Matthew Stafford is officially the highest paid player in NFL history. He signed a 5-year $135 million contract extension with Detroit today, breaking the record that Derek Carr set earlier in the summer.
Now, is Stafford a top-5 quarterback? Certainly not. Is he even a top-10 quarterback? Not sure. One thing is for sure, though, and that’s the Detroit Lions didn’t have a choice but to pay to their former #1 overall selection.
We can debate all day whether Stafford is an “elite” QB, and where he sits on the list of top QBs in the league. What we can agree on, though, is that he’s a viable franchise quarterback, and for that, he deserved to be paid.
There’s certainly a decent amount of quarterbacks that are better than Stafford–Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Luck, Roethlisberger, Ryan, and Wilson, to name a few– but finding a starting a QB is difficult in the NFL. If Detroit was to say “Stafford isn’t a top-5 quarterback, so we’re going to try and a find a quarterback that is,” they’d be in the same position that the Cleveland Browns have been in since the turn of the century.
Finding a viable starting quarterback is hard. The Browns are just one example. Since 1999, they’ve had 24 different starting quarterbacks, and still haven’t found a viable one. The Jets are another example. Since 2009, their starting quarterbacks have been Mark Sanchez, Kellen Clemens, Greg McElroy, Geno Smith, Michael Vick, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Bryce Petty. The Jaguars are yet another example. They’ve wasted three years on the Blake Bortles experiment. There are countless other examples of teams doing everything to find a quarterback like Stafford, but to no avail.
The trajectory for gunslingers like Stafford is also promising. At only 29, he likely has his best years ahead of him. Aaron Rodgers is 33. Tom Brady is 40. Drew Brees is 38. Matt Ryan is 32.
People also tend to look at the “highest paid player in the league” tag as something that should only be given the league’s top players, and think that players like Stafford aren’t deserving. History has shown that this just isn’t the case. Jay Cutler signed a 7-year/$126.7 million contract. Colin Kaepernick signed a 6-year/$126 million contract. Joe Flacco signed a 6-year/$120.6 million contract. Andy Dalton signed a 6-year/$115 million contract. Not that all those guys became “the highest player in the league” (only Flacco did), but they were pretty damn close. And I think we’d all consider them mediocre players at best. Plus, it’s only a matter of time before Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, or Aaron Rodgers sign extensions larger than Stafford’s.
So the Lions didn’t really have a choice with Stafford. Either they made him the highest paid player in the league, or become the Browns, Jets, Jaguars, or Rams, or any other team that’s been searching for a player like Stafford for years.