Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Jul 2013

Stafford, Lions, Agree to Extension

Reported terms: three years, $53 million, and $43 million in guaranteed money.

If that sounds like an overpay, keep in mind they were negotiating from a contract that has the second-biggest cap hit in the league this season. Detroit didn't have many good options for spreading out bonuses or anything in this re-negotiation.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 09 Jul 2013

48 comments, Last at 17 Jul 2013, 1:29pm by FrontRunningPhinsFan


by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 07/09/2013 - 4:31pm

Given that Stafford is the closest thing to a franchise quarterback the Lions have had in over 50 years, I'm actually okay with overpaying him a little bit. Given the pre-CBA origin of his rookie contract, there was no good alternative to doing that.

by Independent George :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 10:19am

Yeah - it comes down to this:

1. You're boned if you overpay for a good QB and can no longer afford the sufficient kind of supporting cast that made him that good in the first place.
2. But you're even more boned if you don't overpay, and have to spend the next 4-7 years looking for a franchise QB.
3. But you're not nearly as boned as if you overpay for the wrong guy, and you end up with neither a legitimate starting QB nor the cap flexibility to rebuild. See: Sanchez.

This is also fundamentally the same problem businesses have with CEO compensation. Brady/Brees/Manning/Rodgers are, if anything, underpayed; everybody else is probably overpayed. And yet, it continues, because it's better to gamble on an uncertain success than it is to go 7-9 consistently.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 12:37pm

"it's better to gamble on an uncertain success than it is to go 7-9 consistently."

This. I would rather have the possibility of going 5-11 or 11-5, then be stuck on a .500 treadmill (stealing the term from Tanier). It would be pretty demoralizing to have an above average journeyman (like Shaun Hill) under center and know with certainty that you're not getting past single digit wins.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 2:18pm

To me, the most frustrating, if enjoyable, Viking teams have been the ones with outstanding talent spread throughout the roster, but with such limitations at qb that winning a playoff game is just about impossible, even if 10 wins is attainable. The 2007, and even moreso, the 2008, Vikings teams fit this description very well. That 2008 team could just line up and curbstomp opponents, but the inability to get anything out of one position made losing their first playoff game seem inevitable, even if it was a very competitive contest.

The strange thing is that I liked that year's team better than any other squad since Bud Grant's glory years.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 07/11/2013 - 2:20am

Are you sure? Because I remember the Wayne Fontes era.

1989 -- 7-9
1990 -- 6-10
1991 -- 12-4
1992 -- 5-11*
1993 -- 10-6
1994 -- 9-7
1995 -- 10-6
1996 -- 5-11

* -- two starting offensive linemen suffered career-ending injuries in the offseason**
** -- assuming "fatally run over by an out-of-control semi" to be an "injury"

That 1995 season was the last 10-win Lions season until 2011. The 1991 season was the first 10-win season since 1970, and the only 12+ win season in Lions history, including playoff wins.

Fontes is definitely a top-5 Lions coach, and arguably top-3. (It's some order of Fontes, Potsy Clark, Buddy Parker, Joe Schmidt, and George Wilson)

But as good as Fontes was, his teams were maddeningly inconsistent, and wasted much of Barry's potential.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Thu, 07/11/2013 - 9:27am

As strange as it sounds, yes, I'm sure.

That 1995 team really peaked at the end of the season and might have done some damage in the playoffs if Scott Mitchell hadn't turned back into a pumpkin and shat the bed in the wildcard game against Philly. Tom Moore had a heck of an offensive system going. That team was definitely better than the 2011 team across all positions.

The point is, despite the wild swings in record from 1991-1995, there were times you had a feeling the Lions could actually do something. They were one of the few teams to have regular season victories against both of the NFL superpowers (Dallas and SF) of the time. They probably would accomplished something if they had a semi-competent coach and even above average quarterback play on a consistent basis.

Contrast that to the Lions of the 1970's. Always between 6-8 wins. Never good enough to make the playoffs, never bad enough to get good draft position. That's the definition of running in place, and I don't imagine those teams were that fun to watch (the 90's Lions were, and not just because of Barry Sanders).

by LionInAZ :: Sun, 07/14/2013 - 7:43pm

I'm old enough to agree and disagree on all these points.

The QB situation in the Fontes era was awful. Charlie Batch, Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer, Scott Mitchell. If the Lions had had a QB like Dave Krieg the entire time they might have inspired more awe. The incompetence and turnover they actually had didn't make them look great.

I disagree strongly about the Joe Schmidt coached Lions, however. The 1970 Lions was the most inspired Lions team I have seen play, including the 2nd half 2010 Lions. Those 1970 Lions overcame a very disheartening loss via a record Tom Dempsey FG to finish with a 10-4 record, and then play a far superior Dallas team to almost a standstill. The only problem there is that Schmidt gave up 2 years later because he had to fight William Clay Ford.

Beyond that, the Stafford extension is a plus, hell yes, as long as they reduced his cap hit. Stafford has proved himself to be a better QB than pretty much every QB picked after him, and the flaws on the Lions have little to do with him, and a lot to do with the unstable defense.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 07/15/2013 - 9:23am

I should have been more specific that I was leaving out that 1970 team. Wish I was around to watch them (everything I know about them is from profootballreference.com) I didn't know about Schimdt quitting because of WCF. Yet another reason to be disgusted by his entire ownership tenure. Hopefully his son will turn out to be a better owner.

by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 07/09/2013 - 5:41pm

Given that Stafford is basically Joe Flacco with a goofy grin and bad hair, This doesn't seem like too much of an overpayment. Flacco's rate stats are better of course because Stafford has to throw practically every down, but they have similar skills and problems (cough, accuracy and timing, cough).

I'd rather have Stafford for $18M/Yr than Flacco for $21m/yr, wouldn't you?

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 07/09/2013 - 6:01pm

He's also basically Eli Manning. Compared to Manning and Flacco, he also has a 20% higher utilization, without any semblance of a running attack.

On the rare occasion he gets decent rushing and enough time, he turns in a pretty fair Drew Brees impression. All of which makes him far and away the best Lions QB of my lifetime.

It's also about the same pay rate and cap-hit as his rookie contract. This is why I never understood all the hemming and hawing about the upcoming cap problems the Lions were going to have because of their old high-draft picks and their high salaries -- under the new CBA, those guys aren't going to get any more expensive than they already are -- unlike everyone else's ex-rookie contracts, which will be getting suddenly much more expensive.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 07/09/2013 - 6:30pm

"He's also basically Eli Manning"

I hope you're right. I think he's at three forks in the road in his career. Worst case is he becomes mid to late career Carson Palmer. Best case is he becomes present-day Eli Manning. Middle is that he becomes Drew Bledsoe.

by Thok :: Tue, 07/09/2013 - 9:06pm

Worst case scenario is that he becomes late career Culpepper and is exposed if he loses his one super elite receiver for a prolonged period of time.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 7:24am

Oh I doubt that. Culpeppers problems later in his career were due to far more than losing Randy Moss. I had the misfortune of watching him start a bunch of games for the Lions in 2008 and 2009. Oh wait, he had Calvin Johnson to throw to. Didn't seem to help him much.

This meme of people downgrading Stafford simply because he has Johnson is getting tiresome. Go ahead and criticize his footwork, mechanics, consistency, etc, instead, because those criticisms are actually valid.

I think it's no accident that Calvin Johnson had the two best years of his career so far when Stafford played the whole season.

by FrontRunningPhinsFan :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 11:48am

For what it's worth, I'm a fan of Stafford. But I also think having CJ to throw to makes him look better than he really is (although that would be the case for ANY QB).

If you think Stafford would be just as good without CJ - Well... you might say you're... getting played...?

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 12:23pm

I never actually said he would be just as good. 95% of QBs in modern NFL history who have had a very good or great receiver would look worse to varying degrees if they lost their #1 target. I was simply refuting the contention that he would be below average or terrible without Megatron (the poster I replied to was making a comparison to late-career Daunter Culpepper, which I think is preposterous).

This gets into the whole discussion of QB/WR interdependence (See Fitzgerald, Larry).

by FrontRunningPhinsFan :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 4:00pm

I agree with you. I was mostly just trying to figure out a way to work in my awesome pun.

by dbostedo :: Fri, 07/12/2013 - 11:25am

I'm still looking for any pun in your comment, much less an awesome one. At the risk of looking really stupid, could you point it out?

by FrontRunningPhinsFan :: Wed, 07/17/2013 - 1:29pm

Joey Harrington's Piano is getting played.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 2:53pm

Not necessarily. Favre became a much better QB when he no longer had Sterling Sharpe to bail him out. He started to spread his passing to more receivers and also to accept that it's ok to throw the ball away instead of forcing it into coverage.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 07/11/2013 - 2:23am

"also to accept that it's ok to throw the ball away instead of forcing it into coverage"

He never figured that out. Hell, he's forcing the ball to a covered receiver in his Wranglers commercial! Favre was always a rich man's Jake Plummer.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Tue, 07/09/2013 - 6:31pm

"Flacco's rate stats are better of course"

Where are you getting that? In the 2012 regular season, Flacco was ranked 17th with a -1.4% DVOA, and Stafford was 12th with 11.9%. In 2011, Flacco was 18th with 0.0%, and Stafford was 10th with 14.9%.

Unless you're talking total career stats (I don't have access to that), which you have to take with a grain of salt, given the relative quality of their supporting casts early on in their careers.

by jonnyblazin :: Tue, 07/09/2013 - 11:08pm

I don't know how anyone can watch Stafford and compare him to either Flacco or Manning. The latter two are classic pocket passers with great throwing mechanics, Stafford has a great arm but is wild and has awful footwork. The supporting cast differs as well, as Stafford can get away with tossing up jump balls to maybe the best WR in the history of the game (probably won't catch Rice, but it's not impossible), whereas Flacco and Eli have thrived with solid run games (due to R. Rice an O-line play, respectively) but fairly weak WR corps (until Nicks and Cruz arrived).

Flacco and Eli also have never missed a game.

Stafford is super-talented and still has plenty of upside. If he realizes it he could be Favre, if he stays where he is he could be Jay Cutler, if he regresses he'd be Jeff George.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 2:57am

I'm not the only one who sees some Favre in him then. I always hope they don't get him a coach like Holmgren who hounded Favre to distraction about footwork. He couldn't fix all the decision making stuff, but at least he fixed most of the footwork issues greatly increasing the chances of the crazy throws turning into good things. McCarthy was the same way, and it fixed a lot of the regression that happened under Rhodes/Sherman.

I don't know if a position coach alone can do it for Stafford (or if it could have for Favre either). But I really do think his footwork is his biggest issue and fixing it mitigates a lot of the other issues. I'm not just talking in the pocket either, when Favre was good even when he was scrambling or throwing with defenders draped on him that hounding on the footwork led to a much better body position which got the cannon aimed much better. He was helped early by Sterling Sharpe and later Robert Brooks before his receivers became more pedestrian. Stafford can use the Megatron advantage to help cover the gaps while he is getting coached up too.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 10:08am

I don't think there is a player in the history of the game, who obtained more benefit from extremely hard coaching, than Favre. Don't forget the role that Gruden, Reid, and, I think, Mariucci, had in Favre's early years; he was just surrounded by in your face coaches who had a knack with qbs, although Mariucci is a bit more laid-back.

The odds that Stafford is similarly fortunate in the coaching he receives, from Schwartz's staff, are pretty slim.

by justanothersteve :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 2:59pm

Favre may not have had receivers as good as the group Rodgers currently has. But he always had at least one good option; Freeman, Chmura, Driver, Walker, Jennings (with some overlap). Bubba Franks was mostly a blocker but a monster near the end zone. He even had Keith Jackson and Rison for a short time. That he could make Billy Schroeder a 1000 yd WR is evidence of just how great he was. But he never lacked receiving options.

by theslothook :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 3:13am

Flacco has to be the hardest qb to judge as of right now. His postseason was excellent by any standards, not just his own. His throws were insanely accurate and he stood tall in the pocket when pressure came. Now, do we ignore the larger body of evidence? But then theres the receiver and offensive scheme under cameron factor. All this makes flacco one damn enigma for next year imo.

by Independent George :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 10:03am

Which is remarkably similar to Eli Manning in 2007. The larger body of work said he was an average QB at best; since the 2007 postseason, he's been very good, but inconsistent.

Flacco's been on the same trajectory, but without the same highs/lows.

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 12:21pm

As a hockey fan, Flacco reminds me of those NHL players who are pedestrian at best during the regular season, but then turn into scoring machines come playoff time. That can be dangerous when you have fewer games and playoff spots in the NFL, because having an average regular season from your QB can mean you're staying at home in January.

by bhauck :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 1:42pm

It can also be dangerous because it was all just a small-sample-size mirage. Not to accuse Flacco of that, but, to go back to your hockey metaphor, any 20-goals-per-season player is going random variance his way into a few fifteen-game streaks where they score seven, and if a couple of those streaks are in the playoffs, boom, you have a "proven playoff performer."

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 1:55pm

Very good point. A certain Mark Sanchez fooled a lot of people with the small-sample size mirage in 2009 and 2010. (for the record, I think Flacco is orders of magnitude batter than Sanchez.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 07/11/2013 - 2:27am

Don't force the analogy too far. Playoff hockey has some structural differences from regular-season hockey. Those power-player screener guys become markedly more valuable (Tomas Holmstrom), whereas offense-first defensemen become much less valuable (Paul Coffey).

by Dean :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 3:04pm

I've seen John Druce. And Joe Flacco, sir, is no John Druce!

by CBPodge :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 5:31am

If anything, this feels like an underpay. When you add it to whats left of his rookie deal, it becomes 5 years, $75m. $15m a year for a guy with his arm? Hell yes.

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 9:35am

Yeah, I'm thinking the same thing. For a QB at the fringes of the top 10, who is only 25 years old, this contract doesn't really seem that outlandish. These days, when an above average QB hits the market, he gets an 8-figure salary.

by Steve in WI :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 4:37pm

Yeah, I'm not a Stafford fan really at all, but he's not a bad QB and he's young enough that he might get better and become a really good one. Given the market, this doesn't sound like a crazy deal.

by AB (not verified) :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 6:32am

There's one fundamental divide in NFL quarterbacking - QBs you could win the Superbowl with, and QBs with whom you (realistically) can't.

There are probably about 20 guys in the first category. If you have one, you basically have no choice but to (over)pay to keep him.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 1:17pm


by Will Allen :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 2:24pm

Once again, I liked the rules environment better when there was a better chance to win games with average to poor qb play. No doubt, the suits in league and network offices have reams of data, which inform them that making the game revolve more around qb play better attracts eyeballs, but mine aren't two of them.

by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 07/11/2013 - 12:09pm

I have serious doubts that scoring levels in the NFL and TV ratings have a cause-effect relationship.

I too think the NFL is way too dependent on passing offenses right now, and hate the video game nature of offensive numbers right now.

by theslothook :: Thu, 07/11/2013 - 3:00pm

Agreed. One thing that is often unmentioned is that somewhere around 07, there was a huge spike in overall offensive numbers, beyond the general trend. This spike has continued from then on. Someone identified that the huge spike came off of slot receiver and tight end production, which may have been a reworking of offensive design coming on the heels of the 5 yard chuck rule for cbs.

by dmstorm22 :: Thu, 07/11/2013 - 6:27pm

Still, the spikes starting after 2004 (rule emphasis) and 2007 (no real explanation I can think of) aren't close to the spike starting in '11. Of course, two years isn't really a trend yet, but the numbers the last two years have been staggering.

A few theories. The first is probably the most likely.

1.) The kickoff changing to the 35 made many more drives start at the 20 yard line, meaning more potential yards for offenses to gain.

2.) Defenses still haven't adjusted to the spread formations that were unveiled in full after the lockout, and offenses are getting smarter in doing what gains more yards (throw) more often.

3.) Top QBs aren't getting hurt as much, so there are more games for them to amass yards.

by Perfundle :: Sat, 07/13/2013 - 8:03pm

If points 2 and 3 aren't true, then point 1 can't be the only possible reason. I can see why more yards might be attainable per drive, but it should also mean less drives on average, unless teams go for more yards when there's more field in front of them. And more importantly, giving teams worse starting position can't possibly help them score more points, and yet that has gone up too.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Sat, 07/13/2013 - 8:24pm

You can't get more yards on a play than the rest of the field, and there are many plays where a player scores where it is clear he could have run much farther without being caught. A greater distance to go on average would mean those plays would yield more yards on average without taking up much additional time, so I would anticipate that yielding some small increase in number of yards per game. But that wouldn't affect scoring.

I think there has been an increase in the number of plays per game hasn't there?

by Perfundle :: Mon, 07/15/2013 - 3:48am

Year Pts Yards Plays Yards/Play
2005 20.6 315.9 62.5 5.05
2006 20.7 322.1 62.5 5.15
2007 21.7 325.2 62.8 5.18
2008 22.0 327.2 61.9 5.29
2009 21.5 335.1 62.9 5.33
2010 22.0 336.0 63.1 5.32
2011 22.2 346.8 63.6 5.45
2012 22.8 347.2 64.2 5.41

So there has been more plays per game recently, but there has also been more yards per play as well. The jump in all the stats in 2011 didn't particularly translate to more points, so that could very well be about the worse field position from the kickoffs. The jump in points in 2012 I would mainly attribute to the new read-option QBs (or rather the QBs who happened to use read-option; the RO helped but they were great passers in their own right) and Manning coming back.

With no notable rule changes and not much expected of the new QBs this year, I would expect little change in points scored per game.

by nat :: Tue, 07/16/2013 - 9:44am

Year Pts  Yards Plays Yds/Pl
2005 20.6 315.9 62.5  5.05
2006 20.7 322.1 62.5  5.15
2007 21.7 325.2 62.8  5.18
2008 22.0 327.2 61.9  5.29
2009 21.5 335.1 62.9  5.33
2010 22.0 336.0 63.1  5.32
2011 22.2 346.8 63.6  5.45
2012 22.8 347.2 64.2  5.41

The jump in points in 2012 I would mainly attribute to the new read-option QBs (or rather the QBs who happened to use read-option; the RO helped but they were great passers in their own right) and Manning coming back.

All of the change in points per game can be explained by an uptick in defensive TDs.

This is not to say that Manning, and the new read-option QBs did not play well. They did. But so did others. And other QBs did worse. I don't think last year marks a sea change in the NFL. Just the usual mix of new stars, old guys with good seasons, journeymen QBs, and frauds getting exposed.

by bhauck :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 1:45pm

Can anyone explain to me why Stafford's previous salaries are relevant when negotiating his future salaries (aside from the leverage a ridiculous cap number gives him)? If he's worth $15 million on the market, but he's making $30 million now, why is $30 million the starting point in negotiations? Why does he HAVE to get a raise if his salary is already too high?

by Revenge of the NURBS (not verified) :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 1:59pm

I haven't seen anyone make that claim. The only references I've seen to his previous contract are in reference to the two remaining years on it. And that just goes back to the leverage his cap number gives him.

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 07/10/2013 - 2:28pm

The franchise tag is the higher amount out of the top five salaries (for exclusive etc) or a 20% rise on his previous year. So if his final year salary is huge then it could cost more than the average to tag him and prevent him from leaving. I have no idea if this is the case with Stafford.