By: Will Burchfield
Matthew Stafford’s $135 million extension set all kinds of NFL records — most total money, most guaranteed money, biggest signing bonus, and on it goes.
Stafford is now the league’s highest-paid player, at $27 million per season, a title he took from Andrew Luck ($24.5 million per season) and one he’ll soon cede to either Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan.
The extension Luck signed last year and those that Rodgers and Ryan are likely to sign in the future provided the benchmark for Stafford’s deal, according to his agent Tom Condon, who discussed the inner workings of the contract negotiations on the Business of Sports podcast with Andrew Brandt.
“We’re thinking and talking about all of that, to tell you the truth,” said Condon, who also represents Ryan. “I look at (Stafford) from a value standpoint and certainly consider him to be in the top half dozen (quarterbacks in the league), with the idea being that you have to factor in age as well. He has all the physical requisites to be a superstar and he’s had great production.”
Condon called the extension “a fair deal” for both sides. Stafford got what the market indicated he was worth, and the Lions solidified themselves at the most important position on the field through 2022.
“It’s hard to overpay the franchise quarterback because, let’s face it, when the salary cap went into effect (in 1994) it required that if you had a finite number of dollars they were going to have to go to the players that change the outcome of the game,” said Condon. “As we all know, that outcome is going to be determined mostly on third down, so you have to have players that make plays on third down. That’s your quarterback, your left offensive tackle and your deep-threat receiver on offense, and on defense it’s your disruptive defensive lineman and your top cover corner.”
While previous quarterback deals were important in setting a bar for Stafford’s value, he was also judged on his own merits.
“Part of this is you have to look at the individual,” said Condon. “I think we were very fortunate to have a guy that’s enormously talented, great leadership skills, works very hard and a very intelligent guy. All of that was a positive for us, and then I look back to the history of the position and what’s transpired since 1993, the inception of the salary cap.”
Agreed upon in 1993, the cap went into effect in 1994. It was $34.6 million at the time. It’s risen to $167 million since. But Condon said a team’s cash budget is the more important factor.
The Lions have a cash payroll of about $202 million in 2017, the third highest in the league.
“The NFL’s got five years to prorate guaranteed money for cap purposes, so the salary cap, while it still has some significance, is probably not as significant as the cash budget,” Condon explained.
Stafford was guaranteed $60.5 million when he signed his extension. NFL funding rules stipulate that any guaranteed money must be paid out to the player within the first 12 months of signing or it goes to the league bank in New York.
“It has a chilling effect on the club’s willingness to part with that much cash immediately. From the league standpoint it’s a good idea because they’re trying to help the clubs not put at risk as much money as they may want to,” Condon said.
That’s what makes the guaranteed money such a coup for Stafford. He also has $86 million locked in as of March of 2018.
“Within the next six and a half months he has $86 million completely guaranteed, and that’s probably the strongest part of the contract,” said Condon, noting that Luck, the next closest in this regard, only had $60 million guaranteed by March of year two. “So I think that certainly works well for Matthew.”
Moving forward, the challenge for the Lions and GM Bob Quinn will be assembling a strong supporting cast around Stafford. Condon doesn’t buy into the fact that one hefty contract hamstrings a team in other areas, an opinion that Stafford expressed long before he signed his extension.
“I think that’s a myth,” said Condon, pointing to a former client of his as evidence.
“When Bill Polian was president of the Colts, we had Peyton (Manning) there. He was perennially the highest-paid player in the league and nevertheless they had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne and Edgerrin James and Bob Sanders and (Robert) Mathis and (Dwight) Freeney,” Condon said. “Part of this has to do with how you manage the cap. It’s a malleable instrument, and you can change that.”
Condon said that a number of high-ranking people within the Lions’ organization were involved in the negotiations concerning Stafford’s extension.
“When you’re talking about an elite quarterback, ownership, management and the negotiator are always involved. I’ve dealt with (negotiator) Matt Harriss when he was with the Giants, very good guy and a very bright guy. And of course, Bob Quinn is one of the rising young stars here in the league. It wasn’t a cakewalk and I don’t think that we took advantage of this,” Condon said. “I think that it was a fair deal.”