Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford enters the fifth year of his rookie deal with a $20.8 million cap number. And while it’s important for the team to knock that number down in order to transact business, the franchise’s primary objective is to ensure that their franchise quarterback will remain with the team over the long haul.
“Matthew Stafford is our quarterback, and we hope is our quarterback for a long time,” Lions president Tom Lewand said. via Anwar Richardson of MLive.com. “The reason to explore a contract extension with Matthew is to fulfill that goal of having him be our quarterback for a long time. It’s not a short-term look at the salary cap. That’s the wrong way to look at that. When you look at extending somebody like Matthew, he’s not going to take less money to extend. That’s a very short-term focus to look at.”
Lewand is right, but there’s a win-win that comes from a long-term deal that drives down the current cap number.
“The reason to have an extension with Matthew, just like the reason to have the extension with Calvin [Johnson] last year, was to secure their services for a long period of time,” Lewand said. “In Calvin’s case last year, the timing was a little bit different because we knew that there was an opportunity to get something done. But in Matthew’s case, Matthew’s got two years left on his deal. Calvin didn’t. It’s a different set of circumstances.”
The one primary similarity is that both players were drafted in the top two picks, prior to the arrival of the rookie wage scale. The cap numbers from the latter years of their big-money rookie contracts necessarily create leverage to do a long-term deal. Indeed, Johnson’s extension dropped his cap number for 2012 from $21 million to $11.5 million.
So while the main goal was to get Johnson last year and now Stafford this year locked up for the long haul, the reality is that their long-term deals have been inflated by the amounts they were already due to earn under trumped-up rookie contracts.
They still have one more player who falls into that category. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was the second overall pick in 2010, the last year before the rookie wage scale. It could be that, after committing major cap dollars in the present and future to Johnson and Stafford, Suh will become an erratic luxury the Lions can’t afford.