Thoughts on Lions Extension of Matthew Stafford

According to multiple sources the Detroit Lions agreed to an extension with QB Matthew Stafford worth $75 million over the next 5 years. Stafford was due to earn $23.5 million on his old contract so technically the deal will be valued as a 3 year deal worth just over $17.1 million per season in new money. According to Pro Football Talk Stafford will receive a $27.5 million dollar signing bonus.

While the total structure of the contract is not known the cap relief the Lions will get from Stafford is not as significant as some may expect. The Lions had reworked his deal so many times in the past that it is one of the messier contracts in the NFL. Despite having just $75 million in cash flows over the next 5 years, the salary cap portion of the contract is actually $94.3 million dollars, due to the high prorated amounts remaining on his contract.

From a cap perspective, assuming PFT’s source is good (and there is no reason to think it isn’t) the most he can reduce his cap this year is from $20.82 million to $14.535 million. The contract reportedly contains $43 million in guarantees which would likely be all paid out between 2013 and 2015. In that case Stafford’s cap charges will most probably run in the $17-$19 million dollar range in 2014 and 2015. It is possible that the Lions could try to drop his charge lower in 2014 as the team faces a difficult salary cap situation and take a huge hit in 2015. Again the lowest they can go in 2014 is in the range of $14.5 million.  The backend of the deal should have cap hits around $20 million.

The cap value of the deal is right at the upper echelon of players which is going to make Stafford, who has had one winning season in his career, one of the most overpriced players in the NFL, unless he can turn things around starting this season. I had graded Stafford very negatively based on his play last season and consider him, at this stage of his career, more of a volume producer than a good player.His $18.87 effective cap per year on this contract is actually higher than Aaron Rodgers’ who will carry a cap value of $18.68 over the life of his deal and $17.75 over the next 5 seasons. It is a terrific illustration of a well managed club versus a poorly managed one. Based on the reported numbers Stafford should be a lock to remain on the Lions thru at least 2015, even if he did not have guarantees to protect him. In 2015 he will carry over $19 million in dead money if released. In 2016 the Lions will face $11 million in dead money charges, a high number but perhaps one that could be acceptable if Stafford fails to improve the fortunes of the team.

The Lions really have nowhere to go with Stafford because of their cap management issues. If anything Stafford probably could have gotten more money out of them, but instead he took a tradeoff where he will only be under contract for 3 additional years, getting the opportunity to cash in yet again before he turns 30. As a former number 1 pick with a very live arm he will have no problem finding work regardless of the results (see Carson Palmer for an example) and if he improves so will his earning. Realistically it would be hard to expect the Lions to compete for a Super Bowl the way the Ravens did last season so Stafford was likely not going to gain too much this year and would risk the threat of injury. The framework of the contract is likely centered upon the short term cap relief deal the New York Jets gave Mark Sanchez in 2012, though it is hard to say that Sanchez gave the Jets a discount, which Stafford may have done here.

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