As mentioned in the Step #1 article, Stafford and Suh were signed under the old collective bargaining agreement. One of the benefits of this agreement was players signed for higher salaries and franchises took a bigger hit in payroll.
Reminder: Step #1 is telling general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz that the Lions must be 9-7 in 2013 or they’re gone.
Stafford is slated to make $12 million this year, $11 million in 2014 and $15 million with a club option in 2015 before becoming a free agent in 2016. Suh will receive $11.1 million in 2013, $11.55 million in 2014 and could earn $3.50 million under a voidable contract in 2015.
Current media reports estimate the NFL salary cap will be $121 million for the 2013 season. At least $72 million would be spent on the top 16 Lions under contract. The remaining $49 million would have to cover the contracts of the remaining players under contract, the 2013 draft picks and any free agents signed by Detroit.
It is mathematically impossible and financially irresponsible for the Lions to rework both Stafford's and Suh's contracts into long-term deals. Someone has to stay and someone has to go.
The Case for Keeping Stafford
Though Matthew Stafford's season was a disappointment when compared to 2011, he still managed to throw for 4,967 yards in 2012 and has 10,005 passing yards over the last two years.
Head coach Jim Schwartz has assured everyone that there is nothing wrong with his starting quarterback's mechanics, but Stafford's QB rating slipped from 97.2 in 2011 to 79.8 this season. Stafford finished the year with 20 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions.
There is more than a statistical debate over whether to rework Stafford's contract and offer him a long-term deal. It is the symbiotic relationship between him and All-Pro wide receiver Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. Can you imagine Johnson advancing his career without Stafford? Can you imagine Stafford succeeding without Megatron?
Stafford seems to benefit more from Johnson's presence and it works to his advantage. When the Lions signed Megatron to an eight-year, $132 million deal in 2012, they back-loaded a lot of his salary to knock $9 million off of their salary cap. (HIs salary will climb dramatically each year from 2015 to 2019.)
I would expect Detroit to seek a similar solution with Stafford to free up cap money. If they are lucky, maybe they can cut their starting quarterback's salary this year in half and bake the difference into the backend of his contract extension.
Suh - Victim of Circumstance
In the Three Stooges' classic Disorder in the Court, Curly argues that "I'm a victim of circumstance!" Ndamukong Suh can offer the same defense for his situation.
Suh has certainly been a lightning rod for debate during his three-year career with the Lions. In 2010, he was a rookie All-Pro with 10 sacks and 66 tackles in 16 games. Suh experienced a sophomore slump and finished the 2011 season with four sacks and 36 tackles in 14 games.
His personal missteps and presentation skills off the field have certainly caught the attention of the media and Lions fans. It was okay when the Pistons were winning and the players were called "The Bad Boys", but it's different when you are laboring for a lukewarm team and you are being labeled as a "malicious" and "dirty" player.
It is true that Suh has been double-teamed when he lines up against opposing offenses and he earned praise from general manager Martin Mayhew, head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham for his performance in 2012. But could these positive words be a setup for a trade?
If you needed to move a guy on your roster, would you say "he had an off-year" or "he's slumping right now"?
No, you'd collect all the evidence you could find that shows that your prized player had a great year. You would be calling general managers and asking: "Wouldn't Suh look good in a (name that team) uniform?"
Suh is a victim of circumstance. He signed when players could make bundles of money with what some would consider "inflated" contracts. Now, in one sense, he is being penalized for taking so much money in the front-end of his contract.
He is a commodity that can be dealt for draft picks. Detroit Lion management could argue that Suh's departure would free up more cap money.
Of course, it is a calculated risk based on the assumption that Nick Fairley will continue to develop as an NFL defensive tackle, Sammie Lee Hill will be re-signed to a contract and the Lions can bring Corey Williams back for one more year. Detroit could also consider selecting a defensive tackle in one of the later rounds of the 2013 NFL draft.
Remember the NFL is "quarterback-centric"
The NFL universe looks to its quarterbacks to provide its energy, excitement and hype. What are some of the top stories going into the playoffs?
- Two rookie quarterbacks starting against each other when Seattle plays Washington
- Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck faces his first playoff challenge against the Ravens
- A rejuvenated Peyton Manning is ready to lead the Denver Broncos in the AFC playoffs
- Second-year quarterbacks hope to lead their sixth-seeded teams to victory in the wild-card round of the playoffs
So quarterbacks either earn the fame or take the blame. They can be a team's anchor or crutch.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford faltered this season, but there's hope that he'll rebound in 2013. It makes more sense to trade defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, alleviate the pressure on the salary cap and rebuild the team through the draft than stay the course.
Next article - Step #3: Do not re-sign Cliff Avril or Louis Delmas.