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Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

"You can't take a picture of this. It's already gone."
-- Nate Fisher in the the Six Feet Under finale.

Detroit has made quarterback Matthew Stafford the latest highest-paid player in NFL history, which has become code for "the latest quarterback to get paid something more than he's probably worth." Derek Carr was the previous "record" holder at $25 million per season, but sources are reporting upwards of $27 million per season for Stafford. The ninth-year quarterback is still just 29 and should have plenty of years ahead of him, but will they be worth that much to Detroit?

In eight seasons, Stafford has never received an MVP or All-Pro vote, never won a playoff game (0-3), and never ranked higher than 10th in DVOA. If this is an acceptable standard to pay a quarterback $27 million, then one has to wonder how far teams are willing to scare themselves into paying. Is Kirk Cousins the next highest-paid player ever? He's been pretty solid the last two seasons. Is Blake Bortles one fluky 2007 Derek Anderson or 2010 Josh Freeman 10-win season away from being the highest-paid player in NFL history? Wasn't he being benched for Chad Henne just a few days ago? This is bordering on madness, but as long as team after team sees fit to pay the bill, this is the quarterback market in today's NFL.

I wrote the following near the end of Detroit's essay in Football Outsiders Almanac 2017. During Stafford's career (2009-2016), the Lions have the league's eighth-best record (49-20, .710) against non-winning teams, but the second-worst record (7-55, .113) against teams with a winning record, creating the largest split by far in the league (almost 60 percentage points). This is a lot of money being tied into a quarterback who rarely ever sustains high-level play. With the Packers able to get by Detroit with Aaron Rodgers on an annual basis, it is hard to see anything changing in the NFC North any time soon.

5:00 A.M. Update: this is a look at the timeline of the highest-paid player in NFL history since 2004.

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Comments

123 comments, Last at 01 Sep 2017, 5:28pm

1 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

The importance of qb play is obviously being overstated these days, and when I make that observation, I usually have somebody tell me "But if you don't have a great qb, you can't win a championship!

This assertion simply doesn't withstand scrutiny.

12 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

From what I've read Elway believes it is. He's put his focus on building the defense rather than doling out big money to QBs. Obviously we'll see how far that takes him with all these untried QBs and ageing defense.

But it is the Moneyball approach to salary cap constraints. Buy for low prices that which no-one else is emphasising.

To an extent, Seattle are in the same place. Except they have both the QB and defense to pay so they go without an o-line and rely on QB mobility!

18 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Maybe that says that GMs have been doing it wrong? Offensive DVOA being more consistent year to year means bad teams stay bad and good teams stay good. Perhaps this reflects a tendency for GMs to stick with or sign known quantities more on the offensive side of the ball, and take chances on athletes and new players on defense, thinking that defensive players are more easily replaceable? I think we've all heard talk of how offense is based more on skill and defense more on athleticism, so I could certainly see that being borne out in the actions of GMs for mediocre players. Somewhat playing devil's advocate here, but maybe if your defense is already a known quantity it's best to focus your resources on what you know is good, rather than counting on inconsistency and letting it become a self-fulfilling prophecy by letting key defensive contributors go in favor of offensive contributors.

32 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I don't think Elway planned to build around a defense heavy team. They offered oz a lot of money and let Malik Jackson walk.

I think GM's try to sign and draft the best available players without necessarily prioritizing any one side of the ball(unless you are the Seahawks and you think offensive lines aren't so important).

Furthermore, nothing guarantees long term success like stellar qb play. It takes horrid team building, poor management, bad luck and persistent low talent to waste great qb play( chargers, saints)

56 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I agree completely

I think an important corollary is that nothing guarantees long-term failure like over-pursuing good QBs and getting stuck with bad ones. Plenty of teams have gotten lucky with mediocre to bad QBs and managed some success, and some teams have turned into Cleveland and Jacksonville chasing after good QB play.

84 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

now that killshots are out of the game nowadays.....the entire concept of defense (maybe not strictly in the DVOA sense) is centered around big splash plays which are of course inherently high variance on a year to year basis and much more cross-correlated to the mistakes of your opponents

It is (or was) rather easy to build a winner around a ho-hum team that can run the ball at will 4.5 yards per play if the opposing defense truly can't stop it even while stacking the box. It's almost impossible to build a winner around a team that has 4.2 40 pick-6ballhawks who can't tackle and the opposition just runs edge sweeps every play.

In other words, low variance high success offense is harder to defeat than high variance high success defense. Further, in a positional-relative sense, there are far more players in the NFL to build the former around than the latter; If there are 10 good to great QBs in the NFL, 33% of teams can have one and try to build such an offense. If there are 10 total great DB &edge rushers in the NFL, only 5 teams can have a pair and only 2 teams can have 2 pairs.

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The standard is the standard!

93 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I think I disagree that defense is about splash plays. Turnovers and sacks are important, but so is getting the offense in situations where they are more likely to commit a turnover or surrender a sack. Stopping a run for no gain on 1st and 10 leads to the splash plays. I'm sure someone has compiled interception and sack rates vs. down and distance (outside of the 3rd and 24s of the world which just lead to draw plays) and come to a similar conclusion. Good defense is much more than splash plays.

To the larger point, I think that you could also say that low variance, high success defense is harder to defeat than high variance, high success offense. I think GMs tend to focus on building a consistent offense and accept that defense is more inconsistent; perhaps if the focus were reversed then we would see the reverse. Maybe that won't ever happen, because great offenses bring in the fans much more than great defenses do.

15 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

The point is that locking yourself into "I have to get a great QB in order to win", in this environment, makes you more subject to randomness against long odds, compared to building your roster with talent whereever you can find it, at prices that don't kill your flexibility. Am I saying that Stafford's contract is bad? No, because I don't know the Lions cap situation well enough to say. I just look at how many times championships have been won in the past 20 years, with below average qb production, in the regular season or postseason, and I know that the conventional wisdom which says you cant win a title without superior qb play is just wrong.

24 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

You don't need a great QB, but you need a competent QB, and Stafford at least gives you that. Barring the kinds of defenses fielded by the 2015 Broncos or 2000 Ravens (I refuse to include the 2002 Bucs, as Brad Johnson was genuinely good that year), you're completely, utterly, and unquestionably screwed if you can't at least field a QB capable of vague competence.

Yeah, it could be a path to mediocrity if the rest of your team doesn't come together (like it repeatedly hasn't for Detroit), but you're basically being given a choice between Stafford and, what, Ryan Fitzpatrick?

31 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

To steal a line from Troy Aikman, "that's exactly right".

I'm resigned to the fact that the Lions will probably not win a Super Bowl in my lifetime. But after the Matt Millen experience, I will settle for them being consistently non-laughable. Stafford has at least provided that, even if he's not Aaron Rodgers, or even Matt Ryan. If the team can at least get him a consistent running game and a reasonable defense, he can probably provide more than that, and like you asserted in a post below, even get lucky one year.

51 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Yes, great players give greater opportunity to win championships, and, yes, qb is the most important position. That doesn't mean that the value of the position isn't being overstated. I think it is, but that doesn't mean I think the Lions offered Stafford too much. I actually think the overvaluation is more clearly seen in the draft, resulting in ridiculous reaches like Bortles or The Ponderous One. Or even passing on a near sure fire multiple All Pro like Suh, in order to draft Bradford.

52 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Yeah but then the dolphins took a sure thing in Jake Long instead of matt Ryan. The rams went after sure fire things like Jason Smith and Greg Robinson.

The browns have had the services of an all time great left tackle and have had 1 season of above average offense the entire time. This btw mirrors Jon Odgen's career where all but 2 seasons - the ravens offense was below average or quite awful.

Maybe the ponderous one was a bad decision. but lots of the bortles type qbs were considered first round worthy.

58 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

To explain further, I can nearly guarantee that The Ponderous One was not ranked by the Vikings in their top 15 college players, almost certainly among top 20, and maybe not even 25 or 30. Yet here they were, taking him at 12. Because somebody, probably the owner, panicked, and just had to pick a qb, in a bad year for qb prospects.

The most important thing to do when building an NFL roster is to obtain young, affordable talent, and rid tourself of expensive talent which has likely peaked, with more leeway given for expensive qb talent. Dont pass up a 22 year old near sure thing, for a 22 year old maybe, due to position

3 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Seems about right.

$20M for an above average QB was reasonable in 2013 (the best QBs were worth more like $30M, and were very unpaid). And $27M in 2017 is the same fraction of the cap as $20M in 2013 (since the 2017 salary cap is about 35% higher than the 2013 cap).

The top QB salaries gradually inched above $20M over a few years while the cap kept shooting up. I think that many people's intuitions about an appropriate salary have failed to adjust to the rising cap.

4 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I did look at this in one of the previous best-ever paid QB articles and over the past few years, and if I recall QB has risen from 8% to 10-11% of the cap.

Edit: What I wrote on Derek Carr's payrise "according to Spotrac ... 2016 - 10.88%, 2015 - 9.08%, 2014 - 8.94%, 2013 - 8.11%."

17 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Scott's chart is handy here. Since 2011 the top-end of the QB market has been pretty stable at 15-16% of the salary cap. Since offense is about 50% of the game (per the old FO principle that a team is 3 parts offense, 2 parts defense, 1 part special teams), that means QB's are getting paid proportionally to 30-33% of the offense. That seems pretty reasonable, doesn't it? If you consider offensive success to be roughly equally dependent on the three groups of quarterback, skill players, and offensive line, you'd come to the conclusion that QB's should get paid about 33% of the offense, or about 17% of the cap.

61 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I still think it's worth it for an above-average QB to make that much (and if there's any doubt Stafford is above average, he's been #9 in DYAR each of the last two seasons). The dropoff to the backup is just too severe. Detroit's backup is someone named Jake Rudock, a 2016 6th-rounder who has yet to throw a regular season pass.

Right now $27M/yr will buy you a top-tier WR and a top LT. So instead of Stafford could have, say, Demaryius Thomas ($14M/yr) and Trent Williams ($13M/yr), but with Jake Rudock as the quarterback. Is that a better offense? I doubt it; a bad QB is just too much to really overcome on offense. I think that a good QB is probably more valuable than two great players at any other position.

EDIT: an even better example than Trent Williams is Russell Okung, another $13M LT. We saw for certain that Demaryius Thomas and Russell Okung weren't enough to overcome lousy QB play in Denver last year; they were good for the 28th offensive DVOA last year. Does anyone really think they would have been worse last year if they'd had Matt Stafford instead of Okung, Thomas, and Trevor Siemian? If you think they'd be no worse with Stafford, then $27M is fair for him.

64 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Why is Okung a "better" example? Because he's worse than T. Williams? That's a stupid reason.

Anyway, I think I would prefer the theoretical offense with Demaryius Thomas and Trent Williams with "replacement level QB" than one of Stafford and a replacement level player at WR1 and LT, which is really the comparison you're trying to make.

76 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I picked Okung just because he and Thomas give an example $27M of star players who weren't able to do much to buoy an offense dragged down by replacement-level quarterbacking last year in Denver. And if you're not that impressed by Okung, that just further boosts my point, right? That means that Okung's contract has set the market such that you can't even get a great tackle for half of Stafford's salary.

I think the strict comparison is between a team with Thomas, Williams/Okung, and Trevor Siemian, and a team with Matt Stafford and a replacement-level players at ONE starting tackle spot (not necessarily LT) and ONE starting receiver spot (not necessarily WR1), since you only need to replace one replacement-level player to get the maximum impact for a free-agent signing. Anyways, I personally want the Stafford offense rather than the Siemian offense. I guess we just fundamentally disagree about just how important the QB position is.

81 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

It's not WR1/LT spend you're giving up to pay Stafford at market rates, it's Ndomukong Suh.

The Broncos make an interesting comparison because of what they can do on defense while spending insanely low cap dollars on quarterbacks. Their defensive secondary, the best in the league, is getting a $34MM cap allocation this year (or $30MM if they cut or trade TJ Ward), AND Von Miller counts $20MM against the cap all by himself.

Look, 2 years of truly terrible offense netted the Broncos 2 winning seasons and a Super Bowl victory. In the 2 years since Suh went to Miami, the Lions have a 16-16 record and a wild-card round loss. The Broncos and their replacement-level qb play may be no better than the Lions with Stafford and his huge salary, but it's hard to argue that they're worse.

85 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Look, 2 years of truly terrible offense netted the Broncos 2 winning seasons and a Super Bowl victory. In the 2 years since Suh went to Miami, the Lions have a 16-16 record and a wild-card round loss. The Broncos and their replacement-level qb play may be no better than the Lions with Stafford and his huge salary, but it's hard to argue that they're worse.
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It may have been two years of bad DEN offense, but not two years of cheap DEN offense. 2015 was Peyton Manning and his $17M contract. Would you prefer 2015 Manning at $17M, or 2016 Stafford at $17M?

If you put 2016 Von Miller and Trevor Siemien on the Lions, they go 4-12 last year. If you flop Stafford for Miller to DEN, are you looking at a 10-6 or 11-5 team? You might pick up a win against Atlanta or one of the OAK/KC losses. The defense didn't tend to win games where the offense completely crapped the bed last year.

19 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Number of Lions playoff wins since 1957 -- 1.

The only QB to get the Lions to the playoffs more than Stafford's three times since 1950 is Bobby Layne (4). Who actually stunk the playoffs up.
http://pfref.com/tiny/wxwnG

As bad as Stafford's wins against teams <.500 is, it's better than the Lions rates in the years before him. They still aren't good, but they're a damned sight better with him than they were without him. He's the best QB in franchise history.

23 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I still think, adjusting for era, Layne was better, but I wasn't alive when he was actually playing, so I could be wrong. Maybe I'm being swayed too much by the oldtimers and the RINGZ argument.

There is an argument to be made for Greg Landry being second best, if you add in running value, but he didn't sustain his level of play for long enough, IMO. But I think Stafford is clearly second best in franchise history (it is indeed a sad history), and stratospheres above anyone they've had from the mid-70's onwards.

Although he should not completely escape blame for his record against good teams, I think more of the blame falls some of the terrible defenses he has been saddled with.

25 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

If you put a gun to my head, I'd take Layne over Stafford. However, I was surprised at how putrid Layne's playoff production was. 1 TD-12 INT!

Something lost in the Lions paying Stafford is how bad DET's historic QB performance is. It's better than the Bears'. It's probably better than the Texans'. It used to be better than the Cardinals, but that was before Palmer and Warner. I'm not certain it's better than the Jaguars'. And that's it.

For all the arguments that Detroit is better off spending elsewhere and trying to luck into a QB in the draft?
In 88 years, they've never lucked into a QB in the draft. Stafford was a 1st overall pick; Detroit was Layne's third team, and was acquired in a trade. Even Landry was the 11th pick. Closest Detroit's come to a steal at QB was Gary Danielson. With extreme luck -- a good O- and D-line, good LBs, great WRs, decent DBs, and a possible GOAT at RB, with an Erik Kramer at QB, you might replicate the 1991 Lions. Who lost by 31 in the NFC Championship Game.

30 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Mark Brunnell's career was criminally underappreciated, so I would take the Jags QB history over the Lions (relative to the franchise ages).

In any event, I don't begrudge the team overpaying to keep the one quarterback they drafted highly and turned into a good starter....after the years of Chuck Long, Andre Ware, Joey Harrington, etc. (and I don't really think this is an overpay relative to the current economics of the league).

102 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I can cobble together about 30 years worth of Stafford-Mitchell-Landry-Plum-Layne.

Dutch Clark, too, if you want to go back to the deadball era.

The Lions were really good from the 1930s-1960s. I wonder what happened in the 1960s to change that, when they suddenly became found on road, dead.

105 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

The league expanded, the AFL came along. Talent became spread thinner.

In the 60s they had the misfortune to have Vince Lombardi and Don Shula coaching in their division. No wildcards.

In the 70s they had the misfortune to be a division with Bud Grant coaching. They were 2nd in NFC Central for 7 consecutive seasons (69-75). One wildcard per conference.

Noting that their only playoff appearance in the whole of the 60s and 70s was a 5-0 loss to the 1970 Cowboys. Hoping RaiderJoe will have some info on that.

47 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

That seems to be reality. The know 20-10 finish in dva is better than the unknown drop into 25 and higher. Not only are Brady levels of performance nearly impossible to replace, Stafford levels aren't exactly sitting on the market readily available. You've seen potential Super Bowl contenders completely derailed in the AFC last year just because of the QB position. It's scary times when you don't have a QB these days.

11 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

This contract had very little to do with what the team thought Stafford was worth, and everything to do with Stafford's leverage. He's probably around the 8th to 12th best quarterback in the league. If he hits free agency, they would have to pay much more than they did now to keep him. If they let him walk and try to replace him, they are far more likely to find someone worse than they are to find someone better.

That's the way the QB market has been skewed. The very top guys are probably a little underpaid relative to their value, but the middle to upper middle class are grossly overpaid.

13 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Think that's a good summary.

It's essentially the same problem that's existed throughout free agency. The franchise players keep getting retained (think Barry Sanders) while the above average get to move and get paid the big bucks. That said, my heart struggles to bleed for QBs earning $20+ million. And free agency designed that way.

16 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

What's fascinating about the situation is that teams continue to get suckered into it. If you look at the history of paying QB's that are somewhere between 20-5 in the QB rankings, it's pretty much a one-way ticket to permanent mediocrity. you have the Flaco-Ravens, the 07-13 Falcons (Ryan), post 09 Eli/Giants, post 09 Rivers/Charges. There are some other examples that have convoluting factors (Luck/Colts & Bears/Cutler post 2014 both have/had problems that go beyond QB-Cap issues, the 2015 Wilson contract is only now starting to bite hard). I guess the hope here has to be you hang on to the guy long enough that the cap number becomes more manageable (i.e. Matt Ryan now), but it still seems to me that your much better off building a talented roster and hoping you can find good QB play at a fair price through the draft, or through someone nobody wants (this approach when your lucky looks like the 12-15 Seahawks, when your not lucky looks like the 10-17 Chiefs).

At almost every position other than QB, most teams seem to have figured out that it's better to let someone else over-pay for the Bart Scott's of the world and the market has gradually rationalized a bit (except that the Franchise tag still curbs the earnings of the top couple of players at the position a bit). I keep waiting for GM's to realize this lesson also applies to QB's, but it never seems to happen.

26 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

GMs have realized that QB is a singular position and you're forced to overpay, and are absolutely approaching this in a rational manner. The problem with hoping you find good QB play at a fair price in the draft is it rarely happens. Look at this list:

Jameis Winston, Cam Newton, Eli Manning, Sam Bradford, Matthew Stafford, Jared Goff, Carson Palmer, Alex Smith, Andrew Luck.

9 out of the 32 starting QBs in the NFL were first overall picks. This is not "hoping you find good QB play at a fair price in the draft". When more than a quarter of the league is the first player taken, there's an obvious fact that the QB position is by far more important than anything else. Sure, having a phenomenal defense reduces the need of a QB, but you aren't always going to luck into generational talents like an Earl Thomas or Von Miller. The emphasis on the passing game these days means you have to have a good QB barring the kind of defense which requires lots of draft luck.

Detroit with Matt Stafford probably won't be that good, but there's some chance Stafford could pull a Flacco and go insane for a four-game streak in the playoffs and carry a team to a title if the ball bounces right (and Raheem Moore makes one of the dumbest plays ever). Is the chance great? Nope, but it exists, and Detroit with . . . Brad Kaaya? Jake Rudock? Really? They have zero chance.

34 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I really think that's a pretty irrational approach to team building. Of the last 10 Superbowls (20 QB-starts), 1 has been made by a lower-than-top-5 QB that had already been paid (2011 Eli-Giants). Those are terrible odds. Every person that thinks it's a good idea to pay a QB because you "can't" let him go needs to burn that statistic into their mind. On the same list, are 7 #1 picks, and two of those are PM after he got to Denver, that puts the odds on tanking or trading for the #1 better than paying for a Matt Stafford type, but still not great. 7 of 20 got competent QB play at an affordable price through either the draft, or a cheap veteran. 7 of 20 were non-#1 picks that provided non-debatable top-5 QB play. N.B. Eli Manning in 2012 was both a #1 pick and a non-top 5 QB being paid, PM was a non-elite QB in 2015 and a #1 pick hence the total of 22

Based on that distribution, it seems clear from a management point of view that by far the bests choice is to build a strong team and churn through non-#1 draft picks (or through veteran free-agents) at QB hoping that you'll hit on gold at a reasonable price. After all, not only is that what the majority of the participants recent Superbowls did, it also allows you not to suffer through 2-14 seasons hoping that your tanking will pay off. That being said, tanking is still a far more defensible strategic course for the Lions then what they just did, which has almost no chance of working (if the past 10 years is to be any guide).

35 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Well, let's face it; using recent Super Bowls is a tough metric, because Tom Brady represents 25% of QB starts for the last 14 Super Bowls, which kind of throws off the numbers. Joe Flacco is the only AFC representative in 14 years who isn't named "Tom", "Peyton", or "Ben". Statistics in football are obviously limited enough by sample size without referencing TEH BIG WINZ, as it's been utterly dominated by three guys.

What's clear is if you have no decent QB, you have no chance, and the fact Stafford hasn't had huge success in Detroit is because Detroit's draft history is a dumpster fire. If you put Stafford in Cleveland for his career, I have no doubt he could have raised that team up to middling mediocrity based on QB talent alone. Detroit without Stafford is either Cleveland churning through a series of awful #22 overall picks or Jacksonville flailing about with Blainke Bortbert or pre-Winston Tampa forced to start Brian Griese during two separate eras.

As for "veteran free agents" who, in recent years, meets that criteria? Alex Smith is the best of the bunch, right? I mean, Peyton Manning was a singular event, and, cost-wise, that wasn't notably :reasonable". When you go shopping at the QB Free Agent Supermarket, you get Brian Hoyer and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who are the kinds of guys just talented enough to stick around long enough to get a coach fired. As for "tanking", sure, it's great if it's a draft with Luck or Winston/Mariota, legitimate QB prospects, but there are lots of drafts where the QB options are hot garbage (like, say, 2017, maybe).

I would absolutely agree that paying huge money for a guy like Matt Stafford is not as ideal as being able to sign post-Giants Kurt Warner on the cheap or draft Andrew Luck #1 overall after a horrible season, but the fact of life is that the best decision is often the least-worst decision. Paying a guy like Matthew Stafford a huge contract is absolutely the least worst decision.

38 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

The strategy that seems to have worked out best (though still with a tiny sample size) is signing veterans who have at some point in the past been good, but about whom there is some serious doubt, usually related to injury - Peyton, Palmer, Warner, Brees, Favre and even Vick have all worked out pretty well. Culpepper is the only real miss that springs to mind.

I guess the closest thing to a member of this group that was available this time around was Jay Cutler.

42 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

People ignore teams like Houston though. They have an ideal roster, just like the chiefs and broncos - but are completely hamstrung by their qb situations. It leads to crazy risky signings like osweiler or mortgaging the future for Watson.

If you think - better Houston just bite the bullet and go with the ryan mallet's of the world indefinitely, then we will have to agree to disagree.

44 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Put a legitimately good QB on any of those teams, they're kind of scary, right? How about Jacksonville, but with a real QB? Andrew Luck on the Rams, maybe?

The thing is, we know exactly what it's like when a team doesn't have at least decent QB play in the NFL. Cleveland burned three #1s on QBs in the draft, and tried several veteran free agents (Jeff Garcia, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown, the corpse of RGIII) all of whom were financially quite reasonable. You get Jacksonville, who tried drafting Bortles, Gabbert, and Leftwich in the first, and had incredibly valuable free agents like Chad Henne or Luke McCown. Washington has Kirk Cousins, had one good year of RGIII, and then spent years shuffling between awful veterans and awful draft picks.

Lots of teams have "tried" either repeatedly drafting the solution at QB, or filling in the position with free agents, and the success record for that is pretty bad. The thing is, "being bad and drafting a good QB" is not a repeatable thing and "happening to need a QB when a good one is available in free agency and you have the cap space" is not really a repeatable thing; both are entirely situational and based largely on pure luck. The one thing you have some control over is "I have a decent QB, I'm keeping him around".

Detroit letting Matthew Stafford go instead of signing him to a big money deal would mean their entire strategy for the future was based purely and utterly on hoping to find a better QB than him in some way they could not even vaguely begin to predict.

45 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

That is the right strategy though. As painful as it is to be Cleveland, Jacksonville, or whoever - you have no choice. You need to keep biting the bullet and trying. It may mean a prolonged decade of misery, but thats life. Eventually, Cleveland will need a qb(short of Deshone Kiser really breaking out)

115 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Is it the right strategy? From a standpoint of winning a Super Bowl or bust - then maybe.

But from the standpoint of a fan having a good experience: then maybe not. I am a Dolphins fan. During the Dan Marino days, it was frustrating to never win a Super Bowl. But I went into just about every season thinking that they had a chance to win the Super Bowl that year. Since Marino (and really, Ricky Williams in 2004) left, I haven't had a single season that began with legitimate hope that they would win the Super Bowl. And, mostly, the Dolphins have been mediocre-bad. No hope of a Super Bowl. Little hope of acquiring the prize draft pick. It's really been a frustrating decade-plus of fandom.

And, I believe we're heading down the bad path again. Unless Cutler finds a major resurgence this year, I don't think the 2018 opening day QB is on the Dolphins roster right now.

53 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

re:45

But part of the problem for the Jacksonvilles, Clevelands, Washingtons is that they keep changing their GMs/coaches and throwing away any authority or continuity they might have.

Look at how Alex Smith finally blossomed under Jim Harbaugh and then Andy Reid where previously he had five offensive co-ordinators in five years and struggled. Any team in the league could have traded for Alex Smith but Andy Reid was the one who actually did.

On the other hand, look at the Patriots and their continuity/system/coaching allows them to plug in Cassell, Garropollo, Brisset and go on winning without Brady. Belichick has the foresight to draft backups that have cap-friendly salaries and the skillset he can use.

49 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Part of the problem is that there is currently a wide chasm between "competent starter" and "dumpster fire". Unlike in years past, there are no Jeff Garcias, Brad Johnsons, pre-concussion Brian Grieses, or Trent Greens (i.e. average to slightly below-average starters) floating around on the free agent market.

68 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Speaking of Moon, sure, the Oilers had to endure a 2-14 season in 1994, but look where that set things up for 1995. Drafted Steve McNair (the future of the franchise) with a high pick, and added Chris Chandler, who was competent enough to help the team to 7-9 and 8-8 in 1995-96. Once McNair finally got in there, they were 8-8 and eventually in the Super Bowl.

I just don't get why some think moving on from Stafford is going to leave the Lions with Rudock at QB. No, they'll draft someone high in 2018, and/or end up with an Alex Smith (Mahomes takeover), or the odd man out in MIN (Bradford/Teddy) or MIA (Cutler/Tannehill). Or maybe Mike Glennon actually surprises in Chicago and turns that into another starting gig in the NFC North.

It's not like Detroit has been close to doing anything great with Stafford, so what are you really missing out on here?

71 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

This is my point exactly; what exactly are they missing out on by going back to the drawing board at QB.

They've squeaked into the playoffs 3 of the last 7 seasons with Stafford, a couple of times with a very good roster. Surely they can do something good enough with $20 million a year in cap space to make up the difference between Stafford & Alex Smith (or Jimmy G if he gets away from the Pats etc...), and if they score in the draft they might actually have a chance to win something. As it is, the rest of the roster will deteriorate because of the cap distribution; The ceiling on this deal is winning a playoff game or two in Stafford's tenure, what kind of plan is that?

78 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

It's the fact that the lack of success is being more attributed to Stafford, which is pretty contrary to usual FO parlance. Stafford didn't give the Lions the singly-worst defense in the league last year or an endless series of injuries and failures in the running game or a terrible offensive line. Detroit has made a long series of bad decisions in the draft and free agency, and the team hasn't been very good as a result. I think the, for lack of a better term, "pro-Stafford" group here is basically saying that, if you put an actual real roster in Detroit, Stafford is good enough to win consistently.

It's not that I think Stafford is genuinely great, it's that I think he isn't the problem. Detroit keeps burning high picks on offensive linemen that aren't great, has a bad enough RB situation that almighty Zach Zenner got a playoff start, and it's not like the defense has been stopping people. Detroit doesn't need a new QB, Detroit needs a better team, and a young, talented QB on this roster isn't going to be much better.

79 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

What are the odds that the highly drafted QB in 2018 turns out to be better than Stafford? If you miss on a left tackle or a pass rusher, it doesn't set your team back years while you figure out that the guy isn't any good. You miss on a quarterback, on the other hand...I give you the Jacksonville Jaguars as exhibit A.

Stafford is not top 5, maybe he's not even top 10, but he's a known quantity, and definitely not the reason for lack of playoff success. In a vacuum, this contract is definitely an overpay. But given the current economics of the quarterback market, he really could have asked for more. I would prefer the team spend their draft capital and free agent money trying to fix the rest of the roster. I'm not interested in living through a Browns/Jets tank/rebuild.

80 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Another point to that, here's Detroit's draft page from PFR:

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/det/draft.htm

Just for fun, check out the "PB" column. It's number of Pro Bowls for the players. Now, we all know Pro Bowl is a largely empty honorific, largely based on reputation and name, and it's pretty common for a player to receive the first Pro Bowl nomination a year after they should have, because it takes people a while to notice. Still, just for fun, look at that column. The last time Detroit drafted somebody who made a Pro Bowl? Ziggy Ansah in 2013, who has one. Before that? Suh, in 2010 (a bunch), and Stafford in 2009, with one.

Detroit sucks at drafting. So, the odds of Detroit drafting someone better than Stafford is highly unlikely because, generally, (A) Stafford's at least a top-16 QB, and those are hard to find, and, specifically, (B) Detroit probably has a better recent record than Cleveland drafting, and that's it.

41 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

It goes further. When you are at the top of the draft - no one position can impact your fortunes like a qb. Let's face it - von Miller is a far better player than Matthew Stafford could ever hope to be. But if you are the 2-14 lions, who would you rather have? Its Stafford and that's just how it shakes out.

The fact that Josh McCown is still a starting qb in the NFL is proof of how rare even finding standard competence like Matt Stafford is.

37 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

On the flipside, it's a short list of guys who weren't picked in the first round, and high-first at that.

Brees and Kaepernick were 2nd rounders. (Kaepernick replaced an injured 1st overall pick)

If you go back to the early 2000s, you start picking up Delhomme, Hasselback, the Johnson Boys, etc.

50 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

If I'd asked you two years ago, there is no way you would have put Cam Newton in the top 5 of NFL QBs. Ditto Matt Ryan a year ago. You'd have probably said neither were worth their contracts. Claiming them as top 5 QBs because that is how they performed during their Super Bowl season doesn't seem to make sense. Both were undeniably 'not' top 5 QBs when they signed their most recent contract extension.

Both those teams show what is possible with a good, but non-'elite' QB, on a huge contract, when put in a good system with good coaching.

20 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I've come to believe that the market failure isn't with good QBs, but with great QBs. Or, in other words, players like Stafford and Carr (and Flacco and Eli Manning and etc. before them) aren't being overpaid - QBs are too important and there aren't enough competent ones to go around - it's that the Toms Brady and Peytons Manning and Aarons Rodgers are being underpaid.

Just yesterday FO looked at what it takes for a truly great QB to miss the playoffs, and its a LOT - one could make an honest case that one of the true elite QBs should receive the entire salary cap not devoted to players on their first contracts and veterans being paid the league minimum.

21 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

I'd like to see an analysis of the teams outside of just QB performance, though.

GB (and to a lesser extent NWE) are a lot like Pittsburgh, and say SFO from 1980-2000 -- sustained success, despite changeover at HC and QB. This tells me that the overall team building design has the most to do with their overall success -- these teams are talented everywhere.

Brees points to the obvious problem of what happens when your defense is as bad as your offense is good. The Ravens are the flipside -- what happens when your offense is as bad as your defense is good.

22 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Yup, I totally agree. I don't think it's too controversial to say that Aaron Rodgers is responsible for at least 50% of his team's offensive success, so he's probably truly worth at least 25% of the cap rather than the 17% of the cap that he signed his extension for.
Of course, part of the reason for the depression of the very top of the market is that Tom Brady has been intentionally not pushing for as much money as he's worth in order to free up cash for the rest of the team. He's going to make almost exactly half as much money as Stafford this coming season. It doesn't hurt that he's married to a woman who's worth twice as much as him.

99 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

There's also the fact that, from Brady's perspective, it's worked - he has five championships, dominates GOAT discussions, has set some offensive records, has rarely had to suffer through mediocre offensive lines (and never outright bad), and all that success has led to making the money back up on endorsements.

If another top QB takes the same steps in a few years - I'd say Rodgers, but the Packers leadership wouldn't go out and spend the savings - and it works out with a title or two in two or three Super Bowl appearances, could that permanently stunt the growth of QB salaries?

101 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

We've been starting to see that in the NBA, with players taking less than the max in order to fit more talent under the cap. Kevin Durant is an obvious example. Durant makes more in endorsements than he does in salary, so settling for a little less than the max is probably ultimately profitable for him if it leads to a higher profile and more endorsements.
In the NFL, I think QB is the only position where this is really viable though. Careers are too short and injuries too common at the other positions for a player to not earn every cent while he can.

40 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

From a Forbes article ...

"However: the Commissioner and the League Office explicitly warned teams not to mess around and do stupid things in 2010 with contracts to circumvent the cap in future years. Specifically: teams were expressly told NOT to front-load contracts into 2010, to avoid cap consequences later."

69 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Yes, they were told many things. But THE WRITTEN RULES (you know, the ones that everyone agreed upon, the ones that are actually enforcable* ) said there was no cap, and there were no rules in place suggesting otherwise.

But the NFL applied the staple of arguments used by 10 year olds: THE COMMISH SAID SO SO NYAH!

So the important part is that DC and Dallas were penalized as a result of following the rules to the letter.

*-enforcable within any reasonable, non-kangaroo system

It was one of the true low points for the NFL.

82 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

To me all of this boils down to: do you value being relevant, or do you value a championship? I think the vast majority if not all of the NFL owners care way more about being relevant than winning a Super Bowl. Signing a guy like Stafford is a great way to keep winning 8-10 games and sometimes making the playoffs.

I think letting Stafford walk would almost certainly put the Lions in a position to win fewer games in the next 2-3 years...but I would argue it gets them closer to winning a Super Bowl.

83 Re: Detroit Makes Matthew Stafford the Highest-Paid Player

Winning 8-10 games is a perfectly valid path to the Super Bowl, though. Only six of the last ten champions went 11-5 or better. We've had 10 win Giants, Ravens, and Packers teams, plus a 9 win Giants team. I would argue that you have a better chance of winning a Super Bowl by keeping yourself in that fringe contender range and hoping for a lucky playoff streak than you do by letting your competitiveness lapse and hoping to rebuild into a 12+ win team.