Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
The Lions and Matt Stafford have reached an agreement on a contract extension. According to multiple sources–and if you care who got it first I pity you–the extension is for three years and $53 million. That is tacked onto the end of his existing deal, which carries two more years at $23.5M, putting the entire value over the next five years at $76.5M.
Almost exactly a month ago I wrote about what to expect with the extension. It turns out the new deal winds up almost exactly splitting my expectation in half. Rather than a 6-year deal for $112M, Stafford instead adds 3 years and $53 million onto his rookie deal. The shorter term is an intriguing development. It positions Stafford to collect yet another huge payday in 2017, another development I alluded to in the earlier piece. But instead of voidable years and expectations for a renegotiation in 2017, Stafford instead will have the benefit of the potential to enter free agency.
The timing here is important. Stafford got his deal before Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman, and others cashed in with new contracts. Just as the Cowboys preempted the market by locking up Tony Romo, the Lions nipped the escalation of salaries in the bud by getting Stafford done now. The price tag was only going to go up if any of those other guys signed before Stafford. Now the deal is done well before camp, which eliminates distractions and ends and speculation about the future. It also opens up valuable cap room to eventually work out new deals with Ndamukong Suh and others.
What raised my eyebrow Rock-style is the guaranteed cash. $43M of the new $53M is fully guaranteed. That’s a lot higher than anticipated. I strongly suspect that stems as a consequence of Stafford agreeing to take less overall cash. The $17.6M per year average is just slightly more than Romo’s deal and isn’t close to what Joe Flacco or Aaron Rodgers got this offseason. It appears that Stafford sacrificed years and more prestigious longer numbers for guaranteed cash on a shorter term. This is a pretty savvy move by Stafford and his CAA representation, but also not a bad idea for Tom Lewand and the Lions as well.
Now Stafford is locked up for the next five seasons at a more cap-friendly number. Detroit fully committed to Stafford but also put a defined end to the commitment if Stafford doesn’t work out for whatever reason. If in four more years Stafford continues to put up huge numbers on paper that don’t translate to overall team success, the Lions have an out. The shorter term places more impetus on Stafford to work on eliminating the lazy mechanics and deliver a more consistent championship-caliber performance. Stafford demonstrates confidence in himself by agreeing to that, though collecting $43M is a pretty easy way to build confidence. If he can get the Lions a playoff win (or more!) in the next four years, I fully expect the Lions to pony up for another rich extension after the 2016 season. If Stafford gets hurt, or continues to sputter inconsistently with hollow raw numbers and a losing record, Detroit has the flexibility to move on. So does Stafford if he feels like he can do better, both financially and in the win department, in another location. Both sides created some leverage here. That’s a nice lesson for our elected officials in Congress, both sides giving a little to get a lot for the greater good of all.