Lions Notebook: Stafford A Practical Choice?

It isn't necessarily a thing of destiny that might incline the Detroit Lions to choose quarterback Matthew Stafford No. 1 overall. Nor is it poetic. It just might be practical.

It's not the destiny thing, though that makes it a little eerie.

Yes, the Lions' last great quarterback was Bobby Layne in the 1950s. Yes, before the Lions even hired him as coach, Jim Schwartz joked that it was time to replace Layne. And yes, Matthew Stafford went to Layne's high school.

But no, the reason the Lions should draft Stafford isn't poetic. It's practical.

The Lions are starting from scratch, coming off the NFL's first 0-16 season, and they have been proactive trying to reshape the roster to fit coach Jim Schwartz's system, using trades and signings.

The defense has been reinforced at defensive tackle (Grady Jackson), linebacker (Julian Peterson) and defensive back (Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry, Eric King). The offense has added a No. 2 receiver (Bryant Johnson) and depth at running back (Maurice Morris) and guard (Daniel Loper).

But many holes remain, and the greatest need is a quarterback of the future. The Lions are set up to draft and develop one - if they fail to acquire Denver's Jay Cutler. The Lions already tried to trade for Cutler once, and now he has asked the Broncos to move him.

Stafford, often compared to Cutler, has a big arm to get the ball downfield to the Lions' best player, deep-threat receiver Calvin Johnson. And the Lions wouldn't have to throw him in too soon. He could sit behind Daunte Culpepper until he is ready.

Schwartz believes in building from the inside out, and a left tackle like Baylor's Jason Smith or Virginia's Eugene Monroe also would make sense. But Schwartz also has said repeatedly that quarterback is the most important position on the field. When you're starting over, the most important position on the field is a good place to start.

MOST PRESSING NEEDS:

1. Quarterback: Daunte Culpepper is coming back. But while the Lions are hopeful he will play better this year - back in Scott Linehan's offense, with a whole offseason to get in shape - they aren't committed to him. He is on a one-year contract that was renegotiated to include incentives. The only other quarterbacks on the roster are Drew Stanton and Drew Henson.

2. Middle linebacker: The Lions drafted Jordon Dizon in the second round last year, but the former staff didn't trust him to play the middle in the Tampa Two and moved him to the strong side. The 6-0, 229-pounder doesn't seem to have the size the new coaches want, either. The Lions could draft Wake Forest's Aaron Curry No. 1 and move him to the middle or wait for one of several options that could be there at No. 20.

3. Guard: After failing to acquire Derrick Dockery, the Lions signed Daniel Loper and brought back Damion Cook. But they still might want an upgrade. If they draft a left tackle No. 1, they could start him out at left guard or move Jeff Backus.

INSIDE THE WAR ROOM:

General manager Martin Mayhew has said he envisions negotiating with at least three prospects for the No. 1 pick and that reaching a deal before the draft is of "critical importance." A lot depends on Stafford's pro day and private workout, because he didn't throw at the combine. But he is a top candidate along with Smith, Monroe and Curry. The Lions should be able to get a good linebacker or defensive tackle at No. 20.

PLAYER NOTES:

  • Mayhew said Peterson's acquisition does not change the Lions' draft plans. Wake Forest's Aaron Curry is still a candidate to be the No. 1 pick, even though he played outside linebacker in college and the Lions now have Peterson and Ernie Sims. If the Lions draft Curry, he will play the middle. "We've seen Aaron," Mayhew said. "We're familiar with Aaron. We've watched a lot of tape of Aaron. Our scouts have. Our coaches have. We've investigated. We've talked about it. We feel very comfortable he can come in and start at (middle linebacker). If we drafted Aaron, we think he can start at (middle linebacker) from Day One."
  • Redding's departure doesn't open a hole at defensive tackle as first thought, because the Lions planned to play him at left end on running downs and tackle on passing downs. "We needed a tackle before this, and we still need a tackle," Mayhew said.
  • Daunte Culpepper doesn't look like the same quarterback who played last season at more than 290 pounds after coming out of semi-retirement. "He looks like a new man," center Dominic Raiola said. "He looks brand-new. The guy's really taken this re-signing serious and this job serious, his job at the quarterback position serious." Raiola said Culpepper has lost "at least 20 pounds, but it's not like he lost muscle. It looks like he's been working."
  • Quarterback Drew Stanton knows he has a lot to prove. But he said he is looking forward to the chance to reestablish himself within the organization. Asked if he really thought he had a realistic chance, he said: "Definitely. I definitely have a chance. I was drafted here first of all, and they want to see me try and do something successful. Being a second-round pick, they want to see some kind of return on that investment. So from that standpoint alone, I think they're going to give me a fair shot." Stanton was a second-round pick in 2007. But he has had little practice time, let alone playing time, because of injuries and other issues.
  • The Lions are unlikely to experiment with Jeff Backus at guard early in off-season workouts to see if he can handle the move. "I would be very surprised if we saw Backus as anything other than a left tackle before the draft," Schwartz said. "That doesn't mean that you don't draft a left tackle." Schwartz said the rookie could play guard and move to tackle later.
  • Raiola sees a difference now that Mayhew has replaced president Matt Millen. "We'll see in the future, but from what I see right now, there's no favoritism," Raiola said. "Everybody's a clean slate. Nobody's getting babied. It's not like how it was when Matt was here. Nobody's going to get babied." Asked to expand on that, Raiola said: "How it was in the past, I think there were different people on different pedestals. I think right now everybody's looked at the same. Nobody's going to be better than this guy because of what you're getting paid."
  • The Lions have told Raiola's agent they would like to sign him to a contract extension, but the sides have not negotiated. "There's no numbers," Raiola said. "There's just saying they want to get me done."
  • The Lions signed tight end Will Heller to a one-year contract. Heller, who left Seattle, replaces John Owens, who signed with the Seahawks. "Hopefully I can come in and contribute from a blocking standpoint," Heller said. "That's kind of been my role everywhere I've been. Wherever they need me. I try to be versatile." Heller caught four passes for 29 yards in 12 games last year. Owens caught eight passes for 56 yards in a touchdown in 16 games.
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "Every time you get somebody new, you want to say, 'This is the guy, finally.' I've said that before. I just want to let everything play out and do everything, not look ahead, learn more about these guys every day and kind of build our trust with them." - Center Dominic Raiola, who has seen a lot of coaches come and go since 2001, on new coach Jim Schwartz.

OFF-SEASON ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

  • DT Shaun Cody didn't live up to expectations as a second-round pick and hasn't heard from the Lions.
  • WR Keary Colbert joined the Lions late and didn't make an impact.
  • T George Foster struggled after being traded from Denver and lost right tackle job to 2008 first-rounder Gosder Cherilus. Unlikely to return.
  • RB Rudi Johnson did not regain his Pro Bowl form in Detroit. Unlikely to return.
  • LB Paris Lenon was a smart, hard-working veteran but didn't make enough plays in the middle. Unlikely to return.
  • C Andy McCollum filled in at center while Dominic Raiola was injured in 2008 and Lions ran the ball well. Still unlikely to return.
  • WR Shaun McDonald didn't produce the same way after Mike Martz left.
  • DT Langston Moore was a solid role player, but the Lions cut him once and have young defensive tackles.
  • LB Ryan Nece was signed because of his experience in the Tampa Two, and the Lions are ditching the Tampa Two. Unlikely to return.
  • CB Stanley Wilson never developed and spent 2008 on injured reserve. Unlikely to return.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

  • RB Aveion Cason: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
  • T/G Damion Cook: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
  • PK Jason Hanson: Potential UFA; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
  • OG Stephen Peterman: Potential UFA; $15M/5 yrs, $5.5M guaranteed.
  • DE Sean Conover (waivers Jets).
  • CB Phillip Buchanon: UFA Buccaneers; $8.5M/2 yrs, guarantees unknown.
  • TE Will Heller: UFA Seahawks; 1 yr, terms unknown.
  • CB Anthony Henry (trade Cowboys).
  • DT Grady Jackson: UFA Falcons; $8M/3 yrs, guarantees unknown.
  • WR Bryant Johnson: UFA 49ers; $9M/3 yrs, SB unknown.
  • CB Eric King: UFA Titans; $4.25M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
  • OT Daniel Loper: UFA Titans; 1 yr, terms unknown.
  • RB Maurice Morris: UFA Seahawks; $7M/3 yrs, SB unknown.
  • LB Julian Peterson Trade Seahawks).
  • LB Cody Spencer: UFA Jets; 1 yr, terms unknown.

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