Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate make headlines

Dec 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 14, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate (15) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

As the 2017 offseason rolls on, the Detroit Lions remain in the headlines, with a franchise quarterback earning recognition and a productive pass-catcher seeking a new contract.

Football season can’t be too far in the distance, because the news cycle is certainly picking up steam. It may say “June” on the calendar, but it’s starting to feel like September with all the  stories breaking around the league. The Detroit Lions seem to be at the center of many of these developments, as exemplified by the breaking news that left tackle Taylor Decker is out for 4-6 months with a torn labrum (per Ian Rapoport).

It’s a horrible development for the organization as a whole, but it isn’t the only story surrounding the Lions right now. In fact, two of the team’s other big name players are claiming headlines of their own at this particular time.

Stafford Is a Consensus Top 100 Player

As the Lions continue to work toward a new contract with Matthew Stafford, the franchise passer keeps earning more and more accolades from both his peers and the media. On the heels of a 2016 that saw him complete an NFL record eight fourth quarter comebacks, the former first overall pick was rewarded by being named the 31st-best player in the league on the NFL Network’s annual “Top 100 Players” list.

Of course, the list is voted on by NFL players, so it’s clear that after stretches of brilliance last season, Stafford has earned the respect of the men he shares the field with. This is Stafford ‘s best “Top 100” showing to date, beating his ranking of 41st from 2012 by 10 slots. And surprisingly, it is the 29-year old’s first appearance on the list since 2014, when he ranked 100th. Clearly, the Georgia product has significantly improved his stock in league circles.

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Furthermore, Stafford was just named the 96th-best player in the league on CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco’s annual top 100 players column as well. In fact, the strong-armed passer was the only Lion to crack the list in 2017.

While some fans might take issue with Stafford’s considerably lower positioning here, he was the 10th-highest ranked signal caller on the list, so Prisco clearly views him as an elite NFL quarterback. It’s pretty hard to complain about a distinction like that. It’s also important to remember that, as was the case with the NFL Network specials, he was left off the list completely in 2016, so this represents significant progress for the ninth-year pro.

Tate Wants a New Deal

On the heels of wide receiver Julian Edelman signing a two-year contract extension with the New England Patriots, the deal appears to have caught the eye of another prominent wideout. Indeed, Lions receiver Golden Tate has taken note of the situation and made it clear (via Twitter) that he wants a new contract of his own in the near future:

It’s hard to argue with Tate’s logic. The former Seattle Seahawk has been highly productive during his three years in Detroit, accumulating 280 catches, 3,221 receiving yards, and 14 touchdowns in the process. There is no question that he has earned a new deal, and while his game is somewhat similar to Edelman’s, the two players’ situations are quite different.

For starters, Edelman was entering a contract year, while Tate has two years remaining on the five-year, $31 million contract he signed with the Lions in 2014. For that reason alone, there is considerably less urgency on the part of general manager Bob Quinn to get a deal done. Players don’t commonly receive new contracts with two seasons or more remaining on their deals (with some exceptions), and with Stafford and Ezekiel Ansah both entering walk years and seeking long-term pacts, Tate’s situation likely won’t be addressed immediately.

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Another roadblock in potential negotiations with Tate is the perception that Edelman took less money to remain in New England with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Indeed, the deal is worth $11 million over two years, with another $4 million available in “reachable incentives” (per Mike Garafolo). Add all of that up with the money Edelman was already due in 2017, and he can earn up to $19.5 million over the next three seasons, which equates to an annual average value of $6.5 million.

It’s not a bad payday by any means, but for a player coming off a 98-catch, 1,106 yard season, it seems a fair bit below market value. According to Spotrac, 2017 free-agent wideouts DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Alshon Jeffery, Kenny Britt, and Robert Woods all received higher average salaries, and Edelman has been more consistently productive than several of these players. Make no mistake about it, this is a team-friendly deal.

Tate already averages $6.2 million per season on his current contract (Per Spotrac). It is unknown how much money the 28-year old is seeking on his next deal, but it’s undeniable that in Edelman’s case, a smaller asking price certainly made negotiations simpler. This isn’t to suggest that Tate should take less than he’s worth. The NFL is a business and players have every right to maximize their earnings. With that being said, it’s probably in the best interest of both the team and the player to view the Edelman deal as an outlier and not a reflection of his true market value.

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Whether Tate gets the opportunity to negotiate this year or has to wait until the final season of his contract is very much up in the air, but it would be wise for the team to acknowledge his wishes and make it clear to him that he is a priority. After three productive seasons in the Motor City, he has absolutely proven himself to be a valuable member of the organization.