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Despite red flags, Lions give Matthew Stafford three-year extension

Matthew Stafford agreed to a three-year extension with a reported $43M guaranteed. Matthew Stafford agreed to a three-year extension with a reported $43M guaranteed. (Al Tielemans/SI)

When stripped down to the nuts and bolts, the Detroit Lions' roster is built around three players: Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh.

Last offseason, they made sure that Johnson would be staying for the long term, delivering to him a massive extension that bumped his contract to eight years and $150.5 million. Now, Stafford is in the fold for the foreseeable future, too, after reportedly reaching a three-year contract extension to keep him in Detroit through 2017. Next will come the new deal for Suh, whose current contract runs through 2014, with a voidable 2015 year.

Stafford might have been the easiest of that group for the Lions to bail on, even if Suh's tough-guy antics can rub people the wrong way. After all, Stafford missed six games to injury in 2009, then sat out all but three games in 2010 with shoulder problems. He had a breakthrough 2011 performance, which earned him Comeback Player of the Year honors, but the Lions slipped to 4-12 last season, as Stafford threw only 20 touchdowns to 17 interceptions.

And since Stafford still had two years on his existing deal, with a club option for a third, the Lions had every right to wait, to give it another year, just to make sure Stafford was the right man for the job.

Instead, as they did with Johnson and likely will with Suh, the Lions jumped into the deep end for Stafford.

They needed to get this extension done for salary-cap purposes, first and foremost -- Stafford was set to cost $20.8 million against the cap in 2013 and nearly $20 million in 2014. But the Lions also believe in Stafford's abilities wholeheartedly, and they've hesitated little to show that, be it on the field or at the negotiating table. This move also may look prophetic, too, if Stafford now excels, since he could have been in line for an even bigger score in a couple years.

Are there reasons for concern here? Absolutely, starting with Stafford's injury history and continuing with the fact that, as ESPN's Kevin Seifert points out, Stafford has a 1-22 career record against teams that finish the year with winning records. Add in Stafford's 2013 regression and the reported $43 million he'll get in guaranteed money ($3 million more than Drew Brees received on his last deal, for example), and this seems like an over-the-top investment.

The flip side is that Stafford, believe it or not, is just 25 years old -- three years younger than Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco, four younger than Aaron Rodgers. He also led the league in completions (and attempts) last season and, perhaps more importantly, has developed a Jedi-like connection with the record-setting Johnson.

The Lions may not have been up against the wall in terms of getting Stafford's contract extension on the books, but in taking care of it before the 2013 season, they both reiterated their support of Stafford and allowed themselves to turn their attention elsewhere.

Specifically, to Suh, the third musketeer on that roster. Stafford's deal no doubt will be laid out in such a way as to allow Detroit to solidify Suh's contract, too.

Detroit has missed on more than its fair share of draft picks over the years. It hit the bull's eye pretty squarely with Johnson, Suh and Stafford, though. Making sure they keep those roster centerpieces together has been the Lions' No. 1 priority since last offseason. They're now two-thirds of the way to that goal.

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