The starting quarterback of the reigning Super Bowl champions is entering a contract year. The Los Angeles Rams were hoping for the former and expecting the latter, making 2022 a potential tipping point in the long-term value and cost of Matthew Stafford to the franchise that he just helped win the Lombardi trophy.
What’s the cost of that tipping point?
Prior to the 2011 CBA between owners and players that set a fixed cost for all rookies drafted into the NFL, Stafford signed a six-year, $72 million contract as the top pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. That made him the highest player in NFL history at the time, hence the reason that owners pushed for new rules in the 2011 CBA.
Stafford then signed a three-year, $53 million extension in 2013, followed by a five-year, $135 million extension in 2017.
At the time, a $27 million annual salary was a lot for a franchise quarterback. Only five years later, it’s an exceptional bargain for any above average starting quarterback — and a bit of a joke for the reigning Super Bowl winner.
Per OvertheCap.com, Stafford is set to earn a $12.5 million base salary and a $10 million roster bonus in 2022. His cap hit will come in at $23 million, which would be one of the main reasons that the Rams even have a shot to re-sign players like Von Miller and Odell Beckham, Jr.
If the Rams make no adjustments to Stafford’s 2022 contract figures, he would be making less this year than players like Matt Ryan ($48 million!!!), Kirk Cousins, Deshaun Watson, Ryan Tannehill, Carson Wentz, Jimmy Garoppolo, Lamar Jackson, and... Jared Goff, who is at $31.15 million and virtually guaranteed to be paid all of it by the Detroit Lions.
Stafford’s 2022 salary puts him closer to Taysom Hill ($12.3 million) than it does to Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, or Russell Wilson, each of whom currently sit just outside the top-five for next season alone.
Like it not, Stafford’s next salary could double his salary, if not pay him $50 million per season.
Last year, the Buffalo Bills gave Josh Allen a six-year, $258 million contract with $100 million fully guaranteed. Stafford might be seven years older than Allen, but it’s hardly ludicrous to think that he could play another six years at a high level. That means that Stafford could demand a similar contract, probably even asking for six years and at least $260 million if he wants to jump off of Allen’s deal.
That contract gives the Bills a cap hit of $39 million in 2023, $41 million in 2024, $51 million in 2025, and $46 million in 2026.
Therefore, Los Angeles may need to be sure to allocate at least $40-$50 million per year to the quarterback position alone from 2024-2026. His first-year cap hit of a new contract may not be as prohibitive, unless the Rams feel confident that they can frontload it and still get the most amount of total value out of the life of the deal.
But it would seem that something should happen to Stafford’s deal now, not next year.
For one, a player’s career can end at any moment. Stafford just played in 21 games. Not 16. Not 17. But 21. That’s not a small distinction, especially for a quarterback who seems to often end up at the bottom of a pile and limping off of the field. If Stafford thinks that he can take a risk by going into his contract year without an extension, it only benefits the Rams. Not the Staffords.
If Stafford was 25, then maybe he could consider letting it play out like Dak Prescott did for two years with the Dallas Cowboys. But he’s 33 and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to get a ton more money by waiting another year and seeing what Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson may get on their next contracts. There should be as much money on the table for Stafford now as there would be in 2023, which means that he may want to be risk averse and attempt to get his $101 million guaranteed as soon as possible.
Number two, the Rams should avoid playing the franchise tag game like the Cowboys did with Prescott. L.A. needs to have a quarterback under contract for 2023 and they have the money to do it—the Rams have $137 million in 2023 liabilities and it won’t hurt to make that read as $177 million after signing Stafford. The NFL’s salary cap is higher than it has ever been before and it is expected to balloon by 2024.
Stafford has not only gone from the Lions to the Rams and from a dysfunctional franchise to being a Super Bowl champion in the last year, he’s also become one of the NFL’s most insane bargains.
There’s no way that bargain is going to last.