Reaction to the contract to be signed (if it hasn’t already been) by Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has been mixed. Initially characterized as a “blockbuster,” the truth is that it’s worth far less than the $20 million-per-year contracts signed in 2012 by Drew Brees and earlier this year by Joe Flacco.
Some view the five-year, $76.5 million package as too light, with an annual average of $15.3 million. Some view the deal as too heavy, given that Stafford has yet to establish himself as a durable, short-list franchise quarterback. (Indeed, ESPN’s Ron Jaworski recently put Stafford at No. 16 on Jaworski’s annual ranking of starting quarterbacks.)
Either way, it doesn’t matter. Stafford’s current deal was driven in large part by the contract he signed in 2009.
Four years ago, the NFL had yet to implement a rookie wage scale. His cap number already was north of $20 million for 2013, and he was due to earn $23.5 million over the next two years. With a cap number that would have been $19.3 million in 2014, Stafford’s franchise tender for 2015 would have been $23.16 million.
Thus, if the Lions wanted to keep Stafford, they were going to pay him $46.16 million over the next three years. He’ll now get roughly $43 million over the next three years.
But Stafford, if he were willing to push it (and to continue to accept the injury risk), could have opted for a year-to-year approach beyond 2014, with the franchise tenders in 2015, 2016, and 2017 quickly spiraling out of control. Under the labor deal, Stafford would have made $27.792 million in 2016 and $40.02 million in 2017.
That works out to $113.972 million over five years, or $37.475 million more than the total value of his new five-year deal.
The difference is that Stafford had no (or at least minimal) remaining guarantees on his rookie contract. If he suffered a catastrophic injury, he would have been out of luck. Under the new contract, Stafford positions himself for more than $40 million guaranteed, to go with more than $50 million he already has earned.
Then there’s the competitive aspect. By pushing his cap charges to the limit and beyond, Stafford would have made it harder for the Lions to put a team around him.
“I don’t play this game to get contracts,” Stafford said last month. “I play this game to win games and that’s the way I’ve always felt about it.”
At that point, it was clear that Stafford wasn’t inclined to make a maximum cash grab, even though his rookie contract gave him that ability. It’s the same rookie contract that has allowed him to get much more than some would say he deserves based on his overall performance to date.