By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 25, 2009
The Detroit Lions completed a contract agreement last night with the Matthew Stafford, a precursor to making the University of Georgia quarterback the top overall selection in today's NFL draft.
A source said the six-year deal includes $41.7 million guaranteed and a maximum value, including possible incentives, of about $78 million.
The Lions also considered Baylor left tackle Jason Smith and Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry and negotiated with them, but settled on Stafford as their top target in recent days. Detroit lacked a franchise quarterback as it attempts to rebuild a team that had the first 0-16 record in league history last season, and Stafford's strong arm and quick mind have many NFL talent evaluators convinced that he'll be a Pro Bowl quarterback someday.
The top overall selection in last year's NFL draft, left tackle Jake Long, signed a five-year, $57.5 million contract with the Miami Dolphins that included $30 million guaranteed. Quarterback Matt Ryan, chosen third overall last year by the Atlanta Falcons, signed a six-year, $72 million deal that included $34.75 million guaranteed.
Lions officials had seemed intent upon having a contract done with the top pick before the 4 p.m. start of the draft today at Radio City Music Hall in New York, and the club reportedly had a backup deal in place with Curry in case there was a breakdown in the Stafford negotiations.
The Lions' brain trust of President Tom Lewand, new general manager Martin Mayhew and rookie head coach Jim Schwartz acknowledged in recent months that the club could not afford to botch this selection.
"When you build a team, you want to build long-term and you want to build through the draft," Schwartz said at the NFL scouting combine. "I learned some lessons from Tennessee [as the Titans' defensive coordinator] when we turned it around from 4-12 and 5-11. . . . Those were good lessons learned."
Smith is a candidate to go second overall to the St. Louis Rams, who released left tackle Orlando Pace earlier this offseason. The Kansas City Chiefs have the third pick, and there were indications yesterday that they perhaps were considering taking Louisiana State defensive end Tyson Jackson over Curry if Stafford and Smith are gone.
But the Chiefs also were said to be interested in trading down in the first-round order. Such trades have become rare in the NFL in recent years, as teams have become extremely wary of trading into the top five or six because of the cost of the contracts given to the players chosen in those spots.
There could be some trading activity at the top of the draft this time around, however, given a group of teams, including the Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins and New York Jets, appearing interested in moving up to select Southern Cal quarterback Mark Sanchez. The trade talks could become particularly intense if Sanchez gets past the Seattle Seahawks at fourth and is available for the eighth overall choice by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The New England Patriots also were said by some within the league to be interested in trading up into the lower part of the top 10, perhaps for Jackson if the Chiefs don't take him.
"I think if you go and look at the Hall of Fame players, you'll find a lot more in the first round than in the second round," Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said during his pre-draft news conference early this week. "Generally speaking, the higher the pick, the better the player. That's, generally speaking, the way it is. . . . You can get more players for less money [by trading down]. It's a question of quality. When teams trade up in the draft, they trade up not for a spot but for a specific player. That's their judgment on what they think that player will bring to their team. Each case is different."
After the quarterback intrigue is done, the first round could be dominated by selections of wide receivers, tackles and pass-rushing specialists who could play either defensive end or outside linebacker in the NFL.
There still were plenty of moving parts yesterday for those trying to figure out how the draft will unfold, including possible trades of wide receivers Anquan Boldin by the Arizona Cardinals and Braylon Edwards by the Cleveland Browns. Teams must act quickly today after the NFL implemented rules last year to reduce the amount of time between picks in the early rounds, and this is a draft with a great deal of fluidity.
"In previous years, for the most part, I think if you saw a team coming up and they were going for a certain position, you would be able to identify the player they are going up for," Belichick said this week. "Now . . . who's the top running back? Who's the top receiver? Who's the top quarterback? Who's the top tackle? Who's the top corner? If you survey different teams and you know what's on their boards, I think there is quite a bit of variability from team to team as to who those top guys are. That goes without saying [that] as we drop into the lower part, there is even more fluctuation."