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How Daniel Jones’ contract impacts the Detroit Lions’ future at quarterback

Daniel Jones’ $40 million per year contract will likely impact the Detroit Lions, who will soon face a fork in the road at quarterback.

Detroit Lions v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the New York Giants got a deal completed with quarterback Daniel Jones just under the franchise tag deadline, allowing the team to use the tag where they truly wanted—on running back Saquon Barkley. While the full contract terms of Jones’ deal are not out yet, here’s what we know about it:

That seems to suggest the Giants may have an out after a couple years, but until we see the full breakdown of Jones’ deal, it’s hard to know exactly how it breaks down—especially without knowing something as simple as the signing bonus.

But we aren’t here to talk about Jones and the Giants. Let’s talk about how this new contract will impact the Detroit Lions, who are nearing a crossroads at the quarterback position.

Jared Goff has two years remaining on his contract with the Lions, where he’ll be taking up a very affordable $31 million and $32 million of cap space in each respective season. However, it’s very likely the Lions and Goff will reexamine their relationship after the 2023 season, which will likely lead to talks of a contract extension next offseason.

So how does Jones’ deal impact those negotiations? Let’s take a closer look:

Jared Goff’s baseline is set

When it comes to production in this league, there is no comparison: Jared Goff has been—and currently is—a better quarterback than Daniel Jones. Take any stat you want, even if you only look at Jones’ “breakout” 2022 season, and Goff emerges as the better option in every category that isn’t rushing related.

So $40 million/year is Goff’s floor now, assuming things don’t go terribly wrong in 2023. That’s a significant pay bump, but the Lions could also structure it so that the first year or two of that deal include cap hits far less than what they’re even paying him right now. Take a look at Patrick Mahomes’ contract, for example. It averages $45 million per year, but the cap hits for the first three years were $5.3 million, $7.4 million, and then $35.8 million. This is an extreme example, of course, because the Chiefs built in a bunch of huge roster bonuses on the back end of the contract knowing that Mahomes will be their unquestioned starter. The Lions won’t have that luxury, but they can still make the first few years of an extension look team-friendly.

As of right now, there are nine quarterbacks averaging at least $40 million a year: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, Mahomes, Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, and Jones.

It’s fair to assume that Goff will ask for more than $40 million, perhaps significantly more. As I pointed out earlier this offseason, the Lions can pay a quarterback huge money and still build a winner, but they’d have to be pretty sure Goff can be their guy.

If there’s any doubt...

Drafting a quarterback should be a serious option as early as this year

If the idea of handing a 29-year-old Jared Goff a $40+ million a year contract scares you, then there is no reason to wait. You need to consider drafting a quarterback right now. The Lions will likely have no better opportunity to grab a quarterback. With the draft capital they have (Pick 6, Pick 18, and a couple of second-round picks), they could easily grab any quarterback they want in this draft class. You obviously don’t just grab a quarterback to grab a quarterback—they still have to be your guy—but the Lions are in a perfect position right now to add their quarterback of the future.

Not only would this rookie quarterback be coming into an ideal offensive situation—a strong offensive line, a young corps of solid receivers—but Detroit would afford him the opportunity to take his progress slow and develop his skills on the bench for a season. And if Goff balls out in 2023 and keeps the rookie at bay, you either trade Goff for significant assets in 2024 or give your rookie quarterback another year to develop.

Deciding to hand the long-term franchise to a rookie quarterback over Goff is inherently risky, sure—especially when Goff is coming off one of his best seasons to date. And if they’ve decided they can hitch their long-term wagon to him, then fine. But coach Dan Campbell’s comments last week suggest they aren’t fully comfortable committing to him long-term.

What he’s done is—and what we were hopeful and thought we were going to get—is a guy who, he’s our guy. He’s bought us time here. We believe we can win with Jared Goff. And in the meantime, we also know he’s not going to be here for the next 10 years. It’s not like Jared Goff is a rookie. So certainly our eyes are on potentially a quarterback.

“The question is where do you acquire that at? And that’s something that Brad and I kick around all the time. But we don’t feel like we’re pressed right now. We don’t feel like we’re pressed, but that doesn’t mean our eyes aren’t on a quarterback.”

So if that’s the case, quarterback needs to be in serious consideration this year.

But as Campbell also suggests, they don’t have to do it this year. If the right quarterback isn’t there at Pick 6 or the trade-up value isn’t where it needs to be, you can kick the bucket. The risk there, though, is that you likely won’t have the abundance of draft capital you do now to make that move in the future.

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