COMMENTARY | The Detroit Lions clearly have their quarterback of the present and future in Matthew Stafford. After overcoming injury issues that plagued his first few seasons in the league, Stafford has now proven that he can stay on the field and be the signal-caller that Detroit needs.
The relationship and chemistry that has developed between Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson has helped the Lions passing attack become one of the most prolific in the NFL. Stafford is a smart decision maker, has one of the strongest arms in football and has thrown for over 10,000 yards over the past two seasons.
All of these factors should make giving Stafford a new contract an easy decision. After all, for the first time in ages, the Lions have a legitimate franchise quarterback in place. This is not Andre Ware, Scott Mitchell, Mike McMahon, Jeff Garcia, Joey Harrington, etc...
The problem is that Stafford's contract is not even up until after the 2015 season (the team has a club option for $15 million in 2015) and talk of a new deal is taking up offseason discussion right now. Is this really the proper time to be worrying about extending his deal? The Lions have already handled their salary cap issues for 2013 and are actually sitting somewhat comfortably below the cap.
Trying to put in a lucrative contract for Stafford that also helps the team's salary cap is something that would be best done during the 2014 offseason. That way the Lions can aggressively pursue quality free agents while ensuring that they also lock up the centerpiece of the franchise. Right now the team does not know what type of salary issues or problems will pop up next season, so it is premature to start working on what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest contracts in the NFL.
Let's also keep in mind that Stafford is not currently working on a rookie contract that grossly underpays him. He is not someone that has outplayed the confines of a rookie contract because he was one of the last players to sign his deal under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA.) Remember how rookie deals used to work for top picks? The balloon just kept expanding and these guys were given inflated contracts before ever playing a down.
Stafford has earned his keep to a degree, but his initial contract was worth a staggering $72 million over six years. He is set to earn $11 million in 2013. Stafford is making a comparable amount of money to other quarterbacks in the NFL and still has plenty of time to ensure his future in the Motor City. Plus he seems to be more worried about improving the offense than he is about getting a massive contract.
"I want talent around me, frankly," Stafford said, per the Detroit Free Press back in April. "There's opportunities. Everywhere in the league you see guys breaking records with how much they're making and all that kind of stuff, and honestly, you want fair market value."
Team president Tom Lewand echoed similar sentiments to MLive.com earlier this month:
"We've still got discussion to have, but at some point in time, will either get a deal done, or we'll focus on football," Lewand said. "The good news there is that we've got a great relationship. I think Matt has a lot of confidence that we want him to be our quarterback for a long time and we have a lot of confidence that Matt wants to be here for a long time."
This may seem like typical front office banter, but it seems clear that there is no sense of urgency to getting the contract worked out. The Lions have plenty of time to work out the details and Stafford is happy and content to continue playing under his rookie contract in the meantime.
The best thing for both sides appears to be playing out the 2013 season and then getting serious about working out a new deal once the 2014 offseason rolls around. This gives both sides a chance to relax and make sure that everything is still going smoothly a year from now.
This contract may have become a hot-button topic lately, but the discussion should cool off sooner rather than later.
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