By: Will Burchfield
If and when the Lions sign Matthew Stafford to a contract extension, he is liable to become the highest-paid player in the NFL.
To Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, who joined the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket on Monday, that wouldn't be unjustified.
"Any time that phrase is put out there - highest-paid player in football - first of all, somebody's got to be, and second of all, it's currently Andrew Luck," said Florio. "And I would say Matthew Stafford is a better overall quarterback right now than Andrew Luck.
"There's some people that say, 'Oh, Luck's better.' I think Stafford has accomplished more. With Luck, I don't know how much of it is he doesn't have a team around him, but it isn't exactly as if Stafford has had a collection of superstars around him throughout his career, either."
Luck's current contract, a six-year, $140 million deal that he signed in 2016, has an average annual salary of about $24.5 million. No player in the NFL makes more per season, but Stafford, whose contract expires at the end of next season, could be in line to set a new standard.
Compare the passing statistics of Stafford and Luck beginning with each quarterback's first full NFL season. (Of note: Luck played in just seven games in 2015.)
|Stafford (2011-16)||Luck (2012-16)|
|YPG||286.5 yards||272.5 yards|
|Comp. %||62.3 percent||59.2 percent|
|Record (Win %)||48-48 (.500)||43-27 (.614)|
|Pro Bowls||2014||2012, 2013, 2014|
In terms of individual statistics, Stafford has been at least Luck's equal over the course of their respective careers. There's an obvious gap between the two when it comes to team success, but wins are generally a misleading way to judge a quarterback. And sure, the preceding numbers neglect Luck's superior mobility, but he wasn't given a $140-million contract for his ability to rush the ball. He was paid because he can throw it -- and Stafford can throw it just as well.
For further reference, here's how Stafford and Luck stacked up to one another last season.
|Stafford (2016)||Luck (2016)|
|YPG||270.4 yards||282.7 yards|
|Comp. %||65.3 percent||63.5 percent|
Again, if Luck is worth $24.5 million per season, it's hard to argue that Stafford isn't worth just as much.
Another motivation for Stafford and his representatives as they negotiate his next contract could be the fact that the QB cut the Lions a deal with the three-year, $53 million extension he signed in 2013.
"The last time Stafford had an opportunity to do a long-term contract, he did not opt to play his leverage out they way he could have," Florio said. "You could argue he left money on the table. He didn't force them to use the franchise tag."
Stafford's contract carries a $22 million cap hit in 2017, which will drive up his price tag should the Lions opt to use the franchise tag on him in 2018.
"Here's how it works," Florio explained. "Forget about the franchise tag as it's calculated for quarterbacks. With a cap number of $22 million for this year, if they want to use the franchise tag on him next year, he's entitled to a 20 percent raise over that. So that's a cap hit and a cash figure of $26.4 million -- that's already more than Andrew Luck is making by about $1.5 million.
"If you're going to use the tag, that's the starting point for a long-term deal and, yeah, Stafford's average (annual value) will be more than Andrew Luck's. So it's not about what other guys are making, it's about what leverage you have under your specific circumstances regarding the franchise tag."
Finally, there's the factor of a steadily rising salary cap. The cap will climb to $167 million in 2017, the fourth consecutive year that it has jumped by at least $10 million from one season to the next. That increased financial flexibility, coupled with the growing market rate for high-level quarterback play, has seen several teams in the past four years hand out record-breaking deals to their cornerstones under center.
In 2013, the Packers inked Aaron Rodgers to a five-year extension whose $22 million annual salary set a new NFL high. That held up for about three years, until Joe Flacco agreed to terms with the Ravens on a three-year extension worth $22.13 million per season. And that held up for all of two months before Luck's deal re-set the market again.
With Drew Brees having signed an extension last September - he'll earn $24.25 million in 2017 - Stafford is the next quarterback in line for a major payday.
"Matthew Stafford's in a position where if he chooses to push it, he can get more than anyone else ever has," Florio said. "Frankly, given what the salary cap has done the last four years, there should be a quarterback right now making $30 million a year and there isn't even one making $25 million."
Stafford could be the first. In fact, per a report last year, $25 million per season is exactly what Stafford and his agent are seeking in the quarterback's next contract. Stafford promptly shot down that report, but where there's smoke there tends to be fire.
As things stand today, an extension doesn't appear to be on the immediate horizon. Stafford said at the end of last season that he and the Lions had yet to engage in contract talks, and general manager Bob Quinn confirmed the status quo at the scouting combine earlier this month.
"We have not talked to Matthew and his representatives. I think that's something that eventually we will get to," said Quinn. "These things don't usually happen in April or May, that's not a realistic timeline for an extension for a quarterback, but that's something that we do have on the agenda and we'll hopefully be able to have some discussions."
"It's a priority," Quinn added later, "but it takes two sides to do a deal. I'm not making any promises one way or another, but I've always said since I've gotten here that I think Matthew's a good quarterback and I'd like to have him long term. And that hasn't changed."
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