By: Will Burchfield
Matthew Stafford spends a lot of time with Eric Ebron at the Lions’ practice facility in Allen Park.
He’s about to see even more of his tight end at home.
Because when a teammate signs a contract worth $135 million with a $50 million signing bonus, apparently there’s only one thing to do.
“You just go to his house every day and eat dinner with him because it’s free. It’s on on him,” Ebron said on Tuesday morning, in the wake of Stafford’s record-setting extension.
And by the way, Ebron is done bringing in treats to the locker room.
“I ain’t bringing nothing no more, it’s all on him. If he don’t bring donuts, we’re fighting. Too much money not to share,” said Ebron.
Stafford’s extension, which is worth $27 million per year and includes $92 million guaranteed, makes him the highest-paid player in the NFL.
“He got it all. The change out the seat, the change that’s rolling on the floor, he took it all,” Ebron said. “I was excited for him. We’ve built this incredible bond over these past couple months. I was happy to hear that he finally got what I feel like he deserved and what the team feels like he deserves.”
No one in the Lions’ locker room was happier for Stafford than Golden Tate. The two are close friends, and Tate has long defended Stafford’s right to be paid like one of the game’s top players.
Still, the dollar signs shocked the sure-handed receiver.
“I’m glad I was in bed already, because I might have fainted,” Tate said with a smile.
“I FaceTimed him as soon as I found out. I told him and (his wife) Kelly congrats, and he was all smiles. I know I wouldn’t have been able to sleep right then and there, but they were in bed,” said Tate.
He confirmed it was the first time he has shared pillow talk with Stafford via FaceTime.
“It was a first, for sure. I think we grew in that moment,” Tate said.
Stafford laughed when the story was brought up at his press conference.
“Yeah, that was crazy. Kelly and I were laying down, watching TV and I got a FaceTime from Golden,” he said. “I don’t even know what time it was, wasn’t too late. But he was just calling me to congratulate me, and it means a lot.
“As a quarterback of the team it’s awesome to know that guys on your team are there for you, pulling for you. To have support from guys like that, guys that see the work that I put in and we all put in behind the scenes, to have that appreciation is pretty awesome.”
Tate said that Stafford fully deserved his big payday, commending the quarterback for taking the field every day and playing through all kinds of aches and pains. Stafford hasn’t missed a game since 2010. He sat out practice on Monday for the first time since 2012.
“I guess that’s part of the contract,” Tate joked.
“He’s always driven. Honestly, him being rewarded is going to make him work so much harder, and that’s what you want to see from guys,” said Tate. “You don’t want guys that get paid and are like, ‘Alright, well, I’m good now. I guess I’ll go buy an island.’
“He wants to be great. I don’t think he plays this game for the money. He plays this game because he loves this game, because he wants to win a championship.”
Speaking of islands, Tate said Stafford is the kind of guy you want to vacation with.
“He’s just a good dude, just a good person that you wanna be around. We’ve done it before, but I feel like I could go on vacation with him and we could hang for weeks and weeks and I’d never get tired of him,” said Tate. “And hopefully he wouldn’t get tired of me.
“He’s just a good person. He cares about others. If something’s going on, on the field or off the field, I feel confident that I can go talk to him and he’s gonna listen, and if needed he’s gonna give me good advice. His play speaks for itself.”
Ameer Abdullah doesn’t know Stafford as well as Tate does. The young running back hadn’t yet talked to the veteran QB about his new contract as of Tuesday morning.
But Abdullah, who has two years on his contract with the Lions, hopes to play alongside Stafford for a long time.
“He’s one of the GOATs in my opinion. He’s a Hall of Famer. I’m happy for him, man. That’s on our team, that’s something you can rep — highest-paid player’s on our team. That can be motivation for us. Like, shoot, we got the highest-paid player, we gotta pick our crap up. We got the talent, we got the guy there. That serves as motivation for everybody. Obviously him, because that’s dropping in his bank account, but for us too, man. We got the highest-paid player, we should be ballin’,” Abdullah said.
Four of the Lions’ five highest-paid players are on offense. The team invested heavily in linemen T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner during free agency and backed the truck up for Stafford on Monday.
“I got a little joke, we got the richest huddle in the NFL now,” said Abdullah, who will earn a relatively scant $1.04 million in 2017. “I’m not contributing to that, I’m not the reason why that huddle’s the richest.”
Abdullah speaks glowingly of Stafford, even if the national narrative isn’t always positive. Only Aaron Rodgers, he said, can hold a candle to Stafford in terms of arm strength.
“When I go home, people always read into the things they see on TV a lot. They’re like, ‘No way.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m on a team with him. I see him every day. The throws he makes, the stuff he can do with his arm…’ When I just look at arm talent and ability to make any throw on the run, Aaron Rodgers and Matt are head and shoulders above everyone,” said Abdullah.
Free agency will arrive in 2019 for Abdullah. Or, if he proves worthy, the Lions will extend him beforehand. The reward that Stafford received is motivation.
“What that shows me is a guy who’s invested so much time in a place, so much blood and sweat, has been rewarded. It shows me that the guys upstairs understand that, and they understand talent. That’s the main thing,” said Abdullah, who was drafted in 2015, prior to Bob Quinn becoming GM. “The group that brought me in is gone, so I’m working with different guys upstairs. Anytime they appreciate talent that’s great, because I feel like I’m talented.
“They appreciate talent, they reward talent. It shows they reward hard work and dedication and being responsible. And the last thing it shows me is anything is out there for you to go get if you’re willing to work hard, keep your nose clean and do right by the team.”