Revisiting The Merit Of Matthew Stafford's Contract Extension
When the Lions sat at 5-3 in early November, I wrote an article titled, “Has Matthew Stafford Earned His Contract Extension,” in which I compared Stafford’s three-year, $53 million contract extension to the other five NFL quarterbacks whose contracts have a greater per year value. I argued that while Stafford does not have the playoff and Super Bowl success of guys like Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, Stafford has earned his extension in the Lions standards.
How so? Well, Stafford has been a consistent presence under center for the Lions since he debuted in 2009 (outside of an injury-plagued 2010). Prior to Stafford’s arrival, the Lions had used nine quarterbacks in the 10 years since its last playoff appearance in 1999.
Secondly, Stafford knows how to throw the football. The 2013 campaign marked his third straight season of more than 4,500 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, which is hard to argue against.
Thirdly, and most importantly, Stafford led the Lions to the playoffs. For the Lions organization—a team that drafted Stafford after the first 0-16 season in NFL history—making the playoffs just three years later is extraordinary.
Those three criteria still apply and are important to consider when assessing Stafford’s contract situation from the Lions perspective. So then why am I revisiting that article? This sentence:
“But most of all, Stafford’s presence has let GM Martin Mayhew focus on addressing other needs of the team…”
When the Lions entered their bye week with the best chance of any NFC North team of claiming the division, this was true. Stafford was set, there wasn’t much to worry about—his record against winning teams was lacking, but that could easily change with the right personnel. The focus could shift toward the secondary and bolstering an already strong offensive line.
Then, it all fell apart. Head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan were fired, and suddenly, the entire focus of the Lions’ offseason turned toward fixing the one thing the front office didn’t think would need fixing: Matthew Stafford.
Mayhew’s coaching hires this offseason have been almost entirely aimed toward Stafford’s development. Jim Caldwell’s background includes Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco, Joe Lombardi’s includes Drew Brees, and new quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter’s resume includes work as an offensive assistant to Manning’s Broncos. The front office has surrounded Stafford with an entourage of coaches picked mostly—in my opinion—due to the fact that they have worked with the likes of Manning, Brees, and Flacco. All three are unproven in their roles, and only Caldwell has actually held his current position in the past.
Mayhew and the rest of the Lions front office took a gamble on Stafford last year in extending his contract, thinking that they had their winning quarterback and could simply fill the rest of the cupboard around him. The fact that they are now welcoming three new quarterback-heavy coaches to the staff cannot be reassuring to Mayhew and his staff.
I’ll ask the question again: has Stafford earned his extension?
For the reasons above, yes he has—in the context of the Detroit Lions organization. However, it’s not as black-and-white as it was in November. His dismal second half of the 2013 season, combined with the Lions’ failure to ultimately lock down an easy division title, was a tremendous step backward for Stafford. Add in a complete 180 of Mayhew’s priority list and the extension has me more and more nervous every day.
The 2014 season, and Stafford’s reaction to the new coaches and offense, will say a lot about the quarterback’s ability to lead a playoff-caliber team. I’m still cautiously optimistic that the deal will end up being a positive for the Lions, but the bust potential is certainly an elephant in the room entering next season.