If you haven’t heard that Matthew Stafford signed an extension by now, thank you, you are probably my biggest fan. For the rest of you, this is old news. The Lions’ soon to be all time leading passer is now the team’s QB for the near future, locking him up until 2017. If you haven’t read Sean Yuille’s excellent write up of where Stafford ranks with other recent QB signees, take a gander, I won’t retread work already done. Instead, I’m going to look at how this deal directly affects the Lions options moving forward in 2014 and beyond. I hit upon this subject recently, so some of you are already familiar, but now that Stafford has signed his deal (and some surprises with that deal), there are changes.
First, this season. According to Justin Rodgers at Mlive, the Lions have about 4.9 million in cap space this season (Spotrac has the team at 5,490,987). This gives them some options in Free Agency that they didn’t really have before. The 1.9 million the Lions had prior to Stafford’s deal was enough to sign a FA fairly easy in this brutal market, but now that they have more to work with, they can front load any contract they sign (Or sign multiple players), meaning there are both better and more options available to them. Let’s take a quick look at what’s left .
Brandon Lloyd – 74 receoptions, 911 yards, 4 TDs
Would I be surprised if the Lions brought in a new WR? No. Would I be surprised if it were a Locker Room cancer like Lloyd? Yes. Lloyd is the best of an otherwise sorry bunch of remaining FA receivers, and it’s likely only money and attitude that has kept him unsigned. Other Notable Receivers: Steve Breaston, Braylon Edwards, Chaz Shilens
Kevin Boss – 3 receptions, 69 yards, 1 TD
The Lions have shown a clear focus on improving the Tight End position. While Boss was unspectacular before his injury last season, he played well in Oakland the year prior and as a Giant before that, showing skills in all facets of being a TE. The biggest downside on Boss is that he has suffered four concussions in his career. The Lions have more experience than most with that issue, so it’s still a possibility.
Other Notable Tight Ends: Dallas Clark, Visanthe Shiancoe, David Thomas
Having already met with the team, the biggest stumbling block was likely money. Now the Lions have a little more, and Winston could be willing to take a smaller contract with more up front. This would instantly improve the Lions Oline and provide some assurance we can keep our new cash cow upright.
Other Notable Tackles: Winston Justice, Jared Gaither, Jeff Otah
Corey Williams – 5 Tackles, 2 Sacks
A familiar face? Williams has been floating around the FA pool, but only had one team take a look. It is possible his injury was more than we initially thought, but it’s likely he doesn’t want a huge drop from what he was making in 2012 (which is a lot for most teams). He’d have a reduced role in Detroit, and a drastically reduced contract, but it’d be better to take a smaller contract here than anywhere else.
Other Notable Defensive Tackles: Sione Pouha, Shaun Cody, Amobi Okoye
Nick Barnett -72 Tackles, 2 Sacks
Rumored to the Lions before, Barnett is still around. A good LB at any position, Barnett likely wouldn’t start for the Lions, who want to try their younger talent, and he likely wouldn’t like that. Without ST skills, bringing him in would likely be a move to push their 3 battling OLBs, none of whom pulled away from the pack.
Other Notable Linebackers: Gary Guyton, Gerald McRath, Rocky McIntosh
Kerry Rhodes – 58 Tackles, 1 Sack, 4 interceptions
Because seriously, he’s still unemployed. The Lions made a poor move re-signing Louis Delmas without any depth behind him, and it will bite them if they don’t act. Rhodes provides coverage skills that would help the Lions, and is a perfect fit for their scheme that keeps the Safeties back almost 75% of the time.
Other Notable Safeties: Quinten Mikell, Chris Crocker, Deion Grant
But what about 2014?
Earlier, I had posited that an extension for Stafford would likely get the Lions close to 10+ million in cap relief. That was operating under the assumption that he would go for a long term extension. Stafford and co. threw us a curveball, however, and signed only a 3 year extension, mostly guaranteed. According to reports, the Lions will save close to 7 million in each of the next two seasons, which will help immensely but not quite as much as expected. For 2014, that lowers the Lions top 52 contracts (as of right now) to about $132 million, or 9+ million over the cap.
Calm down, we went over this. With so few Free Agents on the outs, the Lions have a plethora of options they are not used to having. The extra 3+ million they could have gained would have likely come from their FA budget, so they’ll do fine.
What about the after that?
That’s where it gets important. the Lions gave Stafford a short term deal, and there’s a number of ways to interpret that. On the negative side, there’s the chance they don’t feel he’s up to the task of being a franchise QB. In that case, Stafford’s short term deal leaves the team with an out, able to draft a QB whenever they see one that they want. Some fans have joked that the team needs to start scouting now, their future QB is still in High School, and if this plays out poorly they are absolutely right. Teams scout from HS on, though, so if that’s the case the Lions have already looked at some candidates and started putting out feelers. With Stafford signed through 2017, and the cap situation only getting better, the Lions can maneuver for a QB or wait at their leisure. Even if they drafted one, they wouldn’t need to start him right away, and could opt to sit him and develop.
Well that’s a downer…
Yes, but that’s the point. That’s only a worse case scenario. Best case, it works out and Stafford fixes his busted mechanics, becomes the team leader we’ve all been hearing about, and starts making smart decisions on the field. That’s a lot of improvement to expect out of one player in one season, but again, best case. If Stafford works out, the Lions have him under contract until 2017, and have the option to extend him again in 2016 early, 2017 like you’d expect, or tag/re-sign in 2018. Good scenario there, and there’s a lot more to it.
Oh yeah. If my confidence in Lewand wasn’t already at an all time high after he not only waded through Capgeddon, but walked on water through it, it’s flying sky high now. The Lions are the only team to be saddled by three top 2 picks from the pre cap era, and they were all awful. Last season they fixed the Calvin Johnson situation, locking him up until my kids are in High School. This season they signed Stafford. Presumably, next season would be Suh. There’s more to it than that, like I said, though. Stafford’s contract is set to expire in 2018. Johnson in 2020. Suh? There are a couple of scenarios here. Suh’s contract expires in 2016. If the lions let Suh ride out his contract, which is not ideal, they could sign him to a contract leaving them at least a year, probably two, to figure out Stafford’s situation and adjust the cap. Then, after Stafford, they give themselves a year, maybe two, to work on Johnson’s and adjust cap. Given Suh’s huge contract in 2014, that isn’t ideal, but his contract drops to more manageable numbers in 2015 so if they can get over next season it would be perfect. If the Lions opt instead to sign Suh next offseason, to say a five year extension, they put his years out to 2020 making him a FA in 2021. A six year extension would be even more ideal. In either case, the situation is the same, the Lions give themselves plenty of time to rework contracts and plan longerm to lock up their best players. No more 2013 Capgeddon, losing half the defense and Oline in one fell swoop.
I wouldn’t quite go that far, but it is forward thinking we as Lions fans have not been accustomed to.