Matthew Stafford: The Detroit Lions $25 million man

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Matthew Stafford Wants $25 Million Dollars Per Season In An Extension With The Detroit Lions.

The idea of moving on from Stafford due to his cap hit is a bad one. In this article I illustrated that first round picks at the quarterback position give a team a 33% chance; and the journeyman veteran acquisition route gives a team a 15%  chance of netting a competent starter. I also covered that from 2012-2016 10% of the playoff teams in the NFL had what could be called a journeyman veteran at the quarterback position.

In short, I explained that if you believe that acquiring a quarterback that is even “good enough” is probable, the data simply proves you incorrect. Yes, a few teams have done it, but the way they did it is not efficient, or likely to be replicated.

I also wrote an article about the escalation of quarterback salaries and the merits of extending Stafford as early as possible, but there have been a couple new contracts since then. Making all that math and speculation worthless. I will not waste you time with that link. Suffice it to say that the inflation of quarterback salaries have been moving along at pretty close to the same rate as the salary cap. It had been a little slower, but the Andrew Luck and Drew Brees contracts this off-season brought it back in line with the overall salary structure. My argument at the time was that the Lions should lock up Stafford before that happened. Now that a number has been floated in terms of what the player wants, the question becomes one of whether or not the number is reasonable.

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What was Matthew Stafford?

On a long enough timeline, gunslinger quarterbacks evolve (Brett Favre) or they decline (Jay Cutler) while game managers get better with time (Alex Smith, Kurt Warner). The term “game manager” has been a slur at times, but in truth it is what every competent starting quarterback in the NFL does. Some are simply better at finding productive holes in defenses than others.

The main knock against Stafford had been a lack of progression as his career went along. He was a very similar quarterback in 2009 and 2013, simply surrounded by better weapons. Other than the 2011 anomaly Staffords numbers were not improving, and were not good enough. He was better, but the way he played the game had not changed. His throwing mechanics were bad, his footwork was bad, and his decision making was questionable.

His statistics were a product of throwing the ball 650-700 times a year. Under Jim Bob Cooter the Lions are on pace to throw the ball 565 times in 2016, and still Stafford is on pace to throw the second highest passing touchdown total. With the lowest interception totals of his professional career.

When the coaching staff change occurred Stafford had been producing statistics that pointed to a downward trend. He was being sacked less, completing a smaller percentage of his passes, and throwing more interceptions. He was rushing throws in to bad places, to bail out his sub-par offensive line.

Stafford was trying to force his will on the other team because he had no other choice. The percentage of passes he was completing to his main target in the offense was also dropping. In 2011 he completed 60.8% of his passes to Calvin Johnson. By 2013 that number was down to 53.8%. Stafford was becoming less effective in getting the ball to the best available option. In fact Stafford completed 60% or more of his passes that season to only two receivers in 2013: Brandon Pettigrew and Joe Fuaria. For those paying attention that would be the slowest, least dangerous pair of tight ends in the history of the NFL. Those would be players that teams were more than happy to allow catches.

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What is Matthew Stafford?

In the Jim Bob Cooter era, Stafford has been the perfect quarterback to execute the offense of what would seem to be an emerging genius among the coaching ranks. The Lions offense has gotten the job done this season under some very unfortunate circumstances.

There is no question that the synergy between coach and quarterback is responsible for that. The Lions have been unable to generate a running game due to the poor blocking of their offensive line and the low caliber of their healthy running backs. As a result they have adopted a quick striking, short pass based offense, composed of high percentage plays that fit their personnel perfectly. The vast majority of most games, Stafford is a game manager. He is being tasked with reading the defense, and taking what is available. His job is to determine which player will be open, and get the ball in to that player’s hands as rapidly as possible.

Matthew Stafford could not be less of a gunslinger in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense if his name were Alex Smith, and that is a very good thing. Some would say that this sort of offense is a waste of Stafford’s arm talent, and that is where I would say the Cooter way of thinking diverges from the norm. Cooter is using the rocket launcher attached to Stafford’s torso to get the ball a short distance as rapidly as possible, minimizing the risk, whereas most offensive coordinators use such a gift to go downfield for more risky plays.

Stafford has completed less than 60% of his passes to only one receiver on the roster, Marvin Jones, and has completed over 70% of his passes to three of the Lions top five leaders in receptions. That might lead some to propose that the cause was the Lions reliance on screen passes, were it not for the fact that two of those players are Anquan Boldin and Eric Ebron. Those two players make their livings in the middle of the defense, not catching passes behind the line of scrimmage. Rather than force throws in to dangerous places as a matter of course, Stafford is throwing the ball away, running when no play presents itself, or taking a sack when even those options are taken away. Matthew Stafford has learned that even his arm has limitations. Only when the game is on the line does he test them.

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But is Stafford Worth $25 Million?

Stafford is not in the top five quarterbacks in yards per game, touchdown passes or completion percentage. Despite that, this is the first season in which there has been any talk of Matthew Stafford as an MVP candidate. Tom Brady has eliminated the possibility that any other player be mentioned for that award, but Stafford created buzz early on. So if Stafford is not leading the NFL in anything why is there a sudden respect for his game? The answer is that he the Lions are winning. Fifteen teams have as many or more wins than the Lions this season, but unquestionably each of those teams have a better roster. There are positions in which the Lions have talent, but for the majority of this season they have been hampered by a bad defense, and have lacked a running game. These are factors that have defined Stafford’s entire career with few brief exceptions. The difference is that this season the Lions are winning despite the fact that one man has control over everything they do well. That man is Matthew Stafford.

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Get to the Point

The Lions currently have Matthew Stafford at a cap number of  $22 million dollars for this season and next. They would have to pay him about $26 million for a franchise season in 2018, and then just over $31 million for a second franchise season in 2019. So while the Lions have control over Stafford’s future until the 2020 offseason, those cap hits make such a scenario undesirable for everyone involved. The thing to remember is that while an extension may have an average cap number of $25 million, that does not mean that each season will have a salary cap number of $25 million.

Stafford’s cap number would likely go down for 2017 in the event of an extension averaging $25 million per season. Having just received a massive signing bonus, most players are willing to take a relatively small salary at the beginning of the deal, having it escalate as the contract goes on and their signing bonus money fades in to memory. In this regard, the longer the deal is, the more team friendly it becomes in the initial seasons. So when the thought strikes you that extending Stafford is going to make it more difficult for the Lions to retain players like Larry Warford and Ziggy Ansah; or bring in free agents, dismiss it. That is not a problem until the second half of a deal. In the first few seasons of the extension, salary cap space is actually freed up.

The other thing you should want as a fan is as long a contract as possible. A longer contract means a bigger signing bonus, and more seasons with a lower than average cap hit while Bob Quinn is trying to build the team in his vision. A contract longer than five seasons allows the team to walk away with no cap consequence at any time after the fifth year if they desire to do so, because the signing bonus only amortizes over the first five seasons. If you are in for five there is no reason not to be in for seven because NFL contracts are not guaranteed; teams are able to walk away at any time. So while a seven year deal signed this offseason would take Stafford to the ripe old age of 36. If his arm fell apart at 34, the team could take the required steps to hasten his retirement.

The other reason to get an extension completed is the other options in Stafford’s potential free agent season. The other major quarterbacks whose contracts expire are Sam Bradford, Robert Griffin III, Teddy Bridgewater, and Blake Bortles. That means there will likely be several teams looking to fill a void at quarterback, and no viable options to fill those voids. Waiting ensures that the team would need to use the franchise tag to keep Stafford, and his agent would be pushing for even more money with the prospect of a second tag reaching over $31 million. The longer the team waits, the more leverage the player has if his performance is on a high level. Waiting is how the Lions ended up in the Suh situation, among other factors.

How many wins would the Lions have if Ryan Tannehill were their quarterback? Are Jay Cutler or Brock Osweiller perhaps are more to your liking? Do Colin Kaepernick or Ryan Fitzpatrick set your heart aflutter? With any of those options, and the Lions margins for victory, I would put the number of wins at zero.

Without Stafford in 2016, with the injuries to key players that have occurred, the Lions would be dueling with the Browns and Bears for the right to draft first overall in 2017. Instead they are posession of the division lead and within striking distance of a playoff bye. Key contributors are set to return to action and the Lions are in a place to control their own playoff destiny.

So the answer is yes. Matthew Stafford is absolutely worth $25 million dollars per season in an extension. Hopefully the Lions win the Superbowl so we can stop having this conversation every few months. Pay the man. he’s got a couple more mouth to feed soon.

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About the Author

Ash Thompson
Ash Thompson is a fanatical football fan, and less fanatical hockey fan despite his Canadian heritage. He is sorry aboot that. His spirit animal is a beaver with a shark's head. He enjoys maple syrup and tacos, but never at the same time.