Matthew Stafford deserves his newly minted five-year contract extension reportedly worth $135 million, plus a $50 million signing bonus because that is what the quarterback market dictates. Derek Carr signed a monster $125 million contract this summer that upped the price for a franchise quarterback, and Stafford will be well bested by Aaron Rodgers when his contract is extended ahead of its 2019 expiration. That’s how it works.
As ESPN’s Louis Riddick tweeted this morning, “if you are up in arms about how much Stafford is getting paid, then you don’t get what ‘team sport’ really means.” What Riddick, a former player and director of pro personnel, suggests is the obvious: quarterbacks are king and teams are willing to pay a disproportion amount once they believe they’ve found their franchise quarterback.
No other position so greatly and immediately impacts a team’s trajectory. Last year’s Raiders were sitting pretty as the no. 2 seed in the playoffs before MVP candidate Carr broke his tibula in Week 16. Under backups Matt McGloin and rookie Connor Cook, Oakland lost Week 17, dropped to the no. 5 seed, lost a wild-card game and quietly withered into the offseason. The position is so crucial that teams even shell out solely on potential (see Brock Osweiler).
Stafford, 2009’s no. 1 overall pick who has always been sneakily younger than you think, has at times showcased greatness. In 2011, he annihilated defenses with a whopping 5,036 passing yards and 41 touchdowns. He has consistently been lauded for his remarkable arm strength and ability to seamlessly sling it downfield. Last year, Stafford’s progression was on full display as his decision making improved, and as a byproduct so did his touchdown to turnover ratio (24-10). What truly makes Stafford special is his penchant for fourth quarter comebacks. He has led the Lions from behind 25 times, which ranks 14th all-time, all with a shorter NFL tenure than any of the quarterbacks ahead of him in this category.
But let’s be real. Stafford is hardly the best quarterback in the NFL. Not even close. Most of those fourth quarterback comebacks have come in the past two and a half years. The rest of his career, Stafford had been embedded as a nicer, slightly more talented version of Jay Cutler, complete with hot and cold streaks and heartbreaking errors. Moreover, he is 0-3 in the playoffs.
The Lions paid Stafford in hopes that he is more their future more than their past. Up until now Stafford has mostly kept the Lions above water, leaving a decade of ugliness punctuated by a winless 2008 in the dust. While Stafford hasn’t exactly led the Lions anywhere near Lombardi at least this franchise deserves to play on Thanksgiving.
With this new era contract, the goals must skyrocket. Status quo is hardly enough. The Lions have done their part to help their wealthy quarterback. The team has revamped its offensive line both though the draft and free agency (though LT Taylor Decker’s injury could take a toll). They gifted Stafford talented receivers in Golden Tate and Marvin Jones to try and fill some of the void left by Calvin Johnson’s retirement. And innovative offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has been a godsend. Stafford is well equipped to take the next step must be taken.
At some point Stafford will turn 32 and then 35 and his legacy will be dissected. If he were to retire today he would go down in Lions lore as the rich guy who couldn’t win a playoff game, another blip in a sordid franchise history . Stafford was the no. 1 overall pick and rich enough to buy an NFL team. The pressure to convincingly deliver comes now.