By Michael Downes
The Lions have started the re-signing process by extending safety Glover Quin’s contract two years. While it was a great move, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. There will be more extensions given out, they will be longer and worth a massive amount of money.
After the Quin deal, the Lions have 39 contracts expiring at the end of the 2017 season. That number will go down after preseason cuts, but there will be some tough decisions coming up. Out of those 39 players, there are three names that stick out, three guys that the Lions would be crazy to let hit the open market.
Let’s start small and work our way up. Kickers aren’t usually big name players, but they are becoming sparse in today’s NFL. When you get a good one, you need to hold onto them. The Lions struck gold when they took a risk on signing Matt Prater, a man that was on a four-game suspension for alcohol abuse. Prater’s first year with the Lions was rough. He hit only 80.8 percent of his field goals, but has since rebounded. Over the past two seasons, Prater has made 88.9 percent of his field goals and hit 12-of-13 from beyond 50 yards. He isn’t perfect, as many Lions fans know, but he’s efficient from long range and doesn’t falter under pressure. Prater’s getting older, he’ll be 33 by the the end of preseason, but in the kicking game age is just a number. Expect to see a three-year contract extension towards the end of the season.
Prater was the easy one, but this is where things get complicated. At the end of the 2015 season the Lions felt as if they had a premier pass rusher in Ezekiel Ansah, who had 14.5 sacks, a first-team All-Pro nod and a Pro Bowl selection to his name, but then 2016 happened. Ansah struggled last year, tallying just two sacks all season. He looked like a shell of the 2015 Ansah. The problem is, much like when he was drafted, there is a whole lot of potential in the 6-foot-5 end. The Lions would be smart to lock him down to an extension because things will get hairy if he hits the open market. Teams are always looking for ways to get to the quarterback and a big framed defensive ends get a lot of attention. If Ansah is allowed to test out free agency, he won’t be sporting a Honolulu blue jersey in 2018 as somebody will outbid the Lions. The front office needs to play it smart and lock him down before the end of 2017. Something around the lines of a four-year, $45 million contract extension.
“Football is a team sport, nobody, no position is more important that the team,” said every coach, everywhere.
For the most part that’s true, but in the NFL there is a most important player, the quarterback. It’s no secret that quarterbacks are, above and beyond, the most crucial part of any organization. Same goes for the Lions and the team would be insane to even think about letting Matthew Stafford play out his contract. Stafford’s like a fine wine, he keeps getting better with age.
For a good part of 2016, Stafford was putting on a show and easily playing some of the best football of his life. Eight fourth quarter comebacks, 4327 yards, 24 touchdowns, 10 picks, fewest of his career, and a 65.3 completion percentage, it was quite the spectacle. Without Stafford, not only are the Lions going to miss out on the playoffs, they’d be lucky to get five wins. He willed the team to greatness and has for the past few seasons. Quarterbacks are hard to find and possessing a good one that can stay healthy is about as common as a full on solar eclipse. The quarterback market is barren, so when a good one hits free agency the bidding war is outrageous.
Just over a month ago, the Oakland Raiders made Derek Carr the NFL’s highest paid player. His $25 million per year contract should act as the baseline for Stafford’s contract. He will command more than $25 million and is deserving of it. Either the Lions re-sign him now or he won’t be back in Detroit in 2018 unless the Lions decide to slap a franchise tag on him. Stafford’s deal will be the biggest the NFL has ever seen, five years, $135 million.