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Can Stafford Become The NFL's Highest-Paid Player? (Absolutely.)

By: Will Burchfield

Early this morning, an eyebrow-raising report began bouncing around the Twittersphere. Via Ross Tucker of NBC Sports, a former sports agent by the name of Joel Corry predicted that Matthew Stafford's next contract will make him the highest-paid player in the NFL.

This comes on the heels of Andrew Luck's massive extension with the Colts. Luck signed a six-year, $140-million deal on Wednesday, with $87 million guaranteed. In terms of guaranteed money, it's the largest contract in NFL history.

And Corry thinks Stafford is set to break it.

First, a little background on this Corry fellow. Though currently employed as a writer and talk-show contributor, he does have a wealth of knowledge in sports management. He was an NFL and NBA agent for 16 years, and opened his own firm in 1995. Most importantly, Corry was a key negotiator of the contract that Hall-of-Famer John Randle signed with the Vikings in 1998, one that made Randle the NFL's highest-paid defensive player.

You may not have heard of Corry, but the guy has some credibility.

At first glance, a comparison between Stafford and Luck seems one-sided. Luck has established himself as one of the NFL's premier quarterbacks through his first four seasons, leading (lugging) the Colts to three playoff appearances including the AFC Championship game in 2015. (We all know how that ended.) Stafford, on the other hand, has failed to make the same positive impression on the Lions, who have yet to win a playoff game with him under center.

But wins are only one way to judge a quarterback, and a misleading one at that. In terms of personal statistics, Stafford and Luck are much more even. In fact, excluding Stafford's first two seasons when he only played a combined 13 games, the Lions' QB may be the better of the two.

Here's a quick breakdown of their respective passing numbers.

Stafford (2011-2015): 290 yards per game, 1.87 TD:INT Ratio, 61.8 % completion, 88.5 QB Rating

Luck (2012-2015): 269 yards per game, 1.84 TD:INT Ratio, 58.1 % completion, 85 QB Rating

Those numbers paint a pretty clear picture that Stafford has been (at least) Luck's equal in the past five years. And though Luck is certainly more mobile, he wasn't given a $140-million contract for his ability to rush the ball. He was paid because he can throw it – and Stafford can throw it just as well.

Beyond the simple comparison of their statistics, it's likely that Corry was basing his prediction on the inflation of quarterback salaries across the league. Never has the market rate for high-level QB play been higher than it is now, with the NFL trending more and more to a passing-dominated league. And each year, it seems, a new quarterback is signing a record-breaking deal.

In 2013, Aaron Rodgers agreed to a five-year, $110-million extension with the Packers that set an NFL high for both guaranteed money ($62.5 million) and average annual value ($22 million.) That held up for about three years, until Joe Flacco inked a three-year, $66.4-million extension earlier this offseason that will pay him $22.13 million per season. And that held up for all of two months. Luck's current deal will pay him $24.594 million per season.

At some point, and some point soon, a quarterback is going to sign a contract that surpasses Luck's, in either annual salary or guaranteed money (or both.) It's just a question of who, and when. The next elite QB in line for a payday is Drew Brees, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2016 season – unless, of course, he doesn't. The Saints and Brees have been rumored to be working on an extension, and it's likely the eventual deal trumps Luck's in terms of yearly salary.

After Brees, it's Stafford. (Although you can argue about the designation "elite.") Stafford's current deal expires in 2017, at which point the Lions will have a decision to make. And here's what's going to factor into that decision: superstars Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson have both left the organization in the past two years. And the Lions can't afford to let another franchise player slip through their fingers. Whatever they have to pay to keep Stafford around, chances are they'll suck it up and do it.

It may not sit well to give unprecedented money to a guy who hasn't won a playoff game. But if you think the Luck contract was a fair one – indeed, even a good one – then keep the numbers in mind when you start attaching a value to Stafford. You can bet his agent will do the same.

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