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Matthew Stafford will be the highest-paid NFL player ever, for now

Stafford and the Lions have a five-year deal.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions have pegged Matthew Stafford as their franchise quarterback ever since drafting the big-armed passer with the first pick in the 2009 NFL draft. On Monday, the Lions rewarded Stafford’s MVP-caliber 2016 season by making him the highest-paid player in league history, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Stafford and Detroit agreed on a five-year contract extension worth $135 million, per’s Ian Rapoport, eclipsing the five-year, $125 million deal Derek Carr signed with the Raiders earlier this summer.

The deal includes a $50 million signing bonus and the potential for $92 million guaranteed. Both are NFL records. Stafford has $60.5 million fully guaranteed at signing, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

The deal is the 29-year-old quarterback’s second extension with the Lions, coming on the heels of a three-year, $53 million pact back in 2013. He was slated to earn $22 million this fall before this most recent restructuring. Now he’s set to earn $27 million per year under the new deal.

Locking down Stafford needed to be a priority for the Lions this offseason. This new deal will keep the Lions passing game clicking into the next decade — and should make Golden Tate pretty happy in the process.

His new deal continues a trend of escalating contracts for the league’s upper-tier quarterbacks. Andrew Luck reset the market last summer with a six-year, $140 million deal that included $87 million in guarantees. That was the NFL’s high-water mark until an ascending Carr topped it. With salary caps rising and quarterback play more important than ever, franchises — except for the one in Washington — are spending big to ensure a steady hand at the helm of their offense.

It’s a ton of money to spend on a player with no All-Pro selections and just one Pro Bowl invite to his name, but Stafford’s steady playmaking and growth make it a sound investment. He was on the short list of MVP candidates after leading the Lions to a 9-4 start in 2016. However, a dislocated finger sheared his accuracy and trapped the team in a free fall to end the season.

Stafford’s track record of orchestrating high-powered offenses

When on top of his game, Stafford is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He has solid pocket presence, accuracy, and a powerful arm. In 2016, he proved he could thrive without Calvin Johnson as a downfield security blanket, helping Tate and Marvin Jones put together two of the best campaigns of their respective careers.

Due to the abysmal rushing attack, Stafford had to continuously make plays in the passing game. The team relied on him to orchestrate long drives and cap them off with touchdowns. Stafford delivered.

Detroit had the No. 11 pass offense in 2016, and Stafford kept the team competitive in games because of those late-game heroics. He led Detroit on eight game-wining drives, the most since 1970. Because of Stafford’s dominant performance last season, Detroit clinched a wild card spot at 9-7, and he threw for 4,327 yards to go along with 24 touchdowns to only 10 interceptions.

Stafford’s history of injuries

Even though Stafford was terrific in 2016, he didn't finish the season injury-free. He dislocated and tore some ligaments on the middle finger of his throwing hand against the Chicago Bears in Week 14.

He played with a glove on that hand for the rest of the season. However, the veteran didn't look like the same quarterback.

Matthew Stafford Pre- and Post-Discolated Finger

Matthew Stafford Cmp Att Cmp% Yds/GM TD Int Rate
Matthew Stafford Cmp Att Cmp% Yds/GM TD Int Rate
Pre-dislocation 291 433 67.21% 268.67 21 5 100.5
Post-dislocation 115 193 59.59% 261.60 3 5 74.4

Detroit lost the last three games of the season and fell to the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round.

It wasn’t the first time the Lions had to adjust to life with an injured Stafford. His first few years in the league were marred by injury, though he’s stayed much healthier in recent seasons. He suffered gruesome shoulder injuries in his rookie and sophomore seasons and dealt with a fractured finger in 2011. The 29-year-old has played in 109 out of 128 possible games, but hasn't missed a single game in the past six years.

In those 109 games, Stafford threw for 30,303 yards, 187 touchdowns, and 108 interceptions.

Highest paid, but for how long?

Being the NFL’s highest paid player is designation that doesn’t last very long. Raiders QB Derek Carr was the last player to have that distinction, after signing a five-year, $125 million extension in June. Before that it was Andrew Luck.

Stafford’s performance over the past few seasons, even without much of a ground game, made the quarterback a top priority for the Lions. Even at age 29, Stafford still has a lot of time left to bring a Lombardi Trophy to the Motor City. If he can stay healthy and continue to shred defenses, Detroit will be happy it gave Stafford a lucrative contract.