Still Improving, Lions Must Pay the 28-Year-Old Stafford

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Stafford Has Proven Worthy of Long-Term Extension

Dec 26, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) in action during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has one year left his 2013 contract extension, which leaves G.M. Bob Quinn with a big decision to make in regard to the direction of this franchise.

Stafford was thought by many to be a product of the great Calvin Johnson. And, while that might have been true to some extent, the Lions won nine games, making the Playoffs and at one point being as high as the second seed in the NFC. Without Johnson, things were looking just fine.

Then, as Lions fans predicted, it all came crashing down. Stafford tore ligaments in his middle throwing finger and the Lions lost four straight games (including a Playoff loss to the Seahawks). When a season that has so much promise, as this one did, ends so poorly, fans tend to look for drastic answers, or a new QB.

The latest version of this came from Pride of Detroit on Tuesday, and while some valid points are unquestionably made, I think Matthew Stafford is the reason this team is only a few tweaks from being a contender. Yet, he has certainly made his share of blunders and too often he makes the tough throw but not the easy one.

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If you watch Aaron Rodgers and how he can make deep throws with touch, you can really see that Stafford, in contrast, struggles in that regard. But in my opinion, Stafford’s touch issues, down the stretch in particular, were the result of that finger injury. He could throw his fastball, but too often missed the homerun when an outside receiver had beat his man.

Obviously, the 28-year-old, 8-year NFL veteran is not perfect. With a good ten years left in the league, however, the Lions MUST continue to believe in Stafford and open up the checkbook. He’s going to get overpaid but that’s the norm. Brock Osweiler signed for $75 million, yet he had done nothing to warrant it. Free agent quarterbacks are going to average about $15 million per year. That’s insane, but if that’s the norm, at least Detroit is paying a guy that is a top-ten QB, with has the highest added win probability of any QB in the league.

Plus Stafford has five key factors that I believe are important when investing in a QB long-term.

1. Age: 28

2. Injury history: Started Six Straight Seasons

3. Passion for Football: Plays Through Injury

4. Leadership: 8 4th-Quarter Comebacks

5.The QB Market: Jimmy Garoppolo?

Stafford struggled to stay healthy early in his career, but after his second season, he’s started every game for 6 straight years. He’s done it without an offensive line or running game and he’s just 28. It was very clear in 2016 that Stafford was growing as a vocal leader, which is what you want from a franchise quarterback.

Imagine how long it would take for Detroit to find another QB the caliber of Stafford’s, though, and there is no guarantee they ever will. Few outside of Stafford himself believed he had a chance to be better in 2016 without Johnson. I wrote how I always felt Stafford’s problem was his tendency to stare down Calvin and force it. This caused him to go away from his strengths, which are his quick release and ability to spread the ball around.

This year, the fans and media doubted Stafford. He answered with the highest passer rating of his career through the first 14 weeks and finished the season with his lowest interception total yet (10). Stafford took hits, he didn’t blame the officials or his finger, and he absolutely balled out in the clutch. Most importantly, he didn’t make excuses for the collapse, although he could have.

If you don’t want him as the Lions quarterback, however, there are some reasons to have doubts. He has an abysmal record against winning teams and is 0-3 in the Playoffs. Stafford would be getting a lot of money, despite zero Playoff success in eight years.

I get it, starting over is always fun. It’s sexy, you get to follow the draft closely, watch highlight videos. It also means making rookie mistakes, and having to wait years before you even know if you’ve found the right guy. So before you get excited about some rookie prospect, remember there are no guarantees Detroit ever finds another QB half as good as Matthew Stafford. Here’s a video of his many comebacks.

Follow SLR Editor Matt Urben on Twitter @MattUrben88

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