How Matthew Stafford’s contract details affect Lions future

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Photo Credit: Tommy Williams

It seems like a lot longer than this, but Matthew Stafford only signed his contract extension a week ago today. The new deal is a five-year, $135-million extension which likely locks Stafford in as the Detroit Lions quarterback through the 2022 season. I say likely because nothing can ever be 100% certain. Remember Peyton Manning’s “Indianapolis Colt for life” deal?

This extension gives Stafford the highest average annual salary in the NFL, but also set a couple other benchmarks. Stafford received a record signing bonus of $50-million, and the most fully guaranteed money at $60.5 million.

The other interesting thing about this contract is that the Lions did not include any language that gets them off the hook for his salary if they cut Stafford and another team signs him. Most contracts make sure the team must only pay the amount of salary above what the player is earning from another team. Not the Lions.

It was likely a concession they made to get Stafford to help the team’s salary cap at the beginning and end of the deal. He lowered his base to $1-million this season, knocking his cap number down to $16.5-million to give GM Bob Quinn an extra $5-million to work with.

Stafford’s base salary is $9.5-million in 2018 and his cap figure is $26.5-million.

It is the three years after that, the cap number escalates and the contract greatly restricts the amount of money the Lions can spend on contracts. From 2019 through 2021, his cap hit averages over $30-million dollars each season.

This puts an enormous amount of pressure on Quinn and the front office to draft well these next few years. If the Lions are going to thrive with Stafford under center, the majority of marquee players to help him will need to come from the college ranks, because rookie contracts are much easier to fit under the salary cap.

However, in the final year of Stafford’s contract in 2022, neither his salary nor his roster bonus is guaranteed. In addition, his signing bonus will be completely accounted for in the previous years, so the team could part ways with him with no cap ramifications. Even if he plays that season, his cap hit is only $23-million.

Stafford’s contract may have given him the highest average salary in the NFL for now, but as the league’s revenue continues to rise, it is likely he will be much lower on the list by the time 2022 rolls around. That being said, the limitations the middle three years put on the salary cap could break this team if things do not go well with young players.

Dave Birkett did this nice annual breakdown of the contract in the Free Press:

2017

Base salary: $1 million (fully guaranteed)

Signing bonus: $50 million ($16.5 million deferred until Feb. 15, 2018)

Cap hit: $16.5 million

 

2018

Base salary: $9.5 million (fully guaranteed)

Roster bonus: $6.5 million (due fifth day of league year; guaranteed for injury only)

Workout bonus: $500,000

Cap hit: $26.5 million

 

2019

Base salary: $13.5 million (guaranteed for injury only)

Roster bonus: $6 million (due fifth day of league year; guaranteed for injury only)

Workout bonus: $500,000

Cap number: $29.5 million

 

2020

Base salary: $15 million

Roster bonus: $6 million (due fifth day of league year; guaranteed for injury only)

Workout bonus: $500,000

Cap number: $31.5 million

 

2021

Base salary: $9.5 million

Roster bonus: $10 million (due fifth day of league year)

Workout bonus: $500,000

Cap number: $30 million

 

2022

Base salary: $12.5 million

Roster bonus: $10 million (due fifth day of league year)

Workout bonus: $500,000

Cap number: $23 million