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O'HARA: Stafford gives Lions security at most important position

The money is big, and with it comes big expectations – maybe too big to be realistic to achieve – but the Detroit Lions have gained something by agreeing to terms with Matthew Stafford on a long-term contract extension that cannot be measured in financial terms alone.

They have one of the most sought after commodities in the National Football League – a proven, upper-echelon quarterback for the present and future.

While teams around the NFL line up to hitch a ride on the quarterback shuttle every season, getting Stafford on a five-year extension through 2022 that reportedly makes him the league's highest paid player gives the franchise security at the most important position.

With no worries about Stafford's immediate future, the Lions can use their resources on other positions, knowing they have a 29-year-old quarterback with many prime seasons ahead of him who is the face of the franchise and its unquestioned leader. 

View photos from Matthew Stafford's press conference to discuss his new contract.

"It's huge," head coach Jim Caldwell said at Tuesday's press conference. "It's a difference maker in this league. It's a game changer.

"We do have a guy that continues to grow. We do have a guy that's smart and tough and is a good leader. When your hardest worker is your best player, there's a lot of things you can say about that in terms of leadership coming from that position.

"He's been great about that. We have a guy that's stable there for a long time."

The timing of getting the deal done is right for both sides. With both sides working to get a deal done, it was a win-win proposition.

And while Stafford has said all along that he never had a timetable on negotiations, he said Tuesday that it increasingly became important to him to have it done before the start of the season so there was no impact on the team.

"As it got into training camp a little bit, I realized that I think we have an extremely talented team," he said. "And for us to be worrying about – or anybody, even myself – about my contract situation or what it was going to be, was going to be a disservice to the organization, to our team, to the players in the locker room.

"So I wanted to get this thing done."

General manger Bob Quinn spoke highly of Stafford when he was hired in January of 2016, after two decades in the Patriots' personnel department. 

What he saw in person from Stafford increased his opinion of him.

"He's a great teammate," Quinn said. "He's tough and competitive. He has a tremendous work ethic. He's one of the first guys in the building every day. All the guys follow him. 

"He's proven he can perform in tough situations, which is important in that position."

Stafford has seen the team develop in a positive direction since he arrived in 2009 as the first pick overall in the draft – a pick the Lions "earned" by going 0-16 in 2008.

It's been a tough climb – with a 2-14 season as a rookie, and some personal bumps in the road – but the Lions have become respectable. This is not the team from the Lost Decade of 2000-09.

The Lions have made the playoffs three times in the last six seasons, from 2011-16. There's more work to do – winning a division title, and a playoff game chief among them – but the Lions go into seasons now as legitimate contenders in the NFC North.

There also has been an injection of energy from owner Martha Firestone Ford, with renovations of Ford Field and the facility in Allen Park under a front-office regime led by team president Rod Wood and Quinn.

On the field, Stafford's play is a big part of the team's rising fortunes, as it is for any quarterback on a contending team.

Off the field, Stafford and his wife, Kelly, have embraced the community. She recently gave birth to twins, who were present at Tuesday's press conference.

"I've loved playing here," Stafford said. "I'm going to continue to love playing here. I love playing for the Fords. Mrs. Ford reached out to me today. I had a great conversation with her. Her family is always around and great.

"The guys in the locker room – teammates, coaches, front-office guys, were all involved, were all in this. I consider myself lucky to be a part of it.

"When I was drafted here, we were obviously coming off a 0-16 season, and in a lot of ways needed new breath and some direction. I was lucky and happy and honored to be a part of getting it from where it has been to where it is now.

"And hopefully, that exponential jump can happen again and we can go from where we are now to where we really want to be.

"And that's hoisting a Lombardi Trophy."

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