Despite a recent uptick in U.S. unemployment filing, it’s safe to say that Matthew Stafford won’t be missing meals in the near future. The Lions’ quarterback landed a 3-year, $53-million contract extension on Wednesday, keeping him in Honolulu Blue until 2017 and bringing his guaranteed money to a mind-boggling $41.5 million.
Like Joe Flacco, Stafford’s mammoth payday brings questions about the worthiness of such a deal. The fourth-year QB has displayed top-tier abilities, but after an up-and-down 4-12 campaign, there are justifiable criticisms.
Although Stafford has brought many Lions fans to the brink of insanity with unnecessary sidearm throws and head-scratching interceptions, Detroit made the right decision by locking up their star signal-caller.
Don’t believe me? Maybe these five reasons—regarding both the quarterback and his extenuating circumstances—will convince you.
5. Ladies and gentlemen, the Detroit Lions
Matthew Stafford plays for a record-setting franchise. Unfortunately, the Lions have a storied history of reaching and surpassing futility-related milestones. Detroit has injected new life into the term finding ways to lose, and while a quarterback must be accountable for his team’s play, he can’t do everything. From allowing a record five touchdowns of 60+ yards at Tennessee (where Shaun Hill replaced an injured Stafford) to laying down against Andrew Luck’s Colts in the last minute, Stafford has been the beneficiary (or, more accurately, victim) of a franchise whose commitment to losing goes unquestioned. Given a quarterback’s importance to the team, an organization must display a special brand of incompetency to relieve him of some blame. I give you the Detroit Lions.
4. Kris Durham
Who, you might ask, is Kris Durham? The necessity of the question represents the problem. While Stafford has the luxury of throwing to the best receiver in football, the remainder of his supporting cast won’t be earning Transformer comparisons anytime soon. The Lions signed Durham from the practice squad on December 4th, and he not only played immediately; he was Stafford’s second receiver and starting wideout. Not coincidentally, Durham was Stafford’s roommate at the University of Georgia. His recruitment was more than likely the result of this frantic team-wide memo:
Hey guys, I have a favor to ask. You may have noticed that we have a little bit of a receiver problem. You guys know anyone who can catch a football? Or catch anything really—we just need someone to line up as a receiver. No, seriously, that’s the only requirement. Just line up in the right spot. We’ve had a problem with that. Anyways, if you have any neighbors, or remember anyone from your college dorm who can stand straight and go to the right place, we’ll take ‘em. See someone in line at the grocery store with exceptional posture? Get ‘em a jersey.
3. Stafford has All-Pro Talent
Of all the knocks on the Lions’ QB, talent deficiency is not part of the conversation. Stafford is a natural athlete with a cannon for an arm, and despite his much-publicized tendency of sidearm tosses, he has displayed elite talent throughout his career. Ron Jaworski, hat criticizer and premier QB evaluator, identified areas where Stafford must improve, while also stating his undeniable potential: “There is absolutely no question that Stafford is a very special arm talent. There are not many that throw it like he does. He has a chance to be a top-10 quarterback.” While Jaws rightfully wants to see Stafford correct his oft-whacky mechanics, he makes it clear that the quarterback is a few adjustments from elite status.
2. Walkin’ the Walk
If mere talent was the primary determinant of NFL contracts, Titus Young would be busy sifting through stacks of offer sheets. Stafford hasn’t just made the occasionally impressive throw; he’s put up some serious numbers. The Lions’ field general is one of four quarterbacks in league history to surpass 5000 yards, which he accomplished in 2011. Last season, he came up 33 yards short of the milestone. A pathetically imbalanced offense that sports a 35% run rate over the past two seasons is a major factor—Stafford has 63 more pass attempts than the next QB—but high volume doesn’t automatically translate into results. Stafford’s 6.8 YPA in 2012 ranked a disappointing 21st among NFL passers, but he notched a more respectable 7.6 YPA in 2011. He may have been given a pass-happy, quarterback’s fantasy scenario of an offense, but he has shown he can produce in the system.
Every forced pass, cringeworthy interception, and infamous side-slinging throw can be excused for one reason: Stafford just turned 25. He passed the vaunted 5000-yard mark at only 23, and is already entering his 5th NFL season. We’re not talking about men’s tennis, where a player’s prime is over before their 20th birthday. Stafford isn’t a tailback, whose careers hardly run longer than a screening of The Godfather. Peyton Manning is entering his age-37 season, and for comparison’s sake, Stafford entered the league at 21, one year shy of Manning when the Colts selected him 1st overall. Hell, Brandon Weeden entered the league last year at age 28. Stafford’s youth gives him a temporary pass for any ill-advised habits that have shown up thus far in is young career, as the Lions are essentially banking on his maturity as a quarterback. He undoubtedly must improve in several areas, but pending a Daunte Culpepper-esque career collapse, the face of the Detroit Lions will prove his lucrative contract to be a wise investment.