Stafford on contract: ‘I wanted to get this thing done’
Allen Park — Bob Quinn will tell you quarterback Matthew Stafford was a big part of the reason he accepted the Detroit Lions general manager job last year. But in his introductory press conference, Quinn was reluctant to make a firm commitment to Stafford as the franchise’s future at the position.
“He’s a good quarterback,” Quinn said at the time. “I think he’s the quarterback that we want here for the future.”
In a few short months, Quinn realized Stafford offered everything the team wanted in a quarterback. After a six-month negotiation, the team finalized a record-breaking $135 million contract on Monday that will keep Stafford at the helm the next six years.
“If you don’t see (him) every day, it’s hard to get a really strong feel for a player,” Quinn said. “I could watch until I’m blue in the face while at Foxboro, but to see him work, see him lead, to see him practice, to see the time he puts in to prepare for a new season, that’s the big thing for me.
“I didn’t know Matthew and Matthew didn’t know me,” Quinn said. “It was a feeling-out process. I watched him that first offseason program work in the weight room, I saw him work in the OTAs, I saw him in the summer. It didn’t take long, but you can’t jump in with two feet until you date for a little while.”
The top pick in the 2009 draft, Stafford was entering the final year of an extension he signed with the organization in 2013. The team first approach him in February about re-upping with the franchise. In that meeting, the first thing Quinn asked the quarterback, “Is this where you want to be?”
Like Quinn at that introductory press conference, Stafford had avoided speaking in black-and-white terms about his future. He consistently emphasized his desire to stay in Detroit, the place he’s called home the past eight years, but also knew there was a chance things wouldn’t work out.
Stafford considered all the possibilities for his future. He knew he could play out his previous deal and force the Lions to use the franchise tag, or eventually land with another team through any number of avenues.
But as training camp started, he came to the realization he wanted his representation to get a deal finalized, securing his long-term future with the only organization he’s known as a professional.
“It was important,” Stafford said. “It wasn’t something I knew all along would be the case, but as we got into training camp a little bit, I realized we have an extremely talented team, and for us to be worried about, or even myself, my contract situation was going to be disservice to our organization, to our team, to the players in the locker room. I wanted to get this thing done and kind of realized that during training camp.
“I’ve made Detroit my home,” Stafford said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve learned to embrace everything good, bad about the city. That’s what’s great about the people of Detroit. It’s not always perfect, but the fabric of this city is amazing and it’s a really tight-knit community.”
The negotiations were not easy. There were many hands involved in the process, hammering out the fine details of the complex nine-digit pact. But one thing that stood out, for both sides, is how smoothly the negotiations went. Stafford described them as “cordial as I think it could be.”
Earlier this month, Quinn confirmed reports that the two sides were far apart. The gap, which the general manger declined to elaborate on other than to say both sides made concessions, quickly evaporated as the regular season approached.
But unlike Stafford, Quinn never doubted the sides would reach an agreement.
“It was never to a point where I thought it wouldn’t get done,” he said.
In eight seasons with the Lions, Stafford has smashed most of the franchise passing records. It took him just five seasons to leapfrog Bobby Layne as the team’s all-time passing yardage king. Stafford also holds the career marks for completions and touchdowns and single-season bests in completion percentage and passer rating.
His individual accomplishments are unparalleled at this stage of his career, but Stafford has yet to taste meaningful team success. Joining the franchise one season after it recorded the NFL’s only 0-16 season, he’s amassed a 51-58 record as a starter, leading the team to the postseason three times, but failing to escape the opening weekend.
The goal remains reaching that next level.
“I was lucky, happy and honored to be a part of getting it from where it was then to where it is now,” Stafford said. “Hopefully, that exponential of a jump can happen again and we can go from where we are now to where we really want to be, hoisting the Lombardi opportunity.”