Matthew Stafford is officially next. The 4 p.m. franchise tag deadline passed Monday afternoon, and since QB Kirk Cousins didn’t sign a long-term deal with Washington, the parameters are officially known for what a contract might need to look like for Stafford, the Detroit Lions‘ quarterback.
Raiders QB Derek Carr set the market last month with a five-year contract that guarantees $70.2 million and is worth just shy of $25 million per year. When that happened, Stafford had an idea of what might make him the richest player in the NFL.
If Stafford had made a move before the franchise tag deadline, a Cousins deal could have topped it. Not now, which means that whenever Stafford gets an extension done, it should make him the highest-paid player in the league.
And for the Lions’ sake, that should happen.
Stafford could become a $25 million-a-year man if he wants. He could set records with a new deal. Depending on what the structure of the deal looks like — particularly with the years on the contract and the average per year — Stafford could top $250 million in career earnings if the 29-year-old plays through the next contract he signs.
It’s a deal that, frankly, should get done. Both sides have shown they would like it to happen. Stafford has said he would like to be in Detroit long term. Lions team president Rod Wood told ESPN last month that he would like to have a deal done, too.
Neither has put a timetable on it, but with the Cousins deadline having passed, they can work without the potential of another deal coming in and beating them out — at least until Cousins, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan or Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signs a new contract down the road making one of them the highest-paid player in league history.
“It’s going to be whatever it takes, I think, to make it happen from both sides,” Wood told ESPN last month. “And whether he becomes the highest-paid or not, it’ll be a short-lived designation because, as [general manager] Bob [Quinn] said, and I think it’s true, if you’re in the top whatever of quarterbacks, when your time comes up, your time comes up, and then somebody else’s time comes up, and they become the highest [paid].
“It’s a premium position, and you need to have a very, very good player at that position to be credible and be competitive, and I think we do have that, and we’re working on getting a deal done.”
Getting this done early would be good optics for a franchise that saw former stars Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson retire early, at least in part, because of the franchise’s inability to win consistently. The franchise also let defensive star Ndamukong Suh get to free agency after the 2015 offseason — only to see him leave for Miami, though the Lions believed a deal would get done.
So following through on a massive deal with the team’s best player is just smart. It shows a commitment to a quarterback who could become one of the league’s top players at his position within the next two to three years if some of the older quarterbacks — such as Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers — retire or decline.
Other than the actual negotiation process, not much should be stopping the Lions and Stafford from getting a deal done now if both have been sincere in their public statements that they want one to happen.
If Stafford wants to be the highest-paid player in the NFL for the next four to eight months, he can become that before the inevitable rising of salaries sees him passed on the ledger. If the Lions want to make the long-term commitment to their franchise quarterback they’ve often talked about, they have all the room to do so. It’s just a matter, on both sides, of when.