Mr. Lion
John Bazemore/AP

Posted Apr 25, 2009


NEW YORK – There wasn’t much drama, but the moment was still one for Matthew Stafford to savor.

The deal was done late Friday night – a $72 million, six-year agreement that was the richest in history for a rookie – so there was no suspense as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell read Stafford’s name from a podium at Radio City Music Hall, officially making the start of the former Georgia quarterback’s NFL career.

“It’s a dream come true and something I wanted for a really long time and worked hard for,” Stafford said. “I’m going to step in and do the best I can as early as I can and hopefully I can help out.”

While the final moments were anticlimactic, there were still a few surprises throughout the process, particularly the big numbers involved in Stafford’s salary.

The quarterback said he stayed out of the negotiating process as much as possibly, and he hadn’t even spoken with his agent, Tom Condon, about any specific numbers until he learned of the final agreement late Friday night.

“I was extremely surprised,” Stafford said. “I didn’t know any of the numbers going in. I just thank the Ford family for trusting me that much and putting their name on the line.

With the big contract comes a hefty amount of pressure, but that’s something Stafford said he embraces.

“That’s a lot of positive pressure for me, and I like that,” Stafford said. “It’s something I have to live up to, to prove I’m worth, and that’s exciting for me.”

With the hefty new deal and Goodell’s announcement, Stafford not only became the newest member of the Detroit Lions, he became the face of a franchise desperate for anything positive following an 0-16 campaign in 2008.

A year ago, Matt Ryan was the first quarterback taken in the draft, and he immediately turned around an Atlanta franchise that had struggled on the field, leading the Falcons to the playoffs and earning the league’s rookie of the year honors.

That’s the standard set for Stafford, but the task of turning things around in Detroit might be even tougher. Still, Stafford knows what’s at stake, and he promises he won’t be overwhelmed by what lies ahead.

“I think going into any team is going to be a challenge for a rookie, and a quarterback is definitely going to be thrust into the limelight,” Stafford said. “I understand that, but I’m just going to do what I’ve always done, and that’s work hard.”

Stafford may not be intimidated, but fans in Detroit have been a bit skeptical. When Goodell announced Detroit’s selection of Stafford on Saturday, boos were audible from the crown and eventually a chant of “overrated” broke out among the fans in attendance.

It’s not entirely surprising, however that Detroit fans would welcome Stafford’s arrival with measured optimism.

First, there’s the money. Stafford will receive $41.7 million guaranteed from a team located in one of the nation’s most economically ravaged cities. For his part, however, Stafford said he is anxious to begin finding ways to give back to the Detroit community.

More importantly, however, is history. For most of the past decade the Lions have invested big money and early draft picks in players who have failed to develop, including quarterback Joey Harrington, whom Detroit picked with the third overall selection in the 2002 draft.

Stafford knows the history, too, and he isn’t intimidated.

“I think draft day is scary for every team,” Stafford said. “You don’t know who’s going to pan out. The NFL is different than it is in college. To the people that doubt me, I try to prove it on the field. That’s the No. 1 thing is to win games.”

It’s that attitude that helped endear the quarterback to the Lions’ coaches, executives and owners.

Stafford met with Detroit’s staff four times leading up to the draft, and he said his approach never changed.

Eventually, it won them over.

“If they didn’t like me, they didn’t like me,” Stafford said. “I understand that. I was just trying to be as truthful as I could, and I think it worked.”


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