Detroit Lions: Why Matthew Stafford wasn’t really NFL’s highest paid player

Matthew Stafford got the title of NFL highest paid player when he reached a contract extension with the Detroit Lions but that title was mostly a farce.

The Detroit Lions and Matthew Stafford made headlines in September when they reached an agreement on an extension that was the richest contract in NFL history. At five years and $135 million, the extension comes out to an average of $27 million per year.

That topped the $25 million per year average the Oakland Raiders and Derek Carr agreed to just months prior, and Stafford got the label as the highest-paid player in NFL history.

That was, of course, until last week when the San Francisco 49ers announced a five-year, $137.5 million deal with Jimmy Garoppolo. At an average of $27.5 million per year, Garoppolo overtakes Stafford’s reign as the NFL’s highest-paid player.

That is, if Stafford really had it in the first place.

Stafford’s previous deal ran through the 2017 season so while the final year was modified with some accounting tricks (restructuring salary into bonus) as a result of the extension, the extension hasn’t actually kicked in yet. The 2017 season was the last year of a deal that averaged about $17 million, placing Stafford in about the middle of the pack in terms of average annual compensation. The new deal covers the 2018 to 2022 seasons – the same time frame as the Garoppolo deal.

In other words, Stafford’s $27 million per year contract is actually just beginning at the same time as Jimmy G’s $27.5 million per year deal. Stafford was going to be the NFL’s highest-paid player, but now that will be Garoppolo’s label to wear.

Maybe this is all a technicality and one of those little things that interests only me. That being said, there is some practicality to the point as it highlights the Lions’ benefit to getting Stafford’s extension done prior to the start of last season rather than waiting until this offseason to address their quarterback’s future.

With the Garoppolo deal announced, does anyone think Stafford and agent Tom Condon would be willing to do a deal that came in under Garoppolo’s? Not a chance. The Lions gave Stafford a huge contract but they could have been forced into an even bigger deal if they had waited.