ALLEN PARK, Mich. – When Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford woke up Tuesday morning, less than 12 hours after signing a deal that made him the richest player in NFL history, not much had changed. He still came in to work. Still went through a workout with backup quarterback Jake Rudock. Still practiced and broke down tape to get ready for the first week of the 2017 season.
Really, the numbers on his future paycheck are all that has changed for him.
“It’s not much different than I feel yesterday,” Stafford said. “I work extremely hard no matter what my salary is for the year or anything like that. It’s just part of what comes with the position of playing quarterback in this league and playing it at a high level. That’s what I strive to do. I don’t do that for anything other than the guys in the locker room — the coaching staff that puts in all the hard work that gets us ready to play, and my teammates.
“Obviously, couldn’t have gotten to this point without a lot of help from all those guys.”
Getting the deal done — a five-year, $135 million contract with $92 million guaranteed, according to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter — became more important to Stafford during training camp. He realized that he didn’t want anyone — his teammates, coaches or himself — to be worrying about his deal. He wanted to stay in Detroit and made that clear to his agent, Tom Condon, from the first conversation they had about contract negotiations, saying “in the back of my mind, I always wanted to be here.” That, Stafford said, was his plan throughout.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn said he wanted to get the deal done during their first conversation in February, but he understood it would take time to make it happen. He wouldn’t get into specifics about the gap that was perceived between the two sides and what he meant earlier this month when he said the two sides had “a long way to go” to reach a deal.
“All I know is what we came to was a fair deal on both sides,” Quinn said. “We made some concessions, they made some concessions, and we’re at where we’re at today.”
Seeing Stafford work and lead throughout the past season-plus told Quinn that he wanted Stafford to be the Lions’ long-term quarterback. Quinn was a bit more reserved with his comments when he was hired in January 2016, but that’s because he didn’t know much about his quarterback beyond what he saw on film.
Now, he’s got him for the foreseeable future. And the GM is happy with that.
“I watched him in the first offseason program work in the weight room,” Quinn said. “I saw him work in OTAs, in the summer. So it didn’t take long … you can’t jump in with two feet until you date for a little while.”
Despite that, neither Stafford nor Quinn thought a deal wouldn’t happen. Stafford felt comfortable throughout the whole process. So did Quinn. Stafford “expects great things” from the team. He’s been around a long time, too. Other than long-snapper Don Muhlbach, Stafford is the longest-tenured Lions player. The Lions drafted the QB first overall in the 2009 draft.
He came in at a time when the franchise was floundering, coming off the winless 2008 season that saw a complete shift. The front office and coaching staff had been overhauled in the 12 months prior to Stafford’s arrival, and as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft, he was looked at as a player who could start fixing the multiple issues Detroit had.
In his eight seasons, he’s made three playoff appearances. He holds every significant Lions passing record. And he’s indicated he would like to be with the Lions beyond the six years he’s signed up for through 2022.
“When I was drafted here, we were obviously coming off an 0-16 season and in a lot of ways needed some new breath and a direction,” Stafford said. “I was lucky and happy and honored to be a part of getting it from where it was then to where it is now, and hopefully that exponential of a jump can happen again and we can go from where we are now to where we really want to be, and that’s hoisting a Lombardi Trophy.”
Stafford doesn’t think having the tag of the NFL’s highest-paid player will put more pressure on him. Then again, he’s had similar attention his entire life — from being considered one of the nation’s top high school prospects to the eventual No. 1 pick in the draft and then a franchise NFL quarterback.
When Stafford found out his new deal was done, he was sitting across from his wife, Kelly, at the dinner table. He smiled and told her they would be in Detroit for six more years. Later on, he received a FaceTime message from Lions receiver Golden Tate while the Staffords were watching late-night television.
Tate said he didn’t think they would be sleeping: “I know I wouldn’t have been able to sleep right then and there.”
Stafford’s teammates, on the whole, were happy their quarterback got money they felt he deserved.
“He got it,” tight end Eric Ebron said. “All the change out the seat. All the change that’s rolled on the floor. He took it all.”
During that early-morning workout, Rudock quickly fist-bumped Stafford as a sign of congratulations and they went on their way.
“He deserves it,” Rudock said. “He works so hard. He does so much more that you guys never see and never hear about, but he works his tail off, so really happy for him.”
Stafford didn’t know if he would splurge to celebrate his new deal — he did recently buy a massive mansion in Atlanta — but his 5-month-old twin daughters, Chandler and Sawyer, might have a different idea.
“A bunch of diapers,” Stafford said. “I don’t know, man.”