NFL teams will obliterate their salary cap space, hand over entire drafts worth of picks, hire and fire coaches, accommodate “character concerns,” and mortgage the future of their billion dollar franchise entirely just for the ever-elusive “franchise quarterback.” This sort of desperation leaves NFL front offices grabbing for marginal prospects like a senior looking for lower middle tier sorority chicks during the last call cattle call. The results (in both situations) are often disastrous, with the Redskins perhaps the greatest blazing dumpster fire of glory in recent memory after shipping not one, not two, but three first round picks (and a second) to the then St. Louis Rams for a steaming pile of coach-killing arrogance.
Luckily for our friends in DC, they are far from alone. Just ask the employers of Jamarcus Russell, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, EJ Manuel, Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith, Matt Leinart, Johnny Football, Brady Quinn, Chad Henne, Jimmy Claussen, Tim Tebow, and the list goes on, all of whom were drafted in the top 50 overall picks of their respective drafts over the last decade. Combined, this list has collected almost a third of a billion dollars in guaranteed compensation while performing at levels varying from unmitigated disaster to on-field abortion.
However, there is something far worse than striking the fuck out on a draft pick, trade or free agency signing: hitting a single or a double. Finding a quarterback who flashes elite ability but is mired in a seemingly endless cycle of head-scratching ineptitude washing away momentary brilliance and the ever overrated “measurables.”
Take, for instance, the ultimate NFL curse: Lions QB Matthew Stafford. Stafford was a child prodigy with a football in his hands. Predicted by Mel Kiper Jr. to be a future first round pick while a junior at Highland Park High School in Dallas (go Scots), his commitment to the Georgia Bulldogs had fans clamoring for a national title run in Athens. When he managed to win the job mid-way through his freshman year, the first quarterback to do so as a true freshman in over a decade, a dynasty was supposedly on the horizon.
Instead, Stafford was his regular self, a bastion of frustration and inexplicable underachievement. Stafford, in two and a half full seasons under center for the Dawgs, displayed a willingness to give the ball to the opposing team that has continued throughout his NFL Career, averaging barely a 1.5-1 touchdown to turnover ratio, a disaster when you consider last year’s number two overall pick Carson Wentz performed at almost a 4-1 rate. Not coincidentally, the Dawgs never won anything of consequence during the Stafford era.
Nevertheless, Stafford dominated his Pro Day, showcasing elite NFL size (6’3” 225), solid athleticism (4.8 forty), and the cannon hanging from his right shoulder that had scouts panting like Bacon running an Ironman competition. He was, as Kiper predicted years earlier, the consensus number one overall prospect, and the top choice of the Detroit Lions following their historic (for all the wrong reasons) 0-16 2008 campaign.
With a new quarterback comes hope, jersey sales, and the sort of sincere optimism only true fandom grants even the most hopeless of cities. Stafford was the golden-armed savior, the elite talent under center Detroit had lacked since the curse of Bobby Lane damned the franchise to a winless eternity of humiliation. Stafford had come to town, though, so all would be well, they thought.
What followed was nightmarish. Yes, I realize he is a middle of the road NFL QB (kind of), but his compensation has been unheard of since the moment he entered the league. Stafford’s rookie contract, before the slotting system that will have 2016 number 1 pick Jared Goff making less than Festus Ezeli in base salary this season, the Lions forked over $50 million in guaranteed cash to the junior QB from the University of Georgia.
After languishing through several terrible seasons in which the Lions drafted in the top ten in three of Stafford’s first four years under center, a first round playoff exit prompted the Lions to extend their sort-of-good quarterback more prematurely than my last sexual experience ended. His contract totaled a whopping $78 million in compensation through 2017.
With what is still the richest contract in the history of the franchise, Stafford has been, well, very Stafford-esque. In his 7 full seasons at the helm of the Lions, Detroit has won a wrist slittingly-pathetic 0 postseason games and has NEVER beaten an opponent on the road that went on to make the playoffs in ANY of their 56 away games, all while Stafford has finished in the top 5 in the NFL in turnovers, interceptions, and sacks per game since taking his first snap in 2009.
Clearly, he needs to be cut, right? Nope. This is the NFL, not reality. As of this preseason, Stafford is predicted by most “experts” to warrant the largest extension in the history of the NFL after his current deal expires, making even Andrew Luck’s monstrosity of a deal (which was far more deserved, at least) look like clearance prices at the Goodwill. Stafford will likely command a contract exceeding $150 million in total pay, with a staggering $40 million up front if structured similarly to Luck’s to alleviate short term cap concerns.
Why? Because even though Stafford has shown nothing but unfulfilled promise in his now better-part-of-a-decade long career, the promise remains. He still has that arm, the prototypical build, he’s had seasons with a ton of yards and touchdowns, beat the Browns while throwing for 5 TDs (hooray), and occasionally flashes his arm talent with a heart-stopping rocket that has even the staunchest Packers fan thinking, “Holy fuck, look at that.”
And that’s it. By the end of his next deal, Stafford will have made over a quarter billion dollars for his exploits on the field, though much of what he has profited off of has never come close to actual fruition. There’s hope, though, they say. And the only thing worse than building your team around a loser is watching your loser win somewhere else.
The curse of the NFL..
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