Before NFL free agency began, it was believed that the Detroit Lions wouldn't be able to do a whole lot without getting quarterback Matthew Stafford a new contract. Much like with wide receiver Calvin Johnson a year ago, the key to having flexibility with the salary cap was viewed as a new contract and a new cap hit for Stafford since he was occupying $20.8 million of cap space.
Stafford still has a cap hit of $20.8 million, but it turned out there was a backup plan to create space, and it came in the form of restructuring the contracts of Johnson and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. While these moves decreased the amount of cap space the Lions will have next year and beyond, it gave them enough room to go out and sign Reggie Bush, Glover Quin, Jason Jones and a number of their own free agents.
The Lions reportedly have around $7.5 million in cap space left over even after all of those moves, but that doesn't mean that getting Stafford a new deal is no longer a priority. The Lions still want to sign him to an extension, and Lions president Tom Lewand reiterated that desire earlier this week. Also earlier this week, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew provided an update on the negotiations with Stafford. From the Free Press:
"We haven’t been pressing him," Mayhew said. "It’s never been a sense of extreme urgency on our part that we had to rush and get something done. He’s by no means putting the brakes on. It’s just a process and this negotiation process is back and forth, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. There’s nothing about the timetable that is surprising or disappointing."
The Lions still want to get something worked out with Stafford primarily because they view him as their franchise quarterback. Also, even though they may have cap space right now, getting Stafford a new deal will give them additional flexibility this year. It will also take his cap hit next year down from $19.3 million, so it's still an important piece of the puzzle going forward.