O'Hara: A Matthew Stafford contract extension a win for both sides

Posted Jul 10, 2013

Detroitlions.com columnist Mike O'Hara says a contract extension takes away that distraction from the start of the 2013 season

Matthew Stafford will step into a new realm with a contract extension with the Lions, with fresh challenges and a stricter and more demanding set of standards to be judged by in comparison to his peers.

Guaranteed money or average salary per season on any new deal won't determine Stafford's standing in any quarterback pecking order.

Quarterbacks are judged by winning in the NFL. Winning games, getting to the playoffs – ultimately, winning championships – earns more ranking points than money does. Everything else is secondary.

Nobody understands that more than Stafford. He spoke about it last month after the mini-camp that ended the Lions' formal offseason workouts when asked what he thought was the key element in ranking quarterbacks.

"It's a common theme in this league that teams that have a quarterback playing at a high level consistently will win games," Stafford said. "It's about wins in a lot of aspects."

The Lions and Stafford both get the security they want and need in a contract extension that adds three years to the six-year deal Stafford signed when he was drafted first overall in 2009.

The extension makes Stafford a Lion through 2017. The security for the Lions is that they don't face the dreary prospect of deciding on a starter between the likes of Jon Kitna, Josh McCown, Dan Orlovsky or Daunte Culpepper, all of whom competed for the job in the last seven years.

And for Stafford, the security is obvious. The extension takes away any speculation his future as a Lion. And the financial package – a reported gross value of $76.5 million with $41 million guaranteed – secures his future for life.

With an extension in place, Stafford is defined more than ever by performance – winning games.

Stafford spoke about all the elements that lead to winning. He compared a quarterback's performance to to golf – specifically Tigers Woods, and how a great golf round can be topped by an even greater one by an opponent, just as a great performance by a quarterback doesn't guarantee victory.

But if he holds up his end consistently, the Lions have a better chance to win.

"You talk about golfers all the time," Stafford said after mini-camp. "Tiger Woods sometimes feels like he's playing great, but he may not be winning the tournament. There are times you feel like that on the football field.

"This is such a results-driven business, much like golf. It's about winning. I understand that. That's one of the highest rankers of all -- if not the highest of how I'm doing. It's all about wins in a lot of respects."

With the start of training camp barely more than two weeks away, completing negotiations with Stafford removes one burden from Stafford and the Lions' front office. Neither side has to face questions about Stafford's contract.

It also will give the Lions some salary cap room that they can use to re-sign such players as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, whose original five-year deal has two years to run. Suh has said repeatedly that he would like to sign a long-term deal to remain a Lion.

Last year, the Lions signed Calvin Johnson to a seven-year extension – through 2019 – with a reported value of as much as $132 million.

Matthew Stafford

At 25, and with four seasons behind him as a starter, Stafford is in a good position to take his career arc to a higher level.

Stafford already has given the Lions some stability that they've lacked at quarterback. This will be his fifth straight season as the opening-day starter, dating to his rookie season of 2009. After two seasons cut short by knee and shoulder injuries, Stafford has been healthy and productive the last two seasons.

He has started all 32 regular season games, plus the wild card playoff game after the 2011 season when he led the Lions to a 10-6 record and their first postseason appearance since 2009.

Stafford passed for 5,038 yards and 41 TDs in 2011. Last year he threw for 4,967 yards but slipped to 20 TD passes as the Lions' record fell to 4-12.

Despite what was statistically an off year for Stafford personally and a disaster for the team, the Lions began negotiations early in the offseason.

In every interview, Stafford maintained that his motivation was on performance, and that contract talks would work themselves out based on the market value for quarterbacks.

"Quarterbacks are making good money right now," he said after mini-camp. "It has nothing to do with how I play the game or how I practice or how I prepare. I don't go into the offseason and work out extra or not as much because I'm either making money or not. That doesn't matter to me.

"I'm doing it because that's what I was born to do. It's what I've done ever since I was a kid."