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Matthew Stafford’s record-breaking contract highlights Patriots bargain with Tom Brady

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The Lions quarterback is getting paid.

The Detroit Lions have signed QB Matthew Stafford to a 5-year, $135 million extension with $92 million guaranteed, including a $50 million signing bonus. It’s the largest contract in NFL history and it goes to an above-average, but by no means elite player.

Stafford’s deal sets the stage for players like Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, Alex Smith, Sam Bradford, and even Jimmy Garoppolo, all of whom need new deals over the next year or two.

The New England Patriots reached a two-year extension with QB Tom Brady prior to the 2016 season that averaged $20.5 million in each season, with $28 million guaranteed at signing. Brady looks like a bargain compared to Stafford’s $27 million per season extension.

I’ll always argue that the Patriots have no problems signing players to record-breaking deals- Brady himself was the highest paid player in the NFL in 2010, and they just emptied a truck full of cash on Stephon Gilmore’s front yard- but it’s also important to highlight the value of timing.

Joe Flacco is a below-average quarterback, but he happened to enter free agency after he won a Super Bowl. The Ravens had to pay him and he went back to being a below-average quarterback. Timing was important.

Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford, and Brock Osweiler all entered free agency in 2016 as the top quarterbacks in their class. Cousins is above average, Bradford is the epitome of average, and Osweiler is technically a football player. All three signed deals between $18-20 million because of the weak market. Timing was important.

So Stafford’s new deal shouldn’t be a surprise with the rising salary cap, the scarcity of good quarterbacks, and the value he holds for the Lions franchise. But just because he’s making the most money doesn’t mean that he’s signed the most striking deal.

Lion Lowdown’s Logan Lamorandier calculated the percentage of the salary cap each quarterback’s contract was worth at the time of signing to see which quarterback took the biggest slice of the pie at the time.

For example, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers’ contract average of $22 million per season ranks 8th most in the NFL right now. But when he signed the deal in 2013, he was taking on 17.9% of the Packers salary cap, currently the largest amount of any quarterback in the league. Falcons QB Matt Ryan signed a deal for $20.5 million per season and he ate up 16.9% of the salary cap.

Both of these players were taking up more of the salary cap than Stafford- 16.1%- upon signing their deals, and yet as the seasons pass they seem like relative bargains. Timing is important.

Brady sits towards the bottom of the chart at 13.2% of the salary cap, behind Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill, and ahead of Chiefs QB Alex Smith and Bengals QB Andy Dalton. These players in the 12-14% range should be the league-average starters, and yet here we find the best player in football.

If Brady earned what he was worth- roughly 17% of the cap, behind Aaron Rodgers and ahead of Matt Ryan- then he would take home $28.4 million per season, nearly $8 million more than what he’s expected to earn.

So Brady is an undeniable bargain and Stafford’s monstrous deal is the product of the increased salary cap- and players like Ryan and Brees and Rodgers will likely smash the record in the coming years.


We can also piece together a possible Jimmy Garoppolo contract based off these percentages. Top quality back-ups that project to become starters average 10% of the salary cap. With the rising cap, Garoppolo would likely make $18 million per season on the open market. The Patriots could use a projected $24 million franchise tag on Garoppolo, too, which sets the floor for guaranteed money.

If the Patriots are to keep Garoppolo, maybe a 3-year, $54 million extension with $30 million guaranteed makes some sense as a mix of the two projections.