Niyo: Contract unsettled but Matthew Stafford looks like new man

John Niyo
The Detroit News
Matthew Stafford

Allen Park — To get more, you have to give more, no matter who you are. That’s always the bottom line in the NFL.

And as they came to the podium one by one Saturday — three of the Lions’ team leaders addressing the media before head coach Jim Caldwell addressed his team on the first day of training camp — that was the message, both spoken and understood.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that all three — Caldwell, quarterback Matthew Stafford and safety Glover Quin — are entering the final year of their respective contracts. Maybe that’ll change soon, too, with extensions possible — if not expected — for both players.

But what’s not a coincidence is the way they’re handling their business, ignoring the uncertainty while sharpening their focus. In other words, like professionals.

Stafford, for his part, clearly has grown tired of the questions about his future, and after four or five to begin his pre-camp session Saturday, the 29-year-old said as much again. Yes, he says, he wants to sign a long-term deal to stay here in Detroit. But, no, there’s no timetable. And whether or not his agent, Tom Condon, and the Lions can strike a deal before the start of the season — Stafford’s next contract likely will make him the NFL’s highest-paid player — the ninth-year pro insists he’s not worried one bit.

“There’s no difference to me, as far as my preparation,” he said. “No matter what happens, I’ve got a year left on my contract here. I’m gonna be here this year playing football for this team. So it’s on my shoulders to be as good as I possibly can to help our team win. …

“If I spend time thinking about all that (contract) stuff, I’m doing a disservice to the guys in the locker room. I don’t want to hear about it, they don’t want to hear about. We just want to go play football.”

Pitching in with help

But it takes more than that, obviously. And if you were looking for some encouraging Lions news on the eve of camp, especially as the team added another prominent name to the injured list Saturday in Ziggy Ansah, maybe that was it: Stafford’s doing more than just going out there and playing football these days.

A few years ago, his response to questions — and suggestions — about working with a private quarterback coach, or even a trainer who specialized in the position, was to shrug and say, “Probably not.”

More:Lions' Stafford links up with QB tutor in offseason

But why not? At the time, Stafford was coming off a season that saw him commit a whopping 14 turnovers in the Lions’ final seven games. And that 1-6 finish in 2013 ultimately spelled the end for head coach Jim Schwartz and most of his staff, including offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

“Just not something I’d feel would be my style, or beneficial to me, I guess,” Stafford said then.

Contrast that to Saturday, though, when he acknowledged — a bit reluctantly — that he’d finally changed his style. That he’d decided he might benefit from following lead of his friend Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback and reigning league MVP, who raved about the offseason work he’d done with coaches at the 3DQB training facility in Los Angeles.

That operation is run by former MLB pitchers Tom House and Adam Dedeaux, who’ve worked with more than a dozen starting quarterbacks in the NFL, including Tom Brady and Drew Brees. And their program covers the whole gamut, from biomechanics to breakfast — motion analysis, core-strength training, nutrition, mental exercises, and so on. When you hear Brady talking seriously about playing until he’s 45, this is a big part of the reason why.

Shaping up

But it’s also part of the reason Caldwell was talking Saturday about how impressed he was with the way Stafford looks as the Lions get back to work.

“He may be in better shape than he’s ever been,” Caldwell said.

Stafford said he feels “really good physically” after putting “a ton of work in,” but wouldn’t offer much detail about his offseason training. He joked about the 4-month old twin girls at home keeping him and his wife, Kelly, busy around the clock. And at the same time, he was quick to add this wasn’t some drastic, desperate move.

“It’s not an overhaul,” he laughed. “I’m not gonna be throwing left-handed out there.”

But it is something new, and it’s not a stretch to say this is another sign of a maturing star in this league, as Stafford continues to refine the talents that made him a No. 1 overall pick and the fastest in NFL history to pass for 30,000 yards.

“It is the first time for me, ever since John Stafford taught me how to throw a football,” Stafford said. “But when you’re preparing, competing against yourself to be as good as you can possibly be, why not give everything you’ve got? And find different people with different ideas maybe that could help you out. I just thought it was an opportunity and went for it and enjoyed it.

“I want what’s best for this team, I want what’s best for me as a player. If I play well, our team’s gonna play well.”

And as they get ready to play some more football, if you can forget about all that contract talk, that seems like a good place to start.