Detroit Lions Select Stafford, New Era Begins

Ian EnosCorrespondent IApril 25, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 22:  Quarterback Matthew Stafford of Georgia passes the football during the NFL Scouting Combine presented by Under Armour at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 22, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)

Just as many began to wonder what role artificial deadlines might play in the Lions looming draft decision, GM Martin Mayhew and the front office have reportedly laid the cornerstone of their new era.

While official word is yet to come, the Detroit Lions, fierce new logo and all, have agreed in principle with the agents for Georgia junior quarterback Matthew Stafford on a six-year contract, putting not only the quarterback, but also the man making the call, squarely on the spot.  The numbers are staggering.

Debate about the logic behind wages for NFL rookies aside, the reported dollar amounts in the Stafford deal are staggering on most any scale.  Stafford's contract broke the recently set NFL record for most guaranteed money in any deal, besting Albert Haynesworth's $41 million in guarantees by an additional $700,000. 

This might have been a sticking point for Stafford, considering the manner in which the negotiations seem to have played out.

The selection of Stafford is far from a surprise, especially in the wake of the Julian Peterson-Cory Redding deal. 

Adding OLB Peterson to Detroit's defense seemed to preclude any possibility of the team taking Wake Forest LB Aaron Curry, yet his name continued to crop up in headlines and conversations around the Motor City right up until the Stafford announcement.

Curry vs. Stafford now has two clear winners:  Curry with the fans and Stafford with the organization.

Aaron Curry's demeanor, including his decision to take leukemia survivor Bryson Merriweather to the draft, his blue-collar work ethic, and his willingness to take less money for the privilege of being selected first overall and playing in Detroit, has endeared him to the people of Michigan.

They've shown as much in various newspaper and Internet polls, and even at Lions events. Curry seems like a genuinely good guy with his head on straight, and Detroit respects that.

Now, attention turns to Stafford, how he might fit in the Detroit offense, and what the Lions might do later this weekend.  Curry's name figured prominently into Detroit draft talk late into Friday, but it became increasingly clear that Detroit viewed him as more of a bargaining chip than a linebacker.

To take Stafford, the Lions of course had to pass on Baylor tackle Jason Smith, leading to questions about the personnel that will surround Stafford.  At the moment, Jeff Backus is still the starting left tackle, and the team will be relying on lackluster guards, a second-year right tackle, and an undersized center.

Backus is far from a mauler in the run game, often gets pushed back into the play causing the line to collapse, and has been personally responsible for more than a few blind-side sacks. 

Stafford's decision making ability has been a point of discussion for many draft experts and fans alike, and as of right now this team does not appear set up to make his on-field decisions very easy.

Not many people have Stafford rated as the best player in this draft, suggesting that Detroit will do their drafting based on need, not a "best player available" strategy.  Expect them to address the spot Curry or Smith would have stepped into with selection No. 20, hoping to snatch someone like Ole Miss's Michael Oher at tackle or USC's Rey Maualuga to shore up their porous defense.

But figuring out how Detroit will approach this draft is difficult.

Martin Mayhew made it clear that he felt the Lions tipped their hand far too often under his predecessor.  That appears to have been a point of emphasis.

Many considered the Lions a potential landing spot for big time free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, but Mayhew said he didn't want to concentrate that much money in one player, even a proven talent like Haynesworth. 

Now, despite a lower total dollar amount, he has guaranteed more money to a man with zero NFL downs played than was guaranteed to perhaps the league's best interior defensive lineman.

Who knows what's next?

ESPN's Kevin Seifert suggested that the Lions might look purely at talent at pick 20 and select Stafford's Georgia teammate Knowshon Moreno despite signing Maurice Morris to compliment promising rookie Kevin Smith.  Every name from Michael Crabtree to Brandon Pettigrew has been linked to the spot.

Did Mayhew have no choice but to spend such a significant sum with this pick?  Curry indicated that he would sign for less than Jake Long got last season, probably a savings of $10-$14 million in guaranteed money, depending on the terms.  Apparently, the front office was sold on Stafford in a way they weren't on guys like Curry and Haynesworth.

One thing seems certain.  Spending money is not as taboo as Mayhew has previously suggested.


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