Matthew Stafford still has a few years left on his rookie contract, but Detroit is working towards signing him to another long-term deal soon. The Lions and Stafford are getting closer to agreeing on extension, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Birkett says it's "just a matter of time" before the two sides reach a deal that likely tops $100 million. The Lions haven't asked Stafford to restructure his current contract that takes up over $20 million in cap space for 2013. Detroit wants to sign him long-term instead.
Despite finishing 4-12 last season, it's clear the 25-year-old quarterback will be the face of the franchise for years to come. Let's take a look at what he's accomplished since entering the league, and what kind of numbers Stafford could be looking at with his new contract.
Life before Stafford
Lions fans may not want to relive this agonizing history. Prior to Stafford's arrival, Detroit hadn't made the playoffs since 1999 when it finished 8-8 and lost to Washington in the wild card round.
The quarterback position was a revolving door of unsuccessful candidates. The year before Stafford entered the draft, the combination of Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper and Jon Kitna all spent time under center. Is it any surprise the Lions finished 0-16 in 2008? Any team would be hard pressed to win with those passers in the starting lineup.
Kitna started for Detroit in 2006 and 2007. Before him came Joey Harrington, a colossal draft bust. The Lions selected him out of Oregon at No. 3 overall in 2002. Harrington started for four seasons, with Jeff Garcia and Mike McMahon filling in for two of those years, and the team compiled a total of 19 wins in that span. Sure, there were issues with the offensive line, a lack of weapons and a change in offensive philosophy, but did Harrington succeed after leaving Detroit?
Scott Mitchell in 1997 was the last 16-game starter for the franchise before Harrington showed up. That might be the last time Detroit possessed a decent starting quarterback. Mitchell's playoff history was dreadful, but he did lead the Lions to three postseason appearances, with the help of a guy named Barry Sanders. He threw for 4,338 yards in 1995 as they finished 10-6 overall.
Life with Stafford
Success didn't instantly emerge upon drafting Stafford with the No. 1 pick in 2009. The Lions went 2-14 in his first season. Stafford was placed on injured reserve in December 2009 after undergoing minor knee surgery. He threw for 2,267 yards, 13 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 10 games. Plus, the franchise was still recovering from the Matt Millen era.
Injuries plagued 2010 as well. Two injuries to his throwing shoulder cut his season to just three starts. A mild panic slowly stirred among the Lions' faithful. Would Stafford ever be able to stay healthy for an entire season?
Fortunately, 2011 deterred any naysayers to Stafford's potential. He started all 16 games and set several franchise season records, including most passing yards (5,038), most passing touchdown (41) and most completions (421). The Lions posted a 10-6 record and made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Hope was rekindled. Times were changing in Detroit.
Last year failed to live up to those expectations as the team finished 4-12 even with Stafford starting the entire year. He nearly threw for 5,000 yards again, but his 20 touchdowns and 17 interceptions didn't mirror the passing dominance he displayed in 2011.
Detroit didn't revert to its old ways, though. Nine of the 12 losses were within single digits. Two came in overtime. The passing game still ranked second in the league. There are a lot of positives to take into 2013, Stafford's health and performance being a key.
Solidifying Stafford's future in Detroit won't come cheap. The $100 million mark seems to be the standard for franchise quarterbacks today. Joe Flacco just became the highest-paid player in NFL history after delivering a Super Bowl. Last year, Drew Brees signed what was the richest contract at the time. There's no escaping an expensive payday here.
The Lions are hoping to extend Stafford's contract before the 2013 season begins. They're also potentially racing the Packers in their quest to give Aaron Rodgers a new deal. Throw in the Falcons looking to give Matt Ryan an extension, and the quarterback market is going to continue its rapid inflation.
In 45 games, Stafford has thrown for 12,807 yards, 80 touchdowns and an overall quarterback rating of 82.8. He's already second on the Lions all-time list for most passing yards and touchdowns. He's going to get paid.
Take Tony Romo as a comparison. The Cowboys recently gave him a six-year extension worth $108 million, with $55 million guaranteed. That might be the floor for Stafford's new deal.
Stafford only has one winning season under his belt. He doesn't have a playoff win. Yet, he'll still be receiving upwards of $100 million. That's the amount Detroit is forced to offer in today's NFL. It can thank Dallas in part for setting the bar.
If Stafford stays healthy and the Lions continue to build around him, postseason success is surely on the horizon. We've seen how explosive he can be with Calvin Johnson. We've seen him finally provide consistency to his position. Expect to see No. 9 starting under center in Detroit for years to come.
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