Before I commented too much on the Matthew Stafford contract extension I wanted to see the details. The initial reporting said the average annual value was $27 million for five years. Reports that followed said that it would save the Lions cap space in 2017.
Then profootballtalk.com got a hold of it and we all got to take a look at the specifics. On a massive deal like this, the devil is in the details. The finer points are where previous regimes set themselves up for continual failure. The details of this contract do not do that. This deal fits well within the team’s present and future salary cap situation. Rather than childishly ranting like some sites have, I thought I might explain in detail how.
First I will give you some of those details, just in case you missed them. Matthew Stafford got a $50 million dollar signing bonus, but $15 million of his $16 million 2017 salary was included. He only got $35 million in new money as a part of that. He is only fully guaranteed $60.5 million dollars at signing. The $92 million that was reported it the amount he is guaranteed if he suffers a career ending injury tomorrow.
Here is where the huge number comes from. Matthew Stafford receives a roster bonus near the beginning of each league year, around the time free agency opens. That bonus becomes guaranteed if he has not been cut early in the previous league year. The Detroit Lions will save cap space should the player or team decide to end the relationship any time after the 2019 season. There is no guaranteed money of any kind in the final two seasons of the Matthew Stafford contract extension.
Does Matthew Stafford Deserve This Contract?
One of the major issues brought up by detractors of the move is that Stafford does not deserve the money. Contract negotiations are never about deserving anything. That is an incredibly naive stance to take. They are about leverage, and Stafford had all of it.
The Lions options outside of this were to move on from him or to franchise him, possibly multiple times. In a previous article, I covered how difficult it is to replace a starting quarterback by looking at the previous decade of data. A first round pick, the best option, has a 33% chance of netting a legitimate starting quarterback. Bringing in a journeyman veteran free agent has a 15% chance of landing a usable starter. Replacing him is a stupid idea. Any other opinion relies on alternative facts. It’s fake news. The Matthew Stafford Contract extension is a fair deal.
As for the tactic of franchise tagging a quarterback multiple times, it is truly an idiotic ploy. Rumors were last year that Kirk Cousins would have signed a long term deal with Washington for $22 million per season. This year an agent put forth that it would take $26 million per season. The speculation right now is that he could get $30 million per season in 2018.
If you need more evidence than I have presented to understand that Washington made a terrible mistake, the education system has failed you. That tactic did nothing but increase Kirk Cousins leverage, and salary demand, as other teams committed long term to their franchise quarterbacks. Those teams can now move on to the rest of their roster. Washington will still need to find a quarterback in 2018.
Should Matthew Stafford Be The Highest Paid Player?
During the first two years of the Matthew Stafford contract extension, half of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL will be getting new deals. That is half of the established, legitimate starters, not half of the 32 people who will start week one. Next year alone Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees will sign bigger deals than Stafford. Over the following year or two teams will be looking to lock up players like Aaron Rogers, Marcus Mariotta, Jameis Winston, and Matt Ryan among others. Matthew Stafford was just the next franchise quarterback in line.
Every time a legitimate franchise quarterback comes up for a new deal that doesn’t have a supermodel wife, he becomes the new highest paid player in the NFL. Derek Carr didn’t deserve it. Andrew Luck didn’t deserve it. Deserving it is not relevant. Spending a first round pick on a quarterback results in a 67% failure rate. The only sure bet for getting a franchise quarterback in place is already having one and giving him a massive contract. Some positions in sports you pay whatever you have to. Quarterback is one of those positions.
But Matthew Stafford Does Not Win
One of the commonly spouted knocks on Matthew Stafford is that he doesn’t win. First I will say that wins are a team stat, and Stafford has played on some brutal teams. Stafford has been on the field with a running back that went for 100 yards only seven times since 2009. The last of these was Reggie Bush in 2013. He has had a 1000 yard rusher only once. That was also Reggie Bush in 2013. He has had a defense climb into the top 1/3 of the league only twice.
Since his consecutive games started streak began in 2011 the Detroit Lions have averaged 8 wins despite that lackluster support. The Detroit Lions have made the playoffs in three of six seasons. In the three years that the Lions have had neither a 1000 yard season or even a 100 yard game from a running back, the Lions have made it to the playoffs twice. They have a winning record over that stretch. Even if this argument had merit, it is simply not true at this point.
OK, But Matthew Stafford Does Not Win In The Playoffs
During Matthew Stafford’s career in the playoffs, the Lions defense has given up an average of 31.7 points per game. They have intercepted one pass in three games. After the 2011 season, they allowed Drew Brees to pass for 466 yards, and three touchdowns.
After the 2014 season, they allowed Tony Romo to throw for 293 yards with a 114 passer rating. Last season they gave up 161 yards rushing to Thomas Rawls in the wildcard round. Rawls had 349 rushing yards in nine regular season games. Russell Wilson had a light workload, but the Lions defense allowed him a 119 passer rating and the support of a running back on a 2500 yard season pace. The Detroit Lions defense can’t win in the playoffs.
Matthew Stafford has averaged 303 yards passing in the playoffs, a number dragged down by last year’s game with an injured throwing hand. The team around him has averaged 48.7 yards rushing in addition to their poor defensive showing. To blame him for playoff losses is to ignore facts.
I would like to thank certain people for making the argument that Stafford doesn’t win. I have been able to unfollow a lot of twitter accounts in the last few days. Since Matthew Stafford began his consecutive starts streak in 2011 the Detroit Lions have been a .500 team in the regular season. With a terrible running game and a terrible defense more often than not, the team has managed to win as many as they lose.
Does Matthew Stafford Make The Players Around Him Better?
Another common assertion is that Matthew Stafford does not make players around him better. Golden Tate’s first season in Detroit was spectacular. He increased his career high in yardage by more than 400 yards. Calvin Johnson’s first full season with Stafford as his quarterback resulted in an increase of 350 yards over his previous career high.
Prior to 2011, Megatron’s highest yards per game in a season was 83.2. From 2011-2013 he exceeded that mark by 21.9, 39.6, and 33.4 yards per game played with Matthew Stafford as his quarterback. Only when slowed by injuries that led to his early retirement did Calvin Johnson dip to his pre-Stafford levels of production. Johnson was a great receiver.
He was probably the most physically dominant ever to play. Matthew Stafford made him significantly better statistically.
Will The Detroit Lions Be Able To Build A Team?
The most common argument against this contract is that it will cause the team to lose players or not allow them to add free agents. With Stafford’s new deal in place, the Lions are set to have the fourth most salary cap space available for the 2018 season. The only significant contract they have to consider is Ezekiel Ansah. The team has many other free agents, but none that will command more than $3-4 million.
An earlier projection I did for the 2018 salary cap situation estimated that the Lions would have $15.5 million plus whatever amount the cap rises to spend on free agents after dealing with their own roster.
The Matthew Stafford contract extension, and that of Glover Quin have shifted that number up to around $19.5 million. While both players have a slightly higher 2018 cap number than I predicted ($1.5 million combined) Stafford’s deal freed up $5.5 million in cap space that will carry over unless the Lions use it.
From 2016 to 2017 the salary cap went up $12 million dollars and has gone up by more each successive season since the current CBA began. It is likely that the Lions open free agency with over $30 million dollars in actual space to sign free agents.
The Long Term Effects Of The Matthew Stafford Contract Extension
In 2019 the three main free agents that the Lions will need to sign are Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, and Ameer Abdullah. Of the three only Abdullah is likely to carry a higher salary cap number than the final year of his current contract in the first season of his next contract. Stafford’s salary cap hit increases by $3 million, but the salary cap will likely increase by nearly $20 million from the 2018 to 2019 seasons.
In the seasons following that, his salary cap hit increases by 2 million for the 2020 season, and then drops by 1.5 for the 2021 season. For the final year of this contract Matthew Stafford’s salary cap number drops by seven million.
It will not be the Matthew Stafford contract extension that causes problems for the Lions moving forward. If the Lions lose players, it will be because either the team or the player simply did not want to continue the relationship. The long term effects of the Matthew Stafford Contract Extension are simple. When teams a re-signing quarterbacks for $35 million per season, Matthew Stafford will be have cap hits from $23 to $31.5 million.
The End Of The Matthew Stafford Contract Extension
A new collective bargaining agreement will have been signed by the end of the Matthew Stafford contract extension. If the salary cap structure continues similarly to the way it has, Stafford’s deal is a great one. This extension is in truth a six year 157 million dollar contract.
The final season of the contract does have the highest cash payout of any year but the first. It also has the lowest salary cap hit. signing bonuses only amortize across the first five seasons of a contract. That means that $10 million counts toward each of the first five seasons, but zero counts toward the sixth and final season. Because of that his $23 million in cash paid out is also his salary cap hit. If there is still a franchise tag to use, the Lions will not be paying a larger than normal number if they use it.
Stafford will be 35 when this contract ends. It is within the realm of possibility that he will continue playing beyond that season. Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, and Drew Brees are all older than that going in to the 2017 season.
By structuring Matthew Stafford’s contract extension the way he did, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn looked to the future. He has set up his next negotiation with Stafford to give the quarterback as little leverage as possible. I will leave you with a link to the best analysis I have heard on the subject since the news dropped. Colin Cowherd said it best.