Stafford's present and Bradford's future
July, 10, 2013
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Getty ImagesThe contract extension Matthews Stafford, right, agreed to this week could portend what's in store for Sam Bradford in negotiations with the Rams after this season.One year separated Sam Bradford from Matthew Stafford, quarterbacks selected first overall in the NFL draft. One year could also separate their contract extensions.
The comparisons came into focus for Bradford and the St. Louis Rams after Stafford reached an agreement Tuesday on a new deal with the Detroit Lions.
There are some differences between the quarterbacks and their contract situations, but also striking parallels -- including some on the stat sheet that suggest the performance gap between these players isn't all that wide.
Let's consider some of the dynamics, while framing reasonable contract expectations for Bradford, who enters his fourth NFL season amid internal expectations that he's better positioned for success than at any other point in his NFL career.
Labor context: Both Bradford and Stafford were No. 1 overall picks under the previous labor deal. Stafford got $41.7 million in guaranteed money as part of the rookie deal he signed in 2009. The figure was $50 million for Bradford.
Quarterbacks drafted first overall under the current labor agreement have gotten about $22 million guaranteed. The new agreement prevents teams from renegotiating rookie deals for three seasons.
While times have changed, existing contracts provide some foundation for negotiations on future ones. That was particularly true for Stafford as the Lions sought a new long-term deal for him.
Price of renegotiation: In recent years, the Lions had tweaked their quarterback's contract to create short-term relief under the salary cap. Those tweaks drove up the eventual franchise-tag value for Stafford, giving the Lions additional reason to work out an extension that was friendlier under the cap.
Before the new deal, Stafford was scheduled to carry a franchise-tag value exceeding $23 million as a free agent after the 2014 season. The projected franchise-tag figure for Bradford will be around $19 million after the 2015 season. The figure is lower for Bradford than for Stafford because the Rams have not renegotiated Bradford's rookie deal.
That is one fairly significant difference between the Stafford and Bradford situations, one that would seem to give the Rams additional flexibility.
About those guarantees: Stafford had already received the guaranteed money associated with his rookie deal, giving him reason to seek an extension featuring new guaranteed money. Bradford will face a similar situation after the 2013 season. He'll have his guaranteed money, and he'll have an incentive to seek additional guarantees, at least in theory. A new deal between Bradford and the Rams could make sense next offseason.
The players: Stafford has outperformed Bradford to this point in their careers. He posted a 65.5 Total QBR score with 41 touchdowns, 16 picks and a 97.2 NFL passer rating in 2011, numbers Bradford hasn't come close to approaching in any of his first three seasons.
Of course, Stafford had arguably the NFL's best receiver in Calvin Johnson, while Bradford has thrown to an injury-riddled cast of largely anonymous wideouts. Bradford nonetheless took a significant step forward last season, setting single-season career highs in touchdown passes, TD-to-interception ratio and Total QBR, among other categories. His numbers compared more favorably to Stafford's numbers last season, as the chart at right shows.
The Rams think Bradford will only improve with a second year in the same offensive system, especially with an upgraded line and a young group of ascending players at the skill positions. And if the 2013 season fails to meet expectations, the Rams are in position to stay the course. The 2012 trade they made with the Washington Redskins put them in position to build for 2014 and beyond. They don't expect to be seeking a new quarterback just as their young core is maturing.
The bottom line: The extension Stafford signed this week gives him new guarantees without paying him as much per season as the highest-paid quarterbacks are receiving these days. That seems fair, particularly given the premium Stafford received as a rookie under the old labor agreement. Bradford could be traveling on a similar path.