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Matthew Stafford in line to become NFL's richest man

As the ink on Derek Carr's five-year, $125 million deal with the Oakland Raiders was drying on Thursday, a few things became apparent.

Chief among those things in Detroit is Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and his agent, Tom Condon, now have a baseline to work with in negotiations with the team.

While Stafford said last week that he didn't have a timetable for finishing up a contract extension, having Carr's contract completed could change his thinking.

The biggest question now isn’t if a deal will get done between Stafford and the Lions; it’s when. Stafford said last week that he wasn't worried about what happened with the contracts of Carr and Washington's Kirk Cousins, but it should make a difference in negotiations. That's just good business strategy.

Stafford could wait to see if Cousins gets a deal done, too, but that negotiation has a definitive timeline of July 17 because of the franchise tag. So the Lions and Stafford can put together a framework now for what the money could look like for Detroit’s franchise quarterback and when the two will finalize a deal.

Stafford, if he signs a similar deal to Carr's, will potentially double his career earnings to date if he finishes whatever contract he signs. So far in Stafford’s career, he has pulled in almost $111 million in cash according to Spotrac, with another $16.5 million due this year.

The Lions understand they are going to have to pay Stafford. They’ve always known this, from the moment general manager Bob Quinn said he’d like Stafford to be the team’s quarterback for the long-term future. This is what the long term, contract-wise, was going to look like. Stafford, for as much as he deflects conversations about his contract publicly, hinted at what he was looking at when he said in April that he sees teams around the league build successful squads with high-quarterback salaries and that the cap is “malleable.”

If a team wants to pay a player, the team will make it happen. And the Lions have made it clear they want to pay Stafford. That’s something Quinn has said and Lions team president Rod Wood reiterated to ESPN last week when he was asked if he was comfortable making the 29-year-old the highest-paid player in the NFL.

“I’m comfortable in getting a deal done with him, and we’ll see where that ends up,” Wood told ESPN. “It’s going to be whatever it takes, I think, to make it happen from both sides, and whether he becomes the highest paid or not, it’ll be a short-lived designation because, as Bob said, and I think it’s true, if you’re in the top whatever of quarterbacks, when your time comes up, your time comes up and then somebody else’s time comes up and they become the highest.

“It’s a premium position, and you need to have a very, very good player at that position to be credible and competitive, and I think we do have that, and we’re working on getting a deal done.”

The highest-paid designation, though, seems more likely for Stafford now that Carr’s deal is complete. Stafford is next up -- or close enough to it that a deal realistically can happen soon.