For a city wrecked in economic turmoil during the collapse of its spirit, General Motors, the Detroit Lions did something a little startling on draft day. No, it was not the mere fact that they drafted Matthew Stafford, the baby-faced kid with the big arm and shapeless frame, with the No. 1 overall pick that surprised me. Rather, it was the amount of guaranteed money that they gave the unproven 21-year-old that has me all bamboozled.
On the night before the draft, Stafford was given a six-year, $72 million dollar contract. The deal includes $41.7 million in guaranteed money. Or, in Randy Moss’ lingo, that part of the contract will deliver “straight cash homie.” The amount of guaranteed money to be granted to Stafford is the highest amount in NFL history, breaking the previous mark set by Albert Haynesworth when he received $41 million from the Redskins in a deal signed a couple months ago. And all this for a kid coming from a disappointing Georgia team that was supposed to win the 2008 BCS National Championship?
Give credit to Stafford’s agent Tom Condon for completing this absurd deal and striking gold for his client (and himself). Condon knew that the Lions coveted Stafford after they saw him workout at Georgia three weeks before the draft. For this reason, he knew he could sell him high. However, he also knew that if Stafford wasn’t selected No.1, then he could experience an Aaron Rodgers-like free fall out of the top ten. For this reason, he pursued the deal hard because he knew his man had to go No.1 and sign before a holdout ensued. Congratulations Mr. Condon, the snake won on draft day (somewhere in Bermuda Scott Boras is smiling.)
Matthew Stafford’s contract should be the final chapter of the “ridiculously high paid rookies” era in the NFL. By next year, there should be a deal made by the NFL that allows for only a certain pool of money from the salary cap to go to rookies, depending on team draft position and number of picks. Until then, Stafford should consider himself lucky. His deal has critics everywhere talking about the ethics of paying top-drafted rookies more money than MVP’s like Tom Brady. Just for some context, here is how Stafford’s contract matches up to the amounts allotted to No. 1 picks over the last few years:
2005: Alex Smith- 6 years, 49.5 million ($24 million guaranteed) ** also negotiated by Tom Condon
2006: Mario Williams- 6 years, $54 million ($26.5 million guaranteed)
2007: JaMarcus Russell- 6 years, $61 million ($29 million guaranteed)
2008: Jake Long- 5 years, $57 million ($30 million guaranteed)
2009: Matthew Stafford- 6 years, $72 million ($41.7 million guaranteed)
As you can see, the amount given to Stafford is astronomically higher than that given to any of the most recent top picks, none of whom have cemented their greatness, and some of whom may be deemed “busts” in the future. The question is: How desperate would you be if your team went winless in the previous season? For the Lions, the $41.7 million dollar answer was registered loud and clear: Awfully desperate.
Like a lonely teenager, frantic for a prom date and finding the solution at a local strip club, the Lions are desperate for a win and fastened Stafford as their savior. Hopefully, he picks up a few wins in year one. Because for a city stricken by unemployment and scarred by memories of Joey Harrington (18-37 as a starter), things could get ugly fast if the new QB-1 does not deliver.