Matthew Stafford inked a five-year, $135 million contract on Monday. Was it the right move? John Niyo and Justin Rogers of The Detroit News discuss it. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park — Matthew Stafford showed up to work Tuesday morning just like every other day, pulling into the parking lot about a half-hour before sunrise.
Inside the Lions’ practice facility, his routine was the same, too. Lifting weights, watching film, the usual small talk with his teammates. If they didn’t know any better — and some players actually didn’t — they wouldn’t even have known that Stafford had just signed a deal that makes him the highest-paid player in NFL history.
Stafford and the Lions finalized a five-year, $135 million contract extension Monday night, a moment he celebrated at home with his wife, Kelly. They were excited, sure. But there was no wild celebration — “No big story, nothing too crazy," Stafford said — just as there would be no grand entrance the next day.
Indeed, rarely do you see a contract this big that generates such little fanfare, especially locally. But this deal always seemed inevitable, Stafford and the Lions ignoring the seven-year itch and renewing their vows.
And after months of low-key, drama-free negotiations, it probably was destined to end as quietly as it began.
In fact, the only hint most teammates had that a deal could be imminent was the fact that Stafford was sitting out practice Monday in Allen Park. Stafford, who’ll make his 100th consecutive start when the Lions face Arizona in the season opener Sept. 10 at Ford Field, hadn’t missed a practice since September of 2012.
“And he never complains about not feeling well or anything,” veteran receiver Golden Tate said. “So I was like, ‘Dang, what’s wrong with him?’”
Turns out, nothing was. And when he heard the good news Monday night, Tate was among the first to congratulate the Staffords with a FaceTime call, both parties parked on their respective couches watching television.
Jake Rudock, the Lions’ backup quarterback, didn’t find out until the next morning, but there wasn’t much to say once he did. Just a big grin and a fist bump for Stafford in the morning as they grabbed some coffee and got to work.
“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Rudock said. “Everybody’s going to make a big deal about it, but he’s just a good dude.”
A rich dude, to be sure, and there was some good-natured ribbing about that Tuesday, as you'd expect. (“If he don’t bring doughnuts, we’re fighting,” tight end Eric Ebron howled.) Stafford’s extension set NFL records for per-year average salary ($27 million) and guaranteed money ($60.5 million up front, $92 million in total. And to put this all in perspective, consider that the Lions will be signing checks to Stafford worth $51 million over the next six months.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford talks about his $135 million contract extension with the Detroit Lions. Robin Buckson / Detroit News
Yet Stafford, who already splurged on a new home in Atlanta this offseason, laughed Tuesday when asked if he had any big plans to spend some of that money.
“A bunch of diapers,” he said, smiling across the room at Kelly, who was busy holding their 5-month-old twin daughters. “I don’t know, man. I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
And to be honest, he says, he’s really not thinking all that much about the money.
“That doesn’t motivate me,” he said. “The main motivator for me is getting respect from the guys in the locker room, people around the league — coaches, players — and winning football games. And you do that with hard work, dedication, and a bunch of toughness.”
That’s what he has done, in fits and starts, over the course of his career, shattering franchise passing records while struggling to strong-arm his way to enough wins to make everyone forget about this franchise’s mostly futile history.
Last season seemed a bit different, though, as the former No. 1 overall pick had arguably his best year as a pro, highlighted by an NFL-record eight fourth-quarter comeback wins. An injured hand put a damper on things in December, but the Lions did make a second trip to the playoffs in three years.
And as Bob Quinn, the Lions’ new general manager, watched it all unfold last fall, he had no trouble deciding Stafford was, indeed, a franchise quarterback. A leader who, as he put it, “embodies what we want in a Lion.” But did Stafford want to continue to be one? That was the first question the GM asked when the two sat down to talk about the future back in February.
And I said, ‘Absolutely, I want to be in Detroit,’” Stafford said.
So now he will, for the next six seasons, “at least,” he says. And that both sides can say that now, at the end of August, before the regular season kicks off, certainly is a relief for the Lions, who really couldn’t afford to let Stafford play out his contract year.
This was not an easy deal to get done, by any stretch. But with Stafford and his uber-agent, Tom Condon, holding most of the leverage, both sides did manage to find some common ground.
Stafford’s new deal certainly won’t cripple the Lions’ salary cap. Getting it done now may even help Quinn shore up an injury-depleted defense before the start of the season. It also keeps the franchise tag available if the Lions decide to go that route in keeping Ezekiel Ansah locked up through 2018 or ’19 without committing to a long-term deal.
On the flip side, Stafford certainly did his part in raising the bar for the rest of the league. Condon represents a half-dozen NFL starting quarterbacks, and one of them, the Saints’ Drew Brees, told reporters that he sent his agent a one-word text Tuesday that read simply, “Wow.”
Brees will be a free agent after the season, as will Kirk Cousins, and along with Aaron Rodgers and another Condon client and Stafford pal, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, they’ll all be in line to beat Stafford’s deal in the next year.
“It’s just part of what comes with the position of playing quarterback in this league and playing it at a high level,” Stafford said.
But that’s exactly why this contract was a no-brainer for the Lions, who know all too well what it’s like to try to get by without an elite-level talent at quarterback.
“That’s a difference maker in this league — it’s a game-changer,” coach Jim Caldwell said.
And in Stafford, who doesn’t turn 30 until February, the Lions have one that’s younger than almost half the starting quarterbacks in this league. So whatever you think of the numbers, at least the Ford family is paying for the prime years of his career with this latest extension.
Likewise, whatever you think of Stafford, this deal probably won’t change much. But that’s fine by the Lions. Because while they’re convinced some things will change — “I just think there’s no question, he’s going to get better,” Caldwell said — there also confident the bottom line won't.
Not for a guy they’ve already paid more than $110 million to date. And not for a guy they’re now wedded to for a hefty sum more. Added pressure? Don't count on it. Because as his coach noted with a smile Tuesday, “It’s not like he hasn’t had any money in his pocket.”