What Do the Lions Gain by Extending Matthew Stafford's Contract Now?

Brandon Holstein@@BHolsteinNFLDM3Featured ColumnistMay 14, 2013

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 16:  Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Only one player in the NFL will count more against his team's overall salary cap in 2013 than Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

As it currently stands, Stafford's contract is due to count over $20 million against the cap in the coming year, leaving Lions management working feverishly against the clock of a situation that has seemingly become more expensive with each passing day.

After all, 2013 has already seen several franchise quarterbacks sign long-term deals in excess of $100 million this offseason.

Joe Flacco and the Ravens got that ball moving back on March 1st by ironing out an astounding six-year, $120.6 million deal, which, at that time, made him the league's highest-paid player. 

Not even two months later, that record was no more after the Packers and Aaron Rodgers agreed to an impressive five-year, $110 million deal. 

So, with all this big spending, what do the Lions really have to gain by extending Stafford's contract now?


Financial Flexibility

Perhaps no team was hit harder by high-priced rookie contracts prior to the new collective bargaining agreement than the Detroit Lions. 

With three top-five picks between the years of 2007 and 2010, Detroit has been nearly handicapped due to its financial commitments towards three quality (but expensive) franchise-type players in Calvin Johnson, Stafford and Ndamukong Suh.

In fact, these three players make up more than 40 percent of Detroit's overall cap heading into 2013, which is certainly not the most efficient way to build a balanced football team.

Nonetheless, it could always be worse up in Detroit.

Currently the team has at least three young players to build around, and although it will undoubtedly take a good dose of financial creativity moving forward, the Lions have already started to make moves to alleviate some of their salary-cap pressure.

According to Justin Rogers of MLive.com, Suh restructured his contract this offseason to clear up some much-needed cap space, allowing the Lions to sign key free agents like Reggie Bush, Glover Quin and Jason Jones. 

Obviously this should be a good move in the short term, but it is the long-term implications this decision could potentially have on Detroit's already dwindling bank account that should give Lions fans pause for concern. 

By restructuring, Suh essentially agreed to take a lower base salary in 2013; however, his cap hit is now set to be spread over the next three seasons. Which—according to Spotrac—would make Suh's $21.4 million cap hit in 2014 the highest of any player in the entire NFL. 

Certainly Stafford remains the team's top priority; however, Suh's overinflated contract becomes another big issue to deal with in the next coming year.  

No way the Lions want to deal with two potentially financially constraining contracts in one offseason. The team is much better off settling with Stafford now, and hopefully working out a deal sometime next offseason for the guy labeled by his peers as the NFL's dirtiest player. (h/t NFL.com)


Montana to Rice Version 2.0

When looking at the current state of the Detroit Lions, you begin to see a team that is beginning to experience an "embarrassment of riches" of sorts.

On the one hand, thanks to good drafting, the team now finally has marquee players at key positions for the first time in decades. On the other hand, because of poor timing, the Lions find themselves in one of the most unique salary-cap situations in all of football.

It's an unusual situation, but what the Lions chose to do is completely up to them and free for all to debate. I personally just believe there is more to gain by signing Stafford now for a variety of different reasons.

It would take away some of the financial stress, while giving the team greater flexibility and leverage moving forward with key players like Suh. After all, quarterback contracts aren't getting cheaper any time soon, and by the time 2018 rolls around, Stafford's new contract will likely become a bargain, judging by the way salaries have escalated at the position in just the past five years. 

Plus, who wouldn't want to see Stafford throwing to Calvin for much of the next decade?

I know I do, but, then again, I am also a Lions fan.

Nevertheless, regardless of your team affiliation, it's hard not to want to witness greatness, and Calvin is just beginning to enter the prime of his career. If the Lions want to give themselves the best chance to win now, then they need to hit on that two-to-three year window where both of their best offensive weapons are striking on all cylinders. 

Stafford isn't quite there, but extending him now should only speed up this process, while also potentially squashing a distraction that could come in the way of the team winning this season. 

And, judging by last offseason, the last thing the Lions need is any more distractions.

This is, after all, a team that has more to lose than it has to gain, and it's not like the team hasn't already shown its commitment to Stafford.

The Lions did that last year when they decided to make Calvin the league's highest paid wide receiver. 

There's no reason why Stafford shouldn't be next.