Two independent sources with knowledge of the situation have confirmed to NFLDraftScout.com that the Detroit Lions have entered into preliminary negotiations with the representatives for Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith and Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry for the right to be the first player selected in the 2009 NFL Draft on April 25.
|Did Matthew Stafford impress the Lions enough to pick him first? (Getty Images)|
While general manager Martin Mayhew has said it is "critical" for the team to have a deal in place with the No. 1 overall pick before the draft, team president Tim Lewand softened that stance a bit this week.
"It is certainly a goal of ours," Lewand told the Detroit Free Press, "and I think the teams that have been able to sign their player prior to the draft have seen a better measure of success by and large. Now is that because there's a contract in place? I don't know if there's a causal effect or not."
The move to negotiate early is similar to the one orchestrated last year by Bill Parcells and the Miami Dolphins, who opened contract talks with Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long and actually agreed to a contract four days before the draft.
Previously, the Houston Texans agreed to a contract with defensive end Mario Williams before making him the first pick in 2006.
The difference with Detroit this year is that the Lions are negotiating with multiple prospects.
And the negotiating could get quite interesting with the two favorites to be the top pick -- Stafford and Smith -- being represented by Tom Condon and Ben Dogra, who both work for CAA. Curry is represented by Andy Ross of Octagon.
Stafford dined with a contingent of the Lions' top executives, including Lewand, Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz at the scouting combine, and sources said the former Georgia quarterback was impressive at his pro day and private workout.
Most league insiders think Stafford remains the prohibitive favorite to be the top pick. Schwartz is well-versed in the risks of drafting quarterbacks so high. He came to the Lions from the Titans, who had very mixed success with a pair of No. 3 overall picks in Steve McNair and Vince Young.
"It provides perspective, but I don't think it charts a course for what we do because everybody's different," Schwartz said at the owner's meetings last month.
The Lions have Daunte Culpepper, Drew Henson and Drew Stanton under contract, and Schwartz will be watching the position closely during the team's mandatory minicamp that began Friday.
Culpepper has reportedly lost weight since the end of last season and is in significantly better shape.
"I'm not sure anybody's ready for the season on April 13. But I think we've been very pleased with the offseason work to date of all of our players and certainly of our quarterback group," Lewand told the Free Press.
Stanton is a former second-round pick, while Henson has bounced around the league since retiring from baseball and signing with the Cowboys in 2004.
"When it's all said and done, we need someone to elevate themselves over the rest," Schwartz said. "Whether it's one of those guys, whether it's a draft pick or if it's another free agent or veteran player. We don't want to have five of the same."
The Lions were also involved in talks with the Broncos about Jay Cutler, who was traded to Chicago on April 2.
According to sources within the organization, left tackle Jeff Backus has expressed some willingness to switch positions, which would make it easier for Detroit to go with Smith first overall.
Smith, a former tight end, has rare athleticism, but is viewed by some as a bit of a projection to the NFL due to the fact that he primarily played out of the two-point stance at Baylor. While he plays with the physicality and nastiness NFL scouts love, Smith isn't as experienced in blocking from the traditional three-point stance as some of the other highly touted tackles in this draft class.
Curry is characterized by many as the draft's safest player, and is NFLDraftScout.com's top-ranked prospect. To be the top pick, however, Curry would be fighting history. Since 2001, A.J. Hawk, selected fifth overall by the Packers in 2006, is the only linebacker to have been drafted among the first eight picks.
The last linebacker selected with the first pick overall occurred over twenty years ago, when the Atlanta Falcons selected Aundray Bruce to begin the 1988 draft.
Ultimately, what the Lions do with the No. 1 overall pick will chart the course of the new regime.
"Particularly with the No. 1, you want to find consensus on that," Schwartz said at the owner's meetings. "You don't want mixed opinions."
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.