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It’s Make Or Break Time For Matthew Stafford

Greg M. Cooper, USA Today

Detroit Lions Quarterback Matthew Stafford is the highest-paid player in the NFL. Has he held up his end of the bargain?

Time is running out for the Detroit Lions to make a statement under franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford. The 2009 number one overall pick has been mostly a middle-of-the-pack quarterback during his nine-year career, but has yet to win a playoff game. The opportunity that has presented itself in the NFC North this season should have the Lions hungry and poised for a division title, but after this year their opportunities for playoff success are slipping rapidly.

Next season, Matthew Stafford will be the highest-paid player in the league. His contract extension is worth $135 million over five years, making him the highest-paid player in NFL history. This honor was bestowed upon Stafford despite having just three winning seasons under his belt, while the organization has not won a playoff game in 26 years. 

NFL Quarterback Salary Rankings (as of 2018 season)

Player (Team)Contract ValueAverage SalaryGuaranteed Salary
Matthew Stafford (DET)$135 million$27 million$60.5 million
Derek Carr (OAK)$125 million$25 million$40 million
Andrew Luck (IND)$123 million$24.6 million$44 million
Aaron Rodgers (GB)$110 million$22 million$33.3 million
Cam Newton (CAR)$103.8 million$20.8 million$41 million

It’s just not good optics for the richest player in the league to lead a losing team. The ninth-year quarterback out of Georgia has posted a career record of 56-63, which is not exactly in-line with a team’s long-term plan when taking a quarterback with the number one pick in the draft. Stafford has yet to win a playoff game in his career, a feat he could not accomplish even when he had a receiver like Calvin Johnson to throw to from 2009-2015. Of the NFL quarterbacks with the top 15 largest salary cap hits, only three (Stafford, Derek Carr, and Ryan Tannehill) have yet to win a playoff game.

Stafford’s career thus far stacks up comparatively with middle-tier franchise quarterbacks like Andy Dalton, Tannehill, and Carson Palmer. Among active players, Stafford ranks 12th in career passer rating (87.7), 13th in career touchdown-to-interception ratio (1.82), and 17th in career completion percentage (61.6%).

This season should present a great opportunity for Stafford and the Lions to make the playoffs. Stafford is the only current starting quarterback in the NFC North who started for his team to begin the season. In a division left with journeyman Case Keenum, third-year backup Brett Hundley, and rookie Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback for their respective teams, you would expect for a team led by its ninth-year starter to have a significant edge. 

After falling to Minnesota 30-23 on Thanksgiving, the Lions hold a 6-5 record, which would be more encouraging for a possible playoff spot if the NFC wasn’t so stacked with outstanding talent this season. However, the Lions face a remaining slate of opponents with a combined 21-29 record. 

Detroit Lions Remaining Schedule

Week 13@ Baltimore (5-5)
Week 14@ Tampa Bay (4-6)
Week 15vs. Chicago (3-7)
Week 16@ Cincinnati (4-6)
Week 17vs. Green Bay (5-5)

The hyper-competitive playoff picture in the NFC has left Detroit with little room for error, so the club needs to come out of the home stretch of its schedule with a perfect or near-perfect result to have a chance at capturing a wildcard spot.

There is no doubt that Matthew Stafford has put his team on his back since entering the league, spending his career without the presence of a solid running game or consistent defense. He took the 0-16 franchise that drafted him to a playoff appearance in three years and has accumulated 26 fourth quarter comebacks. Stafford ranks second all-time in passing yards per game (behind Drew Brees) and has perhaps the best pure throwing arm in the game. 

Yards don’t directly translate into wins, however. Great quarterbacks can transcend their surroundings to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Other number one draft picks like Andrew Luck and Cam Newton have taken poor rosters to win playoff games. The clock is ticking for Stafford to prove that he is worth that gigantic contract extension. It is time for him to escape from the middle tier and supersede the ranks of average quarterbacks to become the franchise savior that he was drafted to be. Detroit’s mission to win its first playoff game since 1991 hinges directly on the performance of its franchise quarterback. In a division with Aaron Rodgers, a stellar Vikings defense, and an improving team in Chicago waiting for them in 2018, now is the time.

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

How many playoff games have the Detroit Lions won in franchise history (since 1935)?
Created 11/25/17
  1. six
  2. seven
  3. eight
  4. nine

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