Matthew Stafford was the first overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Lions, and he’s worn Detroit’s colors ever since.
The strong-armed quarterback has thrown for more than 43,000 yards and more than 270 touchdowns in his decade-long NFL career, and in an era of aging quarterbacks continuing to perform, Stafford’s 32 years of age seems relatively young. The Lions have had losing records more often than not in the Stafford era, but whether he’s to blame is a discussion for another day.
This, instead, is a look at Stafford’s contract implications going forward. Quarterback money continues to get bigger every year, and the upcoming NFL Draft promises to have some high-end passers in it. There hasn’t been a suggestion that Detroit wants to move on from Stafford, and it wouldn’t be easy based on his current deal. But teams find ways of getting things done if they determine the right move is on the table.
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Matthew Stafford contract details
The contract Stafford is currently playing under was a five-year, $135-million extension agreed upon in August 2017. At the time, the deal made Stafford the highest-paid player in the league, and it came with $92 million guaranteed.
Detroit and Stafford have restructured the deal a couple times, most recently in September 2020. The restructuring moved $7.8 million Stafford was due in 2020 into a signing bonus, so he’d get paid the money no matter if the full 2020 season happened, while also freeing up some cap room for the Lions.
If Stafford plays out the 2021 and 2022 season for the Lions, he’ll be paid $22 million in base salary and $20 million in roster bonuses, while nearly $20 million in signing bonus money is charged against Detroit across the next two seasons, as well.
In 2020, Stafford is being paid $7.2 million in base salary.
What is Matthew Stafford’s salary cap hit?
Thanks in part to the September restructuring, Stafford’s cap hit is lower in 2020 than in either 2018 and 2019. Stafford’s 2020 cap hit is $22.65 million.
Stafford’s cap hit in 2021 is slated to be $34.95 million, with another $27.95 million in cap hit in 2022.
Can the Lions get out of Stafford’s contract?
The Lions technically have an out in Stafford’s contract after the 2020 season, but it’d be costly. If the Lions released Stafford following the season, it’d leave them with $24.85 million in dead cap. That’d be the most dead cap money taken on by a team in NFL history.
Detroit would be saving money with such a move, not owing Stafford more than $40 million in base salary and roster bonuses for the next two seasons. But to choose to get rid of a still-gifted starting NFL quarterback with two years left on his contract, only to still take a decent cap blow anyway, wouldn’t make much sense.
The Lions could then choose to release Stafford after the 2021 season, saving more than $20 million from his 2022 base salary and roster bonus, if that made sense at the time.
Projecting Matthew Stafford’s next contract
The most likely scenario is that Stafford plays out his current contract in Detroit through the 2022 season. The 2023 campaign will be Stafford’s age-36 season, and with how aging quarterbacks have continued to get opportunities and play well in the modern NFL, it’s safe to expect Stafford to get paid once more, by Detroit or someone else.
For what it’s worth, the Saints signed Drew Brees to a two-year extension worth $50 milllion ahead of the 2020 season, and that was to start with his age-41 season. If Stafford stays healthy and continues to play well, he could see a similar extension offer from the Lions or a contract in that direction from elsewhere in free agency.
Maybe more applicable is the Philip Rivers deal with the Colts. He signed with Indianapolis for one year and $25 million ahead of the 2020 season, his age-38 year.
Considering Stafford will be slightly younger than both Brees and Rivers when looking at his next contract, it’s probably fair to expect two or three years on the deal, and with QB money only rising, each of those quarterbacks’ $25 million annual average value seems like a possible ballpark for Stafford to shoot for. It’ll be health concerns with Stafford that could keep the money down, but the contract could be structured with less guaranteed money and more incentives to account for that.