Agent’s Take: How Matthew Stafford’s financial future could be affected by Rams winning Super Bowl

NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported hours before Super Bowl LVI was played that the Rams and Matthew Stafford’s agent, CAA Football’s Tom Condon, will meet to “hammer out” a contract extension this offseason. Stafford was acquired in a trade with the Lions last March because Rams head coach Sean McVay had soured on quarterback Jared Goff during the 2020 season despite Goff signing a four-year contract extension averaging $33.5 million per year in 2019. Goff was included in the deal where the Lions received a 2022 first-round pick, a 2023 first-round pick and a 2021 third-round pick from the Rams.

Stafford is entering the final year of his contract. He is scheduled to make $23 million in 2022 consisting of a $12.5 million base salary, $10 million fifth day of the 2022 league roster bonus and a $500,000 workout bonus.

The optimal timing for an extension is before Stafford’s roster bonus is due on March 20. In doing so, this $10 million could become part of the signing bonus Stafford would receive in an extension and prorated over the life of the contract up to a maximum of five years, which would help lower his current $23 million 2022 salary cap number.

After a stellar postseason where Stafford engineered a 15-play, 79-yard drive culminating in a Super Bowl-winning touchdown pass with just 1:25 left to play, he has tremendous contract leverage. The phrase, “to the victor belong the spoils” is usually associated with politics, but is applicable to Stafford’s situation. Stafford should be able to pretty much name his own price in an extension because of the steep acquisition cost to get him from the Lions and the upgrade at quarterback paying the ultimate dividend. That is provided Stafford chooses to fully exploit his leverage.

Left to his own devices, that’s exactly what Condon will do on behalf of Stafford. Agents are supposed to work for the player even though it may sometimes seem as if it’s the other way around. In the typical player/agent relationship, a player will give his agent input about a contract on a big-picture level initially but may not get involved in the process again until the final stages of a negotiation, if at all. Because of this dynamic, an agent is usually given wide latitude to negotiate a contract that he or she feels is in the client’s best interest.

The Rams will have a hard time persuading Condon that Stafford shouldn’t at least be put in the same place Goff, who the Rams viewed as an inferior quarterback, was in the NFL salary hierarchy on his 2019 deal. Goff’s four-year, $134 million extension (worth as much as $147.95 million because of incentives and salary escalators) tied him with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as the league’s second-highest-paid player by average yearly salary. The $110,042,682 of guarantees in the deal were an NFL record when Goff signed.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen is currently No. 2 in the NFL salary hierarchy with the six-year, $258 million extension (worth a maximum of $288 million through incentives) averaging $43 million per year he received from the Bills last August. His $147,381,405 of guarantees are the most ever in an NFL contract. It’s $150 million if Allen’s fully guaranteed $2,618,595 2021 third day of training camp roster bonus earned a few days before the extension was signed is included, like some people do.

Condon’s sights will likely be set on Stafford becoming the NFL’s highest-paid player again, which was the case with the quarterback’s five-year, $135 million extension averaging $27 million per year from the Lions in 2017. It was accomplished despite a lack of postseason success. Stafford only made the playoffs three times (without any victories) while playing for the Lions, with the last postseason appearance occurring during the 2016 season. The deal also established new league benchmarks with a $50 million signing bonus and $60.5 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes holds the honor at $45 million per year in the 10-year, $450 million extension (worth up to $475 million through incentives) he signed in 2019. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s $66 million signing bonus is the current benchmark in that metric. Allen leads the way with $97,381,405 fully guaranteed at signing. It’s $100 million if the training camp roster bonus is included.

Condon might look at the cost of playing the franchise tag game if Stafford played out his contract as further justification for eclipsing Mahomes. Quarterbacks usually get the exclusive version of the franchise tag, which prohibits the solicitation of an offer sheet from other teams. Using the cost associated with the nonexclusive version wouldn’t make much sense because the compensation for an unmatched offer sheet — two first-round picks from the signing team — is less than the draft capital the Rams gave up to get Stafford.

The 2023 quarterback exclusive franchise number, which would be the average of the top five 2023 quarterback salaries (usually salary cap numbers) at the end of that year’s restricted free agent signing period in late April, currently projects to right around $43.5 million. This number is subject to change depending on new quarterback deals, contract restructures, pay cuts and/or releases between now and then.

A second franchise tag in 2024 at an NFL collective bargaining agreement-mandated 20% increase over Stafford’s projected 2023 franchise number would be $52.2 million. The average of franchising Stafford two years would be $47.85 million per year. At $47.5 million per year, Stafford would be getting 5.56% more than Mahomes’ $45 million per year. It would actually be a smaller increase than when Stafford replaced Raiders quarterback Derek Carr as the league’s highest-paid player. Stafford’s 2017 deal represented an 8% increase — $48.6 million per year would be 8% more than Mahomes’ deal.

The Rams’ only potential saving grace on an extension might be Stafford following the lead of two other Condon quarterback clients — Drew Brees and Peyton Manning — in the latter stages of their respective careers. Both instructed Condon to leave money on the table. Stafford is in a financial position to do so because he has made $239 million from his NFL player contracts, according to my calculations.

Manning declined to become the NFL’s first $20 million-per-year player when Condon was negotiating his final Colts contract in 2011. He opted for a five-year deal giving the Colts an out after the first year that matched then-Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s $18 million-per-year average, which was tops in the NFL at that time. When Manning signed with the Broncos in 2012 after the Colts released him, 12 teams reportedly inquired about him once he became available. Manning narrowed his choices down to four teams and picked his destination before having Condon commence negotiations instead of letting him leverage the considerable interest, which reportedly included a $25 million-per-year offer from the Titans, into a blockbuster contract. Nevertheless, he still briefly set the NFL salary bar with his five-year, $96 million deal, which lasted until Condon made Brees the NFL’s first $20 million-per-year player four months later.

As a 39-year-old, Brees gave the Saints a financial break for the first time in his numerous contract dealings with the franchise in 2018 to try to maximize his opportunity to win a second Super Bowl ring. Brees probably could have become the league’s first $30 million-per-year player had he exploited his leverage by exploring potential options with other teams. Instead, Brees signed a two-year, $50 million contract with $27 million fully guaranteed to remain in New Orleans after limiting negotiations to just the Saints.

It is atypical for a quarterback around Stafford’s age, particularly if represented by Condon, to give a hometown discount. Stafford just turned 34. A 34-year-old Eli Manning signed a market-value extension with the Giants in 2015. Matt Ryan became the NFL’s first $30 million-per-year player with the five-year extension he received from the Falcons in 2018 shortly before his 33rd birthday. The deal also established new standards with $100 million of guarantees and $94.5 million fully guaranteed at signing.

Unless Stafford gives Condon specific instructions to make an economic sacrifice, his reign at the top of the NFL pay scale will likely be short-lived if an extension gets done before the roster bonus is due. Any such deal Stafford gets would instantly become the salary floor for a 38-year-old Rodgers, who is also in a contract year, whether he signs an extension with the Packers or a new team if traded. The only way it doesn’t happen is by Rodgers going Brees’ route when he was in his late 30s, where he put winning a second Super Bowl ring ahead of money because of his playoff shortcomings. Rodgers’ only Super Bowl appearance was during the 2010 season when the Packers beat the Steelers 31-25.

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