O'Hara's Monday Countdown: A look at the numbers surrounding Matthew Stafford

Posted Jul 15, 2013

Mike O'Hara focuses on the numbers involving Stafford, including salary cap and his connection to former Lions' QB Bobby Layne

Stats and comparisons have abounded since word broke last week that Matthew Stafford and the Lions have agreed on a three-year contract extension that will keep him a Lion through the 2017 season.

Touchdowns, interceptions, won-lost record, guaranteed money, salary cap hits – all of it regarding Stafford is fair game for media scrutiny.

Time has passed fleetingly since the Lions drafted Stafford with the first pick in the 2009 draft. He turned 25 in February. He will have been the opening day starter for five seasons before turning 26. That might be the most notable stat of Stafford's young career.

This week's Monday Countdown focuses on numbers involving Stafford, including the salary cap. There's a Stafford connection to Bobby Layne, a fellow Highland Park High alum in Dallas and the quarterback Stafford will surpass in the Lions' record book.

There's also an obscure stat involving Layne that might interest only me but I'm passing it along to those that might share the same interest in obscure items, and an update date on how Las Vegas sizes up the NFC North.

Matthew StaffordQB Matthew Stafford

We start with a quality of Stafford's that seemed unthinkable after his first two seasons – durability.

1. Iron Man: That title would not have fit Stafford when he played only 13 of 32 games because of knee and shoulder injuries in his first two seasons.

But Stafford hasn't missed a game since undergoing surgery on his right shoulder after his 2010 season ended early. His streak of 33 starts – 32 in the regular season, one in the playoffs – is the longest of any NFC North quarterback.

Next in the NFC North:

Aaron Rodgers, Packers: The NFL's best quarterback has 19 straight starts – 16 last regular season and two in the playoffs, and the playoff loss to the Giants the previous season.

The last game Rodgers missed was the 2011 finale against the Lions. Coach Mike McCarthy rested him for the playoffs.

Jay Cutler, Bears: He qualifies as the Tin Man of the North with six straight starts, missing seven games in the last two seasons, the most of any quarterback in the division.

Christian Ponder, Vikings: His streak of 27 starts was snapped when an injury forced him to miss last season's playoff loss to the Packers.

Nobody should go overboard on a 33-game streak. Brett Favre holds the NFL record with 297 in the regular season and 321 counting playoffs. Compared to Favre's 297, 33 games is like playing catch with the ball boy in pre-game warm-ups.

The real value of Stafford's streak is that he has gotten beyond the early injuries that caused real concern about whether he could hold up to the physical demands of playing quarterback in the NFL. He has shown that he is not injury prone. There is no chronic condition – lingering elbow or shoulder problems, or bad knees – that has to be managed through a season and limits his practice time.

Stafford has ability, and he has availability. A good combination.

2. Young gun: The numbers Stafford has compiled before turning 25 are amazing.

Most stats for all quarterbacks are skewed by two things: the increasing emphasis on the passing game in college and the pros that prepares young quarterbacks to play earlier, and the fact that the NFL did not let underclassmen enter the draft until 1989.

For pure numbers, consider that in four seasons before turning 25 Stafford has thrown for 12,807 yards with 80 TDs and 54 interceptions in 45 regular season games.

Joe Montana had 16 TD passes and nine interceptions before he turned 25. Troy Aikman had 30 TD passes and 45 picks. Warren Moon was still toiling in Canada at age 25. He turned 28 in his first NFL season. Montana, Aikman and Moon all are in the Hall of Fame.

Of more recent vintage, Tom Brady turned 25 in 2002 after his second season with the Patriots. By then he had 18 TD passes, 12 interceptions – and a Super Bowl ring from the 2001 season.

Peyton Manning started every game for the Colts for three seasons before turning 25. He had 85 TD passes and 58 interceptions in 48 games. The Colts got to the playoffs twice and lost in the first round both years.

Drew Brees had 29 TD passes and 34 interceptions in three years with the Chargers, plus a won-lost record of 10-17.

Rodgers was glued – or frozen – to the bench in Green Bay for three seasons as the under study to Brett Favre after the Packers drafted him in the first round in 2005.

Rodgers turned 25 in December of 2008, his fourth season. For that full season, Rodgers passed for 4,038 yards with 28 TDs, 13 interceptions and a 6-10 won-lost record.

Since then, Rodgers has been the NFL's best quarterback.

3. Passing lanes, and passing Layne: Layne holds the franchise's career records for passing yards (15,710) and touchdowns (118). Stafford is certain to break the record for passing yards this year, and he might add the TD record. He needs 38 to tie, 39 to break it.

Stafford already is second in passing yards and tied with Scott Mitchell for third in TD passes. Greg Landry is second with 81.

4. Just for kicks: There were few specialists in Layne's era. Punters and kickers were position players.

Layne was a great, multi-talented athlete. At the University of Texas, he compiled a record that made him one of the greatest pitchers in college history.

He also could kick. He was the regular kicker for the Lions in 1956-57 and for the Steelers in 1959.

In 1956, he made 12 of 15 field goal attempts and all 33 extra-point attempts. He led the league, making 80 percent of his field goal attempts.

For his career, Layne made 68 percent of his field goal attempts. Jan Stenerud is the only pure kicking specialist in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He kicked for 19 seasons, from 1967-85, and had a career accuracy record of 66.8 percent – slightly lower than Layne's mark of 68 percent.

Stenerud made 373 of 558 attempts. Layne hit on 34 of 50.

5. Cap size: The first year of the NFL salary cap was 1994, and the spending limit was $34.6 million.

Ten quarterbacks are working under contracts that pay them more than $34.6 million in guaranteed money.

That includes Stafford, whose new deal is worth $76.5 million, with $41.5 million guaranteed.

A team's ability to sign other players isn't restricted by one player's big contract as much as it might seem.

A case in point is the eight-year deal Calvin Johnson signed in 2012 that was worth as much as $132 million. Johnson restructured his deal in March -- only 12 months later -- giving the Lions $3.4 million in cap room to sign free agents.

Teams use accounting methods to redistribute the payout and lessen the salary cap hit. Ndamukong Suh and Stafford have restructured their deals in the past. They're likely to do it again.