It’s a lot of money, a lot of faith, a lot of commitment. With one huge contract, the Lions bet heavily that Matthew Stafford indeed is the quarterback to lead them deep into the playoffs.
They did it for two reasons. No. 1, they believe it, based on his continued development. No. 2, they don’t have a choice but to believe it.
They had to get this deal done, because eight years into Stafford’s career, starting over wasn’t a viable option. This makes perfect sense, even in the NFL’s nonsensical contract stratosphere. With his reported five-year, $135-million extension, Stafford is the highest-paid player in NFL history, which seems bizarre until you recognize leverage and timing. And also recognize he’ll be bypassed in about a year, when Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan likely land more-expensive extensions.
In fact, at $27 million per year, Stafford and his agent, Tom Condon, didn’t push it beyond reason. It topped the $25-million salary for Oakland’s Derek Carr, but was only slightly more than it would’ve cost the Lions to use the franchise tag if they let his contract expire after this season ($26.4 million).
Added bonus: It frees up the franchise tag in case they need it to retain Ziggy Ansah, who needs a big bounce-back season.
The Lions didn’t necessarily get a bargain. But GM Bob Quinn got a fair deal done, and with all the other roster holes he must plug, at least he doesn’t have to worry about quarterback. You know, like half of the teams in the quarterback-starved NFL, where guys like Josh McCown (Jets) and Mike Glennon (Bears) somehow have starting jobs.
By record and accomplishment, Stafford doesn’t rank among the NFL’s elite. But he’s still only 29, he’s improving, and he clearly wants to be here. And it’s only been about 60 years or so since the Lions had a reliable, dynamic quarterback capable of scaring defenses.
Stafford hasn’t missed a start in six years — throwing for at least 4,200 yards each time — and led the Lions to a league-record eight fourth-quarter comebacks last season. He’s also 0-3 in the playoffs, and totes that ungodly 5-46 record against opponents that finished with a winning record. But if the Lions were being honest with themselves — and apparently they were – they knew they owned that record every bit as much as Stafford, with their incompetence and ever-shifting plans.
Stability matters, and Stafford was playing the best football of his career last season before suffering a broken finger. The Lions were 9-4 at the time but lost their last four, including a playoff stomping by Seattle.
Stafford has grown in important ways, and accepts his standing as the face of the franchise. He began working with a quarterback coach this offseason, refining his footwork and other elements of his game. The transformation already was underway last season, when he took fewer risks and posted his second-highest completion percentage (65.3), while throwing a career-low 10 interceptions.
Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter have shown complete faith in Stafford, and so have his teammates. So have ownership and management. Everyone is still waiting for the playoff payoff, but there really was no other alternative. No, the Lions haven’t tasted enormous success under Stafford. Yes, he’s still worth betting on.