Editor’s note: The author hasn’t written Lions op-ed in a very long time and is currently suffering one hell of a fever. He hopes this makes the writing all the more palatable.
It’s quite logical to feel fear. Those who tell you they don’t fear anything, especially the small things, are probably psychopaths and axe murderers. The Unabomber ran the “No Fear” t-shirt label in the 90s, and that’s the facts jack.
The world is waiting on Matthew Stafford’s signature on a piece of paper, that paper agreeing to that he will be the Detroit Lions quarterback for a predetermined amount of money and years. But we’re now on the third week of the preseason and any talk about his contract extension has remained in the same morass. Parties like the chances. They’ve always liked the chances. There’s absolutely no reason to panic; no chance that the vaunted eight-year veteran will leave the Lions hanging in the wind.
But at what point is that panic actually allowed to seep in? Like any well-seasoned procrastinator will tell you, the dread doesn’t set until the very last second. Everything is fine today, but what happens when it is September and there’s still no word on Stafford’s status? The door slams shuts and that adjunct won’t take your report.
Matthew Stafford isn’t sure he wants to keep talking contract once season starts https://t.co/fEZX3qhOPl— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) August 22, 2017
There’s good history to look at when it comes to Stafford’s agent, but the rub is that this is a narrative. That’s not to say it’s all bunk; narratives generally exist because they have a grounding somewhere in reality. A narrative distills past events down to an easily identified pattern so that it might be interpreted again when the bones are cast just right.
But there’s plenty of narratives that can lead us to the conclusion that there’s good reason he might not sign with the Lions, and we don’t even need to dust off that well-worn book called “Same Old Lions.” All it takes is a short reading of how the Lions have been acting lately and the upcoming offseason.
There’s plenty of reason to be impressed with the Bob Quinn regime. He’s made excellent draft picks in the two years with the team and shored up critical spots with free agents. He’s shown he can go after the big names as well as the small. And yet, what he hasn’t done well so far is put out fires when it comes to Lions veterans. In the past few months there’s been no resolution to either the sudden onset of drama over money demanded from Calvin Johnson nor for how DeAndre Levy feels the medical staff treated him.
Both of these situations were treatable and yet the Lions let them happen. If you are Matthew Stafford, how are you to process what the team has done to two individuals you’ve played with for most of your career? Would it not stand that there’d be a personal mark on it?
Meanwhile, Washington has done what everyone thought they would do, which is somehow figure out a way to completely alienate Kirk Cousins. There’s a good chance he could hit the free market in 2018; a quarterback of that calibre hasn’t been available in over a decade. But if one were to be looking at the money that could be had, what would it hurt to make it two free agent quarterbacks? Half of the NFL’s teams are staffed by rubes and Colt McCoys. If Stafford was looking at $30 million from the Lions, what’s to say that some sad sack gas station like Jacksonville or either Los Angeles bum rat organizations wouldn’t throw even more money at him?
You could potentially throw a franchise tag at Stafford but that would set you down the same path Washington has done with Cousins. A franchise tag merely delays the inevitable. It’s a good chunk of change but the tag is one of the last remainders of the reserve clause, a rule so reviled and hated that sports labor has spent its entire existence revolting against it. And at $26.4 million, the tag would be far short of whatever Stafford is probably owed, which would leave more bad blood when it ends.
There’s reason enough there to panic: misgivings to adjacent friends and the potential for an even greater payday elsewhere. Are Lions fans absolutely sure that Detroit is the best world Stafford can envision?
All this is compacted by the fact that it’s getting late in the preseason and the lizard brain screaming why the hell haven’t they done anything?
Does it all seem a bit conspiratorially minded? You’re damn right it is. But so is every last sign that the contract extension will happen with certainty. That’s the funny thing about sports, realizing that having any emotional investment from the sidelines will be subjugated to greater forces. You can’t control a damn thing about what’s going on behind the scenes, which has led everyone to become a mystic, furiously reading tea leaves about contracts, spilling goat entrails over season predictions. Nobody knows anything and nobody can do anything about what will happen.
That alone is a good enough reason to panic, if you want to. Whatever keeps your offseason entertaining.