Blogs > Lions Lowdown

One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.


Lions stilll in the CB market

The Lions acquired two defensive backs Saturday, signing free agent Eric King and trading for Dallas' Anthony Henry, but they're not done revamping their secondary yet.

Free-agent cornerback Jabari Greer is in town visiting tonight, and the Lions remain his hottest pursuer. Keith Smith and Travis Fisher are the main holdover corners, but Greer would step immediately into a starting position. He intercepted two passes in 10 games last year and returned both for touchdowns.

Henry, by the way, can play both cornerback and safety, where the Lions have a need as well. Daniel Bullocks had an up-and-down season and Gerald Alexander is returning from a serious neck injury.

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King: 'I'll make a lot of plays'

There's been some discussion already about what type of player the Lions got in new cornerback Eric King. He's only made three starts and doesn't have an interception in his NFL career, but King said he's looking forward to the opportunity to get on the field and finally prove his worth with the Lions.

“This is an opportunity for me,” King said Saturday after returning home from his overnight trip to Detroit. “I know all the naysayers got a lot of things talking about my arm and the fact that I was a backup and this and that. But I'm here to put my chest out and tell people that it's my time. I can get it done on the outside or the inside and you'll see, I'll make a lot of plays.”

King, Tennessee's dime back last year, broke his forearm each of the last two seasons. He said he's looking forward to playing again for new Lions coach Jim Schwartz, his defensive coordinator in Tennessee, and wasn't scared off by the Lions' winless season.

“I went to Wake Forest University and ... when I was there we started at the bottom and kind of brought the program back to where it is now,” King said. “That's something I've done in my football career, so I have no problems coming to an 0-16 team and trying to resurrect the franchise. As long as we got guys that are smart, that are willing to work hard and good listeners we'll be fine.”

King, by the way, spent one season at Wake Forest with linebacker Aaron Curry, the potential No. 1 pick in the April's draft.

“He redshirted my senior year so unfortunately I couldn't persuade Coach (Jim) Grobe pulling his redshirt off to help me out,” King said. “He's definitely developed into pretty much what I expected. Of course, people like to hype things but as far as his physique and his ability to play ball, that was expected from what I saw when he was a freshman at Wake Forest.”

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Update: Kitna traded to Dallas

A league source told me moments ago that the proposed trade of Jon Kitna to Dallas for "late picks" has not been completed yet but "it looks like it's potentially heading in that direction."

Kitna started 36 games in Detroit over three seasons until he was sent to injured reserve last year with back problems after clashing with coaches. He was due a $1-million roster bonus next week and the Lions intended to cut him if they couldn't swing a trade. Daunte Culpepper will enter the season as starter.

No word on the exact compensation yet. The website is reporting the "late picks" part, and my league source said the deal could be finalized today.

Along with Culpeper, Drew Stanton and Drew Henson will compete for a job in training camp and the Lions are likely to sign a veteran as insurance for Culpepper (and maybe compete for the starting spot) and probably draft a quarterback, too.

Update: Lions spokesperson Bill Keenist has just confirmed the deal is official.

Update II: The Dallas Morning News is reporting the trade is Kitna for defensive back Anthony Henry, with no draft picks involved. The Cowboys have confirmed that deal, the paper reported.

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Report: Kitna traded to Dallas

Busy day here in Detroit. First the Lions sign a couple of middle-tier free agents, then they miss out on Matt Cassel, now it appears they've traded quarterback Jon Kitna to Dallas for a couple "late picks."

The National Football Post is reporting the deal. Lions spokesperson Bill Keenist said the team has "nothing to confirm" at this point, and I haven't got any calls back from anyone in the organization or Kitna's agent, Mike Moye.

The Lions were trying to trade Kitna before his $1-million bonus was due next week, when they would have cut him without a deal. Perhaps the Cassel trade forced Dallas' hand. The Cowboys were looking for a veteran backup for Tony Romo, and it's possible the Patriots would have wanted insurance in case anything went wrong with Tom Brady before the season.

Lions sign King, Morris

The Lions have confirmed their first two free-agent signings, running back Maurice Morris and cornerback Eric King.

Morris will serve as Kevin Smith's backup at running back after starting part-time a year ago for Seattle. King, who played under new Lions coach Jim Schwartz in Tennessee, will compete for immediate playing time in the secondary. He played just 10 games last year after breaking his forearm for the second straight season.

Update: Morris' deal is three years, as previously reported, while King signed a two-year contract worth just over $4 million total and $1.7 million in guarantees. King had dinner Friday night with Schwartz and took his physical Saturday morning.

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Dockery's decision not just about 0-16

I've written plenty of times how tough it's going to be for the Lions to attract free agents this offseason coming off an 0-16 season. They'll get their share of Maurice Morrises, sure, but they're going to lose some bigger names, too, as players wonder about an unproven front office, what exactly is going on at quarterback and, of course, the stigma of playing for the league's worst team.

But guard Derrick Dockery's decision to sign with the Redskins late Friday, reportedly for less money than the Lions were offering, was not solely about that 0-16 anvil. Dockery broke into the league with the Redskins in 2003 and spent four years in Washington, starting 61 of 64 games. He knows the team, knows the franchise and – here's where the record comes in – feels he has a better chance to win with the Redskins.

ESPN reported that Dockery is guaranteed $8 million in his new contract, a five-year deal worth $26.5 million total. I don't know what the Lions would have guaranteed, but that could be factor, too: The soon-to-be 29-year-old has already been cut twice, once by Washington and once by Buffalo, for financial reasons.

The Lions still have a ways to go to be taken serious (read: not overpaying) in the free-agent market. Along with the Dockery situation, cornerback Ken Lucas thwarted a trade to Detroit earlier this week and safety Vinny Fuller opted to re-sign with Tennessee rather than consider other offers despite his thirst for a starting job (which the Lions may have offered).

More importantly, they still have holes to fill, including on the offensive line where Dockery was exactly the type of player the Lions desired – a bit, physical mauler who would have started, no questions asked, from Day 1. Now, they'll likely turn their attention to someone like Daniel Loper, a backup lineman from Tennessee who's got the build (6-6, 320) but not the resume of Dockery. Which would you rather have?


Washington leaves; did Morris sign?

The NFL Network is reporting the Lions have signed running back Maurice Morris, but the Lions have not confirmed the report.

The Lions hosted at least two players for visits Friday, receiver Nate Washington and offensive guard Derrick Dockery, and neither of those came to terms.

Washington left town, his agent Brian Overstreet said, but remains interested in Detroit. No word yet on whether Dockery is staying the night in the Detroit area.

Dockery in town, too

Free-agent guard Derrick Dockery, released by the Bills on Thursday, is at the Lions' Allen Park facility meeting with team officials right now. Dockery and receiver Nate Washington of the Steelers are the only two free agents expected to visit with the Lions today. It's possible the Lions could sign one or both before they leave, with Dockery being the more likely of the two to sign.

Dockery, by the way, is a massive individual. He would start immediately at left guard and upgrade the Lions' offensive line immensely. He turns 29 in September.

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Washington meeting with Lions

Free-agent receiver Nate Washington is in Detroit now, a league source confirmed minutes ago.

Washington, who caught a career-high 40 passes for 631 yards last year, appears to be the Lions' No. 1 receiver target in free agency. He made just one start last year and caught one pass in the Super Bowl, but would be Detroit's No. 2 receiver opposite Calvin Johnson because of his ability to stretch the field.

Other teams reportedly interested in signing Washington, 26, are Minnesota, Tennessee and Tampa Bay.

Lions wise to pass on Haynesworth

In my book, the Lions are winners in the early hours of free agency for their decision not to pursue Albert Haynesworth.

Granted, Haynesworth is one of the two best defensive tackles in football, but that was last year and paying him $100 million dollars is hardly the prudent decision for a franchise with so many holes. (Haynesworth said all along the top bidder was going to get his services, so it's not a reach to think the Lions, had they wanted to, could have outspent the cap-strapped Redskins once the clock struck midnight.)

The problem with Haynesworth, and I'm not alone in thinking this, is that his production likely will drop dramatically now that he's been (over)paid. He's never made it through a 16-game season and his two best years came when his contract was due. With an ungodly $41-million in guarantees and a reported $32 million due in the next 13 months, the Lions would have been toying with salary-cap hell when it came time to cut Haynesworth three underwhelming years from now.

By the looks of it, this is not a franchise that will be competing for a Super Bowl in the next year or two. They have holes on offense (quarterback, left guard, No. 2 receiver) and defense (tackle, two linebackers and throughout the secondary) and will be looking at more cap hits the next two seasons – I'm not one who thinks an uncapped 2010 will become reality – when Cory Redding and Jeff Backus are replaced by younger, cheaper alternatives. Trying to fill several needs now with first-day draft picks and middle-class but productive free agents is the way to build a team.

More importantly, general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand, when they were officially introduced in their new capacities two days after last year's 0-16 season, spoke of following a blueprint and building the organization the right way – of not getting enamored by the big name or glamorous player. Signing Haynesworth would have flown in the face of that. It's good to see the Lions eschewing big headlines and maintaining their discipline again.

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Lions not in on Haynesworth

Those rumors about the Lions pursuing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth are exactly that – rumors. I was told earlier tonight that the Lions are not one of the teams in the running to sign Haynesworth, the top free agent available and someone with an obvious connection to new coach Jim Schwartz.

There are two other names floating around. ESPN reported that the Lions are interested in guard Derrick Dockery, who was released by the Bills on Thursday. Dockery likely would start at left guard. The Redskins, who Dockery played for from 2003-2006, also are exploring re-signing Dockery, the Washington Post reported.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Lions are “aggressively pursuing” Steelers receiver Nate Washington, who may visit Detroit as soon as Saturday. The Vikings, Buccaneers and Titans also are interested in Washington, various outlets have reported. The Lions need a No. 2 receiver to pair opposite Calvin Johnson.


4 predictions for free agency

The Lions won't make a big splash – and that's a good thing.
There's rumors that the Lions will be among the teams sniffing around defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (though he appears bound for Washington) and linebacker Bart Scott would no doubt look good in Honolulu blue (though the Detroit native made it quite clear on Sirius radio last week he has no interest in coming home). But new coach Jim Schwartz trumpeted building with “mid-level free agents” last week in Indianapolis, and that's what the Lions will do. Nothing bold, but they are in a position where they can give young backups an opportunity to start. The Lions have enough cap room ($35-$40 million) to come out of free agency with three new starters and more roster filler.

Titans safety Vincent Fuller will be first on board.
Fuller is exactly the type of player the Lions want. He's young (27 on opening day), productive (Tennessee's nickel man the last two years) and blocked on his current team by Michael Griffin. He wants an opportunity to start and should find it in Detroit, where Daniel Bullocks had an up-and-down year, Gerald Alexander is coming off a serious neck injury and Kalvin Pearson is a solid contributor but not a 16-game starter.

Tampa North and Tennessee North are two different things.
Under Rod Marinelli, the Lions signed a slew of ex-Buccaneers and got mostly disappointing returns. Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith were unmitigated disasters. Chuck Darby didn't have much impact. Ryan Nece was serviceable as a fill-in but he won't be back. Only Pearson and Dewayne White are keepers, and it's no surprise they were the young and hungry when they came to Detroit. Schwartz spent a decade in Tennessee and could sign a handful of his former players, but they'll be up-and-comers like Fuller not aging vets like Kelly and Smith. A couple other former Titans to keep an eye on: Chris Carr, a legitimate return man who'd contribute at cornerback, and Daniel Loper, a potential starter at left guard who can also play tackle.

Size matters.
Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew have been fairly coy about their free-agent plans, but one thing they've both said – repeatedly – is they need to get bigger on defense. The Lions are transitioning from a Tampa 2 defense and want physical, aggressive players who can withstand the pounding of an NFL season. Targeting and signing players are two different things, but a couple defenders at positions of need who fit the bill (besides Haynesworth) are Rams cornerback Ronald Bartell and Cowboys linebacker Kevin Burnett.

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Talking Cassel, Lions

According to multiple reports, the Minnesota Vikings are close to acquiring Sage Rosenfels from the Houston Texas for a fourth-round draft pick. The deal can't become official until Friday, but its ramifications seem clear: The Vikings are content to go into next season with Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson battling it out at quarterback. More importantly, by trading that high of a pick, the Vikings won't be a factor in any Matt Cassel sweepstakes.

The Patriots franchised Cassel earlier this offseason as insurance for Tom Brady's injured knee. They could keep him at the steep price tag of $14.6 million next year or trade him for draft picks (this year or next) once they're confident Brady has healed.

Where do the Lions come in? They have a well-documented need at quarterback, plenty of draft picks to maneuver with, the cap space to take on Cassel's contract (which no doubt would be reworked as a long-term deal if he's traded) and a general manager in Martin Mayhew who's already shown a willingness to trade (Roy Williams last October).

I don't have any indications the Lions and Patriots have talked or that New England is even willing to deal Cassel at this point, but surely there will come a point when that bridge is crossed.

The Lions would be foolish to give up the No. 1 overall pick for Cassel, who'll be 27 once the season starts and has started one season of football this decade (albeit a fine season last year). The market doesn't bear it. But what about No. 20? Or better yet, what about 33?

New England, presumably, would start any discussions at a first-round pick and then some in terms of compensation. The market seems to bear that out. Rosenfels fetched a fourth, and two years ago Matt Schaub went for two seconds and a swap of first-round picks (Atlanta, which traded Schaub, moved up two spots in the deal).

But when the two sides start playing chicken, where does it end? The Lions surely would want Cassel in for their first of two mini-camps the weekend before the draft, and the list of potential landing spots will shrink by then. Minnesota's already out of the running. If the Jets sign Byron Leftwich in free agency and Washington adds Albert Haynesworth and a big contract, they probably will be, too. 

That leave the Chiefs, where former Patriots personnel man Scott Pioli is now general manager, the Buccaneers, and maybe the Rams or Panthers or Bears. None of those teams has as much ammunition (and maybe incentive) to move up as the Lions. If you're considering Matt Stafford at No. 1 or Mark Sanchez at No. 20, then don't you have to consider Cassel for the 20th pick, too? Pair him with an offensive tackle or a linebacker at the top of the draft and this is a dramatically different team.

What if it also costs you a second-rounder next year? Is that too steep a price? On the other hand, what if all it takes is something like the Schaub trade? The Lions give up seconds this year and next and the teams exchange first-rounders (New England moves up to 20 and the Lions slide down to 23).

How bad and at what price would you want Cassel?

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SI story: Stafford impressed at combine

Sports Illustrated has a story titled "Searching for Bobby Layne" appearing on newstands tomorrow about Matt Stafford, his ties to Bobby Layne and how the Lions are doing their diligence evaluating the draft's No. 1 quarterback prospect. You know all about the Stafford-Layne connection through their alma matter Highland Park High, but here's a couple tidbits from the story I found interesting:

• Stafford apparently met with 10 teams during the combine. Peter King reports he wowed coached on at least two accounts. “Dolphins quarterbacks coach David Lee drew a Miami pass play for Stafford, complete with terminology, erased it, then asked Stafford to redraw it and explain his route progression,” King wrote. “When Stafford finished, Lee told him he'd nailed it. Jaguars quarterbacks coach Mike Shula asked Stafford to draw up a play and teach it to the room of coaches and scouts. Stafford drew up his favorite—Rex Gun 562 Vacation—and drilled the coaches on it.”

• In another visit, Stafford told the magazine he was grilled by the team psychologist from the 49ers, who asked about his parents' divorce when he was in high school. Stafford said "he'd adjusted well," King wrote. “Told he sounded as if he might have unfinished business concerning the divorce, Stafford said there certainly was not. 'I felt like, I wonder how much I'm being charged per hour for this?' he says. 'But I understand. They're going to pay a lot of money in the first round.'”

• Lastly, of the Lions dinner with Stafford last Thursday at Shula's Steak House, Stafford told the magazine that coach Jim Schwartz asked him, “If this was a recruiting visit for college, what would you want to ask us?” Stafford said he'd like to visit Detroit and see the city. The next day, King wrote that Stafford “snuck behind Detroit's buttoned-up chief operating officer, Tom Lewand, bear-hugged him and lifted him off the ground. 'Come on!" Stafford said, laughing. 'Let's go! I'm ready!' In other words, Pick me!”

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McShay: Lions in a 'nightmare situation' with No. 1 pick

ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay had an interesting debate in a podcast on this morning about whether the Lions should take Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford No. 1 overall.

“There's nobody else to take,” Kiper said “You have no face of the organization, you have the No. 1 pick, you need a quarterback, you got to roll the dice.”

McShay said he'd take Baylor left tackle Jason Smith at No. 1, and said general manager Martin Mayhew is in a “no-win situation” in his first draft.

“History tells you if you are forced to take a quarterback in the draft, you don't love them, and you don't have enough around that quarterback position, you're going to fail and you set your organization up to fail,” McShay said. “Listen, I don't want to be running the Detroit organization right now. I don't want to be in charge of that war room because you have a no-win situation. I'm getting booed out of Detroit if I take Jason Smith with that first overall pick. I recognize that, and that's why it's a nightmare situation.”

I'd say fans are pretty evenly split between Stafford, a tackle (Smith or Virginia's Eugene Monroe) and linebacker Aaron Curry, with Curry a slight favorite right now. Regardless, McShay said Stafford is “not ready mentally” to start as a rookie and he'd try and build like the Cleveland Browns did two years ago, when they took Joe Thomas with the third pick then traded up to draft quarterback Brady Quinn at No. 22. The Lions also pick 20th in the first round.

“Last year I felt great about Matt Ryan prior to the draft. I said it 100 times ... I felt great about building my franchise around Matt Ryan,” McShay said. “I think Matt Stafford is in every single physical category better than Matt Ryan, but I don't feel great about building my organization around him and there are at least 10 teams here that I've talked to a representative from that have the same exact mindset that say, you know what, thank God I am not running war room in Detroit because I don't want to have to make that decision.”

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Final combine thoughts

The NFL combine wraps up today with defensive-back workouts. Lions fans should keep an eye on cornerbacks D.J. Moore of Vanderbilt and Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest, a couple potential No. 20 draft picks, and Utah's Sean Smith, one of the more intriguing secondary prospects in my mind at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds. I'm back in Michigan getting ready for free agency, but a few final thoughts on the league's annual job fair:

• Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry had a phenomenal workout by all accounts, but that doesn't mean he's guaranteed to be the No. 1 pick. The question with him isn't about character or athletic ability or production, it's about whether he presents enough value as a strong-side linebacker (or whether he can move to the middle) to go No. 1. And that wasn't going to be answered in Indy. It's going to take more film study of not just him but offensive tackles Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe and quarterback Matt Stafford. If one of those grades out just as high at a more valuable position, they'll be the pick. If not, Curry would be a fine choice.

• Cincinnati defensive end/outside linebacker Connor Barwin had a big Monday, too, running a 4.66-second 40-yard dash and besting all linemen in the vertical (40.5 inches) and broad (10-8) jumps. I wrote about Barwin, a Hazel Park native and U-D High grad, in Sunday's paper. He's a fascinating story, really. He played two years of basketball for the Bearcats and switched from tight end to defensive end last year, when he tied for the Big East lead in sacks (11) and blocked three kicks. Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said Barwin remade himself in part by studying a DVD of every sack in the NFL in 2007 (Bengals coach Marvin Lewis sent him the disk). Now, he projects as a second-round pick for a 3-4 team and casts easy comparisons to Patriots linebacker Mike Vrable.

“When you're putting your roster together this is a guy that gives you so much flexibility and everybody wants that so what happens, there becomes a run on that and sometimes he gets picked a little higher,” Kelly said. “They're saying he's a second-round draft pick. How high he goes in the second round depends on how patient some guys can be.”

• Keep an eye on Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry in the coming weeks. Jerry didn't work out in Indy – his pro day is March 26 – but if the Lions are serious about building from the inside out they need to find an impact defense tackle. There aren't many available in free agency and tackles typically rise on draft day. Boston College's B.J. Raji will be long gone by pick No. 20, but Jerry could be on the board.

• Speaking of free agency, the Raiders lavished record-setting contracts on cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and punter Shane Lechler last week because that's the only way they could keep both players long term. An NFL person told me two teams are going to have to overpay to sign anyone of significance this offseason, the Raiders and Lions. Half of his prediction has already come true.

I asked Lions coach Jim Schwartz last week how hard it will be to attract free agents to an 0-16 team. His response: “People will look at a lot of different things. I don't know that anybody makes their decision strictly on the record the year before. That's the best thing about the NFL system as opposed to maybe some of the other sports is the NFL does offer a chance to turn around fairly quick, and players know that. I referenced Tennessee, a couple years ago we weren't a very attractive place to be, now they are. So I think players know that.”

We'll see.

• The Lions need a middle linebacker. There aren't many with the potential to step in and start immediately in the draft. USC's Rey Maualuga and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis are potential first-rounders, and Pitt's Scott McKillop might be next on the list. McKillop said he had a 15-minute meeting with Lions scouts Friday night in Indy. “One of the things I know they're going to count on initially is a linebacker to contribute early to special teams,” McKillop said. “At University of Pittsburgh, I didn't play my first two years so I was just trying to be a special-teams demon for Pitt and that was how I made my mark on the team and how I felt I contributed.”

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Here's how the Lions should draft

I'm on my way to the airport for a flight back to Detroit and I know the NFL draft is still two months away with lots of evaluations to be made, but after spending five days at the combine here's what I think the Lions will do in the first round:

Pass on Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford and draft either Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith or Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry No. 1 overall. Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe is the only other player I see in the No. 1-overall mix right now, but Smith's brute strength (he bench-pressed 225 pounds 33 times on Saturday, 10 more than Monroe) seems a better fit with how the Lions want to build their team. Curry is a great player and a good story, but he doesn't provide the same type of positional value at strong-side linebacker.

With the 20th pick (obtained in the Roy Williams trade), I'd look at Ohio State middle linebacker James Laurinaitis or USC's Rey Maualuga if they're still on the board (Laurinaitis probably stands a better chance of being there at this point). Either one would be the leader of the defense for years to come and fill a huge hole. A quarterback like USC's Mark Sanchez (if he drops) or Kansas State's Josh Freeman makes sense, too, considering the state of the roster, and free agency will dictate the Lions' needs at cornerback and defensive tackle, two more viable options though my next-in-line choices.

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Quarterback workout impressions

Just got done watching all the quarterback workouts here in Indianapolis. Georgia's Matt Stafford, as expected, did not take part.

USC's Mark Sanchez was good but not dazzling. He has good footwork and every ball he threw but one was catchable, but he does not have Stafford's arm. He was very good on the short and intermediate routes, precise and with a tight ball, but receivers generally had to hesitate a step on the deep balls he threw (both streaks and post-corners).

Based off this workout alone, and in my untrained opinion, he is not worthy of the first pick of the draft. Most of the Lions' decision-makers sat on the top row of the lower bowl, just to the right of where a pack of media was perched, watching Sanchez's workout. General manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz were among those watching intently.

Team president Tom Lewand watched the first set of quarterbacks throw (including Kansas State's Josh Freeman) and the start of the second group, but was not around for the quarterback-receiver route combinations.

Freeman is raw, but he's big and there's no doubt he has an NFL arm. It will be interesting to see how the Lions compare him and the more polished Sanchez, especially if both are around at pick No. 20.

I thought Purdue's Curtis Painter looked decent and might have potential as a mid- to late-round pick, and based off this workout West Virginia's Pat White looks like he could play quarterback. Maybe not as a starter that you expect to win playoff games, but a developmental backup who would give defenses fits with his athleticism and is better than I thought throwing.

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Would you take Andre Smith at 20?

Yesterday I threw a scenario out asking if Michael Crabtree fell to the 20th pick, would you take him? Now that Crabtree has decided to postpone surgery until after his pro day so he can run and test for scouts, I doubt that decision will have to be made.

Another one to consider – another longshot maybe, but indulge me anyway in this game of 'what if?' – is Alabama tackle Andre Smith dropping to 20. Smith has cost himself considerable money this week by showing up out of shape and leaving early and without notice (though one person I talked to yesterday said it wasn't that big a deal, that Smith was going to the third offensive tackle when things shook out anyway).

There's no way the Lions can consider him at No. 1, but he's a legitimate top-tier talent. What if he falls to No. 20? Would you take him there?

Assuming the Lions don't go tackle at the top of the draft – Baylor's Jason Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe are both candidates – I might take the gamble. Maybe it's foolish to think Andre Smith will ever love football enough to be great, and I know visions of Stockar McDougle are ingrained in Lions' fans heads. But you need talent to win in the NFL and he's one of the best, well worth a mid- to late-first-round gamble.

Again, I wouldn't select him over a middle linebacker like Rey Maualuga, but he'd be on my short list if he slides.

Combine rumor mill

With so many NFL people – coaches, agents and front-office types – floating around Indianapolis this week, you don't have to try hard to hear rumors floating around. Here's a couple Lions-related ones that caught my ear this evening:

• The Lions will not draft Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford with the No. 1 pick. The consensus of people I've talked to here during the combine, before workouts and evaluations are complete, is that Stafford is a toolsy quarterback but not worthy of the No. 1 pick. Beyond that, it's not just rhetoric that the Lions intend to build through the trenches and want to make over their defense.

That doesn't mean the Lions are happy or even fine with their current quarterback mix. While people debate the merits of Daunte Culpepper under center, the consensus is they need to find and develop a young signal caller beyond Drew Stanton (and that Mark Sanchez might be there at No. 20).

• After listening to general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz extol the virtues of prudent free-agent spending, I'm convinced the Lions won't be players in the Albert Haynesworth sweepstakes. Others in the league are not. Beyond just connecting the Schwartz-Haynesworth dots, they point to the Lions' abundance of cap space, their pressing need at defensive tackle, Haynesworth's ability to mask some of the Detroit's other defensive deficiencies and the help he'd provide any rookie they draft and start at linebacker.

No one said expressly that the Lions will sign Haynesworth, just not to rule them out of the mix. One person also said the Lions or whoever ends up with the defensive tackle should prepare themselves for his production to fall off a cliff.

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More on Curry

After what Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry's been through, helping turn around an 0-16 team seems like a cinch.

Curry, the top-rated linebacker in the draft and a candidate to go No. 1 overall to the Lions, said “one of the biggest turning moments in” his life came when he returned home after his sophomore year of college to find out his mother had been evicted.

“We didn't have anywhere to stay, at that point we didn't have the funds to get into another house,” Curry said Saturday at the combine. “Those are the moments that you think about in the fourth quarter when there's a play that needs to be made and when you know you have the opportunity to provide for your family for the rest of their lives.”

Curry said he seriously considered skipping his senior season to provide for his family – his mother, Chris, and older brothers Brandon and Christopher – but he received a third-round grade from the NFL's underclassmen advisory committee and his mom encouraged him to stay in school.

“I was concerned about our financial situation, whether we could make it another season, whether she could make another season,” Curry said. “She gave me her word that she could and she did. She told me that my senior season would be the best one for her to enjoy and for me to play in.”

She was right. Curry finished the year with 105 tackles, 16 for loss, and won the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker.

Considered one of the safest picks in the draft, the Lions have to decide whether Curry presents enough value to go at the top of the first round. Curry said he'd be comfortable playing any linebacker position, but he'd likely be a three-down strong-side linebacker in Detroit's 4-3 defense.

At this point, the other No. 1 candidates appear to be quarterbacks Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez and offensive tackles Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe.

“I actually just looked at (Curry) before we came here,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said earlier this week. “He looks like he's big, strong and athletic. You could probably find a lot of places for him to fit.

"He played SAM (strong-side linebacker), but it was interesting at Wake. He played an on-the-ball SAM linebacker which not many people play anymore. You have to be really strong to be able to do that. But they also, when they had slot formations – I don't want to bore you too much with scheme, but they put him out in space almost like a nickel back. Those are two sort of almost mutually exclusive skill sets. The fact that they had trust in him to do both, that spoke a lot about him."

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Curry to dine with Lions Sunday

Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry hit a home run in his meet-and-greet with reporters at the NFL combine Saturday. He said it's a goal of his to be drafted No. 1 overall, spoke of his mom getting evicted after his sophomore year of college and how he wants to buy her a house, and acknowledged the irony of possibly playing for the Lions. His father, Reggie Pinkney, played for the team from 1977-78.

“As far as Detroit at No. 1, it would be a dream come true,” Curry said. “But that decision is a decision that's not going to be made by myself. If I could pick, sure I would go No. 1 overall. It'd just be a great feeling to go out to Detroit and play alongside with Ernie Sims would be amazing being that I watched him play in the ACC as a freshman and always admired how he played.”

Curry, who played strong-side linebacker at Wake Forest, said he believes he can play any linebacker position in the NFL, including middle. The Lions have openings at both the middle and strong-side positions.

He also said he had to reschedule a dinner meeting with the Lions for tomorrow. Originally, the draft's No. 1 linebacker prospect.

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Taylor on ex-Wolverine Boren: He 'ain't my brother'

I walked into the end of Michigan defensive tackle Terrance Taylor's round-table session with reporters at the NFL combine Saturday afternoon just as a reporter asked how hard it was to see offensive lineman Justin Boren, "a guy that's like your brother," transfer to Ohio State. Taylor's response?

"You ain't my brother if you transfer to Ohio State. I'm a Michigan man. Nah, I mean, he made his choice. He's a good player, he's my friend, but brother, nah. Tim Jamison's my brother. Guys that stayed, those who stay will be champions. He didn't stay. I'm a Michigan man, he's a Buckeye."

No love lost, I'd say.

Just so you know, Taylor checked in at 6-foot and 306 pounds.

Would you take Crabtree at 20?

According to reports, Michael Crabtree has a stress fracture in his left foot that will require surgery and keep him out six to 10 weeks. Crabtree has long been considered the draft's top receiver prospect coming off an impressive season at Texas Tech. Now, it looks like he'll slide out of the top 10. First, he measured a shorter than expected 6-foot-1 at the NFL combine. Second, he probably won't be able to answer questions about his speed by running the all-important 40-yard dash (the draft is nine weeks from today)

So, if you're the Lions, would you take Crabtree with your second pick of the first round, No. 20 overall, if he's available?

That debate will play out in draft-prep meetings over the next two months. The Lions need a No. 2 receiver to pair with Calvin Johnson and assistant Shawn Jefferson spent time with Crabtree on Thursday. They also have a well-documented history of taking first-round receivers, missing on most of them, and have a ton of holes to fill elsewhere on the roster. Still, Crabtree is one of the top few talents in the draft based on what he did in college and might turn into a superstar.

I wouldn't take Crabtree over, say, USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, who would fit a big positional area of need. But depending on the way the draft shakes out, I think the Lions would have to consider Crabtree if he were there at 20. (If they draft him, it essentially goes down as Crabtree-plus-a-third-round-pick for Roy Williams trade.)

If the Lions are lucky, they could turn into big winners from Crabtree's misfortune. Some team won't be worried about his size or speed and will take a gamble on him in the middle of the first round. If he's there at No. 20, maybe someone's anxious enough to grab Crabtree they'd deal a 2010 first-round pick.

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Hoyer confident he'll have a strong combine

Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer has seen his stock rise in recent weeks. He had a strong showing during practice for the East-West Shrine Game and could emerge as the top senior quarterback, a mid-round pick, when he showcases his strong arm in position drills tomorrow.

“Going out and throwing, I feel that's going to benefit me a lot because I feel like that's one of the strong points of my game is going out and just throwing the ball around the field,” Hoyer said. “You've covered us and I think you'd agree, I have a strong arm and I can go out there and show these guys what I do. I feel like I have good footwork, so get back in my drop and let the thing go.”

Hoyer said he's met with “20 to 25” teams between the East-West game and individual interviews here in Indianapolis. He spent about 15 minutes with Lions quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton on Friday.

“The East-West week really helped me boost my stock,” Hoyer said. “I had a lot of criticism with my stock dropping off, completion percentage, so to build myself back up with a good week at the East-West game, coming out here and performing well and throwing well at my pro day, that would mean a lot to be the first senior quarterback taken. That's saying something, especially with the guys that are coming out from the junior class, Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman is a huge kid with a big arm and Nate Davis.”

Smith, Monroe separating from the pack

At this point, on the Lions' draft board at least, I'd have to guess the top two tackles are Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe.

Baylor's Smith posted top-10 marks at his position in the bench press (33 reps at 225 pounds) and as of now in the 40-yard dash (with an unofficial time of 5.14 seconds). Virginia's Monroe wasn't quite as eye-popping in his workouts. He had 23 reps and ran an unofficial 5.16-second 40, but he appears to be the first lineman to have a Matt Stafford-like meeting Lions with general manager Martin Mayhew. As I blogged earlier, the meeting wasn't quite the dinner extravaganza that Stafford enjoyed, but that's what it was supposed to be before Monroe's combine schedule got in the way.

Alabama's Andre Smith didn't work out at the combine and there's little chance the Lions draft Missippi's Michael Oher No. 1.

Which tackle ends up atop the Lions' board remains to be seen, but the uber-prospects appear to be separating from the rest.

Virginia's Monroe meets with Lions

Virginia offensive tackle Eugene Monroe was the second player to have a sit-down meeting with Lions general manager Martin Mayhew. Monroe was scheduled for dinner with several members of the Lions brass Friday, but those plans changed because of his NFL combine schedule.

Still, he had a formal sit-down with Mayhew and senior personnel executive Shack Harris late Friday night similar to the one Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford had Thursday. Stafford met Mayhew, Harris, coach Jim Schwartz, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and team president Tom Lewand for dinner at Shula's Steak House.

Monroe is considered one of the top left-tackle prospects in the draft and a sure top-10 pick. He did 23 bench-press reps during Friday's workout and should run one of the best 40-yard-dash times today.

As I've already written, Monroe and Baylor's Jason Smith stood out as the two most impressive tackle prospects when they met with the media Thursday. Alabama's Andre Smith is another potential top-10 pick.

“Over my career at Virginia I've proven that I can block anybody,” Monroe said Thursday when asked why he should be the draft's No. 1 pick. “And I have the determination to improve my game and the ambition to succeed and I'll never stop.”

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Marvin Lewis 'a good asset' for Schwartz

One of the NFL people Jim Schwartz turned to for advice when he was piecing together his staff was Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.

“I was getting a lot of advice from different coaches in hiring the staff and I kept some guys from Detroit's old staff and I was asking Marvin about that because he had done the same thing in Cincinnati,” Schwartz said. “He said, 'Hey, look, there's no reason to fire good people, people that you think are good coaches because coaches are hard to replace.'”

Not only did Lewis keep several Cincinnati assistants on staff when he got the Bengals job in 2003, he also kept Schwartz on board as a defensive assistant in Baltimore when he took over as defensive coordinator seven years earlier.

“When I got the (Baltimore) job, (general manager) Ozzie Newsome said, 'Hey, I just hired a guy last year that I wish you would take some time to talk to and consider keeping him on in some capacity,'” Lewis remembered. “So I sat down with Schwartzie and he was just great. He is so smart, he was so diligent, he's so thorough that it hasn't surprised me how successful he's been and he was great for me.

“And then when we got let go and I got re-hired and Brian (Billick) hired Mike Smith to take Jimmy's spot, I had to help Schwartzie get a job. So at that point I'm trying to get Jeff (Fisher) to consider him at Tennessee and I'm on Jeff's coattails over here a couple times to get him and Gregg Williams to hire Schwartzie because they had somebody else in mind and so obviously it worked out.”

Lewis, whose Bengals play the Lions next season, said he'll be rooting for Schwartz every other game.

“Hopefully I can be a good asset for him just like he's been for me,” Lewis said. “He supported me and he was there for me all the time, so I appreciate that.”


Making sense of the QB picture

What did we learn about the Lions' quarterback situation today?

Daunte Culpepper is the heavy (but lighter than he was last year) favorite to start next season. He restructured his contract earlier this month to defer and split up the $2.5-million bonus he was due next week, but general manager Martin Mayhew said Culpepper has lost weight and looks great and will be in the mix for the starting job next year.

The Lions have not decided to cut Jon Kitna yet, but that seems like a matter of time. Kitna is due a $1-million bonus next month. The Lions haven't asked him to delay that payment and don't think he'd agree to anyway. For now, Kitna's on the roster as insurance and the Lions are exploring their trade options.

“If something came up where we had an opportunity to trade Jon and there was value for us we would certainly look into it,” Mayhew said.

The Lions have exchanged contract proposals with unrestricted free agent Dan Orlovsky, but they consider him a backup who might or might not get an opportunity to start (depending on what other quarterbacks are on the roster, most likely).

“That's how I see him and I told Dan when I talked to him, the best player will play,” Mayhew said. “You come in here and you're the best player at quarterback that can helps us win football games, you'll start. But he's been a backup his whole career and I'm not sure he'll go out in the market and he'll get starter money out there on the market.”

Drew Stanton, a second-round pick two years ago, is a “developmental” prospect with little chance to start in 2009, though Mayhew hasn't written him off publicly. Drew Henson, however, might have played his last snap as a Lion as he didn't garner a mention during Mayhew's breakfast with beat writers Friday.

“We have four quarterbacks,” Mayhew said. “Two of them have been starters in the league and have been effective, two of them have been backups in the league. And if they're all under contract then those two guys have an opportunity to be our starter.”

The Lions are doing their homework on all the quarterbacks in the draft. They had dinner with Matt Stafford, lunch with Mark Sanchez and have met or will meet with others like Josh Freeman and Rhett Bomar.

It seems clear the direction they want to go – Culpepper as starter, a rookie in the mix and either Stanton or Orlovsky as the backup – but Mayhew insists those decisions are still being made.

“That's what the dialogue is about, it's about how we view that position and what the best composition of guys to make up that position as we go into training camp and into next season,” he said. “And there are a number of different options there. We could have Daunte as the starter, we could have Jon as the starter. We could have Daunte and Jon compete. You could have Daunte and Jon and Dan compete. You could have Daunte and Dan compete. You could have Jon and Dan compete.

“So that's what we're talking about and it's an important decision and we don't have to make a decision. Everybody wants to know what's going to happen now, but we don't have to make a decision.”

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Ringer will run at combine

Michigan State running back Javon Ringer is five weeks removed from surgery to repair a small lateral meniscus tear in his left knee, but he said he'll run during Sunday's workouts at the NFL combine.

“This is something that I've always wanted to go to and compete in and I don't want to miss it for just what I had to do with my knee,” Ringer said. “When I had my surgery I just made sure I busted my tail in rehab so I could come back and compete. And I still feel like now I should put up pretty good numbers. I'm actually pretty confident that I can and will be able to do that.”

And what kind of numbers would constitute “good” numbers?

“We'll see,” Ringers said.

Ringer, who ran for 1,637 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, measured 5-foot-9 1/2 and 205 pounds. He's considered one of the top senior running backs available but is projected as a second-day pick.

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Scwhartz: Sanchez decision to throw 'does mean a little'

Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman are considered the top three quarterback prospects – in that order – at this early stage of draft evaluation.

Stafford, from Georgia, has decided not to throw during Sunday's NFL combine workouts. (He won't lift either, but he will run the 40-yard dash and do other testing.) USC's Sanchez and Kansas State's Freeman confirmed Friday they will go through full workouts in Indianapolis.

“It would kill me not to throw,” Sanchez said. “Too fun.”

Sanchez said Stafford's decision not to throw – he'll wait instead until his March 19 pro-day workout – had no bearing on his choice otherwise. Still, his competitive spirit is a good thing(albeit not a pick-deciding one) in the minds of those evaluating quarterbacks.

“It's sort of like running,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “The guys that have confidence in their ability to run will run, so you want to see guys that have that confidence to go out. I know a lot of quarterbacks typically haven't thrown simply because they want to throw to familiar receivers, but yeah that does speak a little bit to a coach. A guy that has confidence to go out and throw at 7 in the morning or throw at midnight, 'Whatever you want Coach, I'll do it,' it probably does mean a little bit.”

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Crabtree, Lions talked on Thursday

The Lions are simply doing their diligence. Unless Matt Millen returns as general manager, there's no way they take a receiver with the first pick of the draft. But receivers coach Shawn Jefferson did meet with the draft's top pass catcher, Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree, on Thursday.

“One thing he told me is he has a beast right now but he wants a beast on the other side,” Crabtree said Friday at the NFL scouting combine. “That's about all we talked about.”

Besides Calvin Johnson, the Lions have a bunch of No. 3 and 4 receivers on their roster. They'll look to add a true No. 2 sometime in the draft if they don't sign a quality receiver in free agency.

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Stars aligning for Stafford, Lions

The Matt Stafford-Bobby Layne-Detroit Lions connection gets more eerie by the day.

Stafford, you know, attended the same Dallas high school as Layne (Highland Park) and is a candidate to replace Layne (52 years later) as quarterback of the Lions. Legend has it, of course, Layne cursed the Lions on his way out of town after leading the team to the 1957 championship.

Turns out, Stafford, like Layne, led Highland Park to a Texas state championship – a title that was the school's first since 1957.

“It's weird, it's crazy,” Stafford said of the similarities Thursday at the NFL combine. “It's kind of ironic how it all came together. Obviously, there's a lot of time between now and draft day and who knows what can happen. That would be something that would definitely be interesting, something that you guys can probably write a lot about.”

There's two months until the draft and no telling what the Lions will do with the No. 1 pick, but Stafford has to be the front-runner for now. He won't throw or lift during workouts Sunday, but will run the 40 and take part in other drills.

Already, he met with most of the Lions' decision makers for dinner Thursday – he had salmon and asparagus, and joked that he didn't have a steak (the meeting was at Shula's Steak House) because “I didn't know what I was going to weigh so I just wanted to make sure I was good.” (For reference, he measured just over 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds.)

“Just trying to get to know each other,” Stafford said of the meeting that included Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. “That was the main gist of the meeting and the dinner. I had a great time. I really felt like I clicked well with some of the people there. But it was a lot of fun.”

As for going to the Lions, where he might start the season as a backup to Daunte Culpepper, Stafford said he would “love the challenge” of resuscitating an 0-16 team.

“My philosophy on that is I'm going to do everything I can to be as ready as possible to play wherever I go,” he said. “If they don't feel that I'm ready to go and I have to sit behind a veteran for a while and maybe learn some of the things that I need to learn then that's fine. But I'm going to make it as hard as I can on coaches to try to keep me off the field. I've always wanted to get in there and play as soon as I'm ready and that's my plan going into wherever I play.”

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Stafford, Sanchez meet with the media

More to come later, but quarterbacks Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez just got done meeting with the media here in Indianapolis. Stafford said his meeting with Lions brass went well Thursday night and Sanchez said he met for lunch yesterday with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

Stafford was asked why the Lions should take him with the No. 1 pick.

“It's not up to me to say," he said. "I think I'm doing everything I can to prove to people that I'm a good football player and worthy of the pick and if that so happens to be the first pick of the Detroit Lions I'd be more than happy to be there and come and play and try to turn that thing around. It's obviously not up to me. It'd be a great honor to be picked first, no question. I would love to have that synonymous with my name for a long time but it's not a do or die. I'm going to play football in this league some place and it's not where you get drafted it's where you take your career from there.”

Chances of Lions signing Haynesworth are slim

General manager Martin Mayhew hasn't publicly ruled out the possibility the Lions sign a high-priced free agent like defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth this offseason, but it sounds more and more like it's not going to happen, either.

“The important thing for us though is that we can't put our eggs in one basket,” Mayhew said over breakfast with beat reporters Friday morning at the NFL combine. “We have a number of needs offensively and on the defensive side of the ball, and we're going to try to address as many of those as we can. And we're not one player away. You start seeing some of these contracts that are getting done now, you start thinking that you're going to have to spend a little bit more than what you thought you had to spend a couple months ago.”

As coach Jim Schwartz did Thursday, Mayhew stopped short of identifying the Lions' biggest positional area of need.

“We had quite a few guys playing who were stopgap type of players and the problem with those players is when you have several of them playing then you have several holes when the season's over,” Mayhew said. “We're coming off an 0-16 season and you had several guys starting for us who were just kind of one-year band-aids at the position defensively, and now we have to go out and fill those needs as well as the other needs that just come up naturally. So we have a lot of holes on defense.”

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Dimitroff: Schwartz's 'drive and intelligence' will help Lions

Lions coach Jim Schwartz joked Thursday that one of the few people whose first NFL job entailed more menial tasks than his was Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

“I joke around about how low I started, but I also sort of tip my cap to Thomas Dimitroff and (Browns coach) Eric Mangini because they were below me,” said Schwartz, whose unpaid internship with the Browns in the early 1990s involved clipping newspaper stories and making cigarette runs for secretaries. “Thomas was cutting the grass and rolling tarps outside and Eric was a P.R. intern.”

Dimitroff said Friday that Schwartz proved then why he'll be a successful coach today.

“As we all know he's an incredibly intelligent guy,” Dimitroff said. “Very, very focused, hard-worker, he's very detailed and we saw that when we were all young and in the building together. It's quite interesting to see how he's evolved and I knew it was just a matter of time. Last year, I didn't personally get an opportunity to interview him (for the Falcons job) but I knew it was going to be very quickly before he had an opportunity to be a head man and I think he'll do a nice job there. He's a driven guy and his combination of drive and intelligence is going to really help that program.”

Lions evaluating Stafford, Sanchez, Freeman

Georgia's Matt Stafford, USC's Mark Sanchez and Kansas State's Josh Freeman will be in to meet with reporters here at the NFL combine later today, and the Lions are actively evaluating each of those prospects to determine whether they're worthy of the No.1 (or No. 20) overall pick.

Considering the dearth of talent on the Lions' roster and the slew of picks they possess, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said now would be the right time to draft a quarterback “if the right quarterback is there.”

“We got to put a value on all these guys and if we don't take a quarterback No. 1, if we don't think there's a quarterback worthy of 20 or the guys are gone at 20 – it has to be the right quarterback at the right time,” Mayhew said. “And so it has to be a good fit for us. We can't go into the draft saying we have to draft a quarterback. That's when we've made mistakes in the past, go in targeting a specific position and then trying to make that happen. So I think it would be a good time if the right guy is there at the right time.”

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Mayhew: Orlovsky a backup

The Lions have exchanged contract proposals with quarterback Dan Orlvosky, but general manager Martin Mayhew admitted Friday he sees Orlovsky as a backup.

“I talked to Dan,” Mayhew said. “He's not under contract. We'll try to get him signed. He was the backup last year, he was the backup before that, he's been a backup his whole career. I don't think anybody would be surprised if I thought he was a backup.”

Orlvosky started seven games over two stints last year and was the Lions most effective quarterback. An unrestricted free agent, he said earlier this week he expected to test the market but hoped to return to the Lions with a chance to compete for the starting job.

“I told Dan when I talked to him, 'The best player will play,'” Mayhew said. “You come in here and you're the best player at quarterback that can help us win football games, you'll start. But he's been a backup his whole career and I'm not sure he'll go out in the market and he'll get starter money out there on the market.”

Asked why he didn't sweet-talk Orlovsky in order to guarantee he'd re-sign with the Lions, Mayhew said, “That's why we've been getting our butt kicked around here for eight years.”

“I just go straightforward with these guys,” he said. “If they don't want to know then they shouldn't ask me because I'm going to tell them how I see them. And a lot of them are dissatisfied with that, but that's how it's going to be.”

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Mayhew: 'Leap of faith' to say Stanton will start in '09

While the Lions continue to sort through their quarterbacks – Daunte Culpepper appears to be the starter, Jon Kitna may be on his way out, and the Lions view Dan Orlovsky as a backup – one player who won't be in the starting mix next year is Drew Stanton.

“He's a developmental guy for us,” general manager Martin Mayhew said Friday of the 2007 second-round draft pick. “He missed the whole first season. He really was a rookie last year, but I think what we have to do at quarterback is have as many options as possible. And we have to have a situation that we feel comfortable with. And we just haven't seen enough of Drew to say we can anoint Drew as a starter. It's a tremendous leap of faith to say he can start for us.”

Mayhew said at one point he hoped to play Stanton more last year, but when listing the options for next season's starters he did not include Stanton in the mix.

“I think Drew can do everything,” Mayhew said. “He can run, he can throw, he has a strong arm. He's got all the tools. That's not an issue. The issue is getting him enough reps and enough time to where we feel comfortable with him being the guy at quarterback. It hasn't happened for a lot of reasons.”

Asked if he could have forced Stanton into the rotation last year, Mayhew said he “would never tell a head coach he has to play a guy.”

“I can make it known who I'd like to see play and I did that with a number of guys, and some of them played and some of them didn't,” Mayhew said. “And that's the way it is.”

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Mayhew: 'Critical' to sign first pick before the draft

General manager Martin Mayhew said this morning he wants to have a deal done with the first pick in the weeks leading up to April's draft and expects to negotiate with “at least” three different players.

“I think it's important that we get a contract done prior to selecting the player,” Mayhew told beat writers this morning. “Those deals are complex and especially with the end of the last-capped-year rules, with those rules in effect it's going to be a complicated contract so I think we have to get out in front of that at least for a couple weeks and start narrowing it down and start talking to people.

“I envision us talking to at least three different players – at least that – and trying to see where those guys are and trying to get something done prior to the draft. It's pretty important that we have a contract done prior to the draft.”

Mayhew said it wouldn't be a deal-breaker, but “it's of critical importance that we have a contract done prior to the draft.”

“That's very, very important to us,” he said.

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Lions dine with Stafford

Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford spent Thursday night dining with the people who'll ultimately determine whether he ends up being the No. 1 draft pick.

Stafford met Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, president Tom Lewand, senior personnel executive Shack Harris, coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for dinner and nearly two hours of conversation at Shula's Steak House in Indianapolis Thursday. He sat between Schwartz and Linehan in a table at the back of the restaurant, and even compared hand sizes with Linehan before he left.

The Lions are doing their proper vetting of the player most analysts consider the top quarterback available. Schwartz was asked about the possibility of drafting a quarterback No. 1 overall during Thursday's NFL combine. He acknowledged taking a signal caller that high carries some risk.

“But there's also a reward with it,” he said.

Stafford and Mark Sanchez, another potential top-10 quarterback, will meet with the media on Friday.

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Blogging the combine: Alex Mack

Cal center Alex Mack, the top interior lineman in the draft, said he met with some members of the Lions at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., last month.

“They just wanted to get to know me and see where I was and what I could bring to a team and if I would work hard and if I was a player that they could count on being there in the offseason to work out,” Mack said. “I told them, yeah. At Cal, it would be before optional summer workout started, I'd be there working out to get ready for the optional stuff.”

Mack, a late first- or early-second-round pick, sprained his right ankle in workouts last week and will not run Saturday.

“No one's more disappointed than I am,” he said.

Haynesworth a target in free agency?

I've blogged before about a couple ex-Titans (safety Vincent Fuller and cornerback Chris Carr) and one ex-Jaguar (linebacker Mike Peterson) who I think would make sense for the Lions in free agency.

Fuller wants to be a starting free safety in the NFL and has a good relationship with new Lions coach Jim Schwartz. The Lions, meanwhile, need a starter to pair with Daniel Bullocks in the secondary. At cornerback, I don't expect Carr would start, but he's a rotational guy who has excellent value as a return man. Peterson should be an option at middle linebacker, one of the thinnest positions in this year's draft, only if new personnel man Shack Harris is convinced he's not a locker-room cancer. Harris should know. He, too, is an ex-Jaguar.

(As a side note, Peterson's agent Tom Condon also represents potential No. 1 pick Matt Stafford. Not that NFL teams would ever tamper would another team's free agent, but I'd bet Martin Mayhew and/or Tom Lewand has been in touch with Condon this offseason – maybe even this weekend – and probably know the sort of deal Peterson desires.)

Schwartz wasn't asked specifically about any of those players Thursday – he couldn't comment even if he was – but he did talk in general about potentially signing some ex-Titans this offseason.

“I think that's part of the thing when new staffs take over they all bring insider information so to speak from whatever team they were at,” Schwartz said. “We have guys on our staff from Kansas City, from St. Louis, from Tennessee, Tampa Bay, a lot of different staffs. So yeah, it won't just be us. You're going to use every bit of information that you can and knowing those guys that does give us a little bit of an advantage.”

The logical next question, of course, is what does that mean for the Lions and Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who said he'll test free agency and wants to be the highest-paid defensive player in the league. I still don't think the Lions will take part in the Haynesworth sweepstakes, a belief that was reinforced at the NFL combine Thursday when Schwartz referenced his early days in Tennessee and how the Titans stocked up on “middle-class” free agents. But Schwartz did have good things to say about Haynesworth, including that he (hypothetically) should get the massive contract that he seeks.

"When you talk about high-priced players anywhere you talk about people that can impact the game, not just maybe from a fan standpoint but from coaching, from a scheme standpoint," Schwartz said. "Left tackles get paid a lot of money, not because it looks real pretty on TV and the media but because what that does for an offensive coordinator and his protections and things like that. So you got to talk about ability to impact a game. Corners that can shut down somebody. Pass rushers that can win one-on-ones. Those guys impact the game. A running back that can run against an eight-man front. They impact the game. Quarterbacks we didn't even get into, but quarterbacks impact a game.

"So yeah, hypothetically, if there was a defensive tackle that dominates the game, there's no reason that he wouldn't be the highest-paid player."

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Baylor's Smith stands out among linemen

Had a chance to talk with Andre Smith, Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher – the top offensive linemen available – and at first glance Baylor's Jason Smith is the most impressive, with Virginia's Monroe an easy No. 2.

Smith, a converted tight end, has an NFL-ready body – Andre Smith definitely has some soft spots and Oher isn't quite as put together – and spoke in a strong, confident tone with just enough politeness and confidence to stand out. Asked if he was out to prove he was the best Smith at the combine, Jason Smith said, “Not the best Smith, the best offensive tackle.”

As for the possibility of going No. 1 overall, Smith said he hasn't talked to the Lions yet.

“But I do believe it's realistic that they would take a tackle and I do believe it's realistic I could be the No. 1 overall pick,” he said.

And his style of play?

“When I'm on the field I take a lot of pride in physically assaulting somebody,” he said.

Both Smith and Monroe checked in at 6-foot-5 and 309 pounds, and both said they plan to take part in all drills this weekend.

“I have nothing to hide,” Monroe said. “I'm healthy so I'm going to do every drill, I'm going to lift tomorrow. I'm going to do it all.

“You don't want to miss out on an opportunity to show that you have the ability to do as well or better but you decide not to do the drill.”

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Andre Smith: 'I want to play for the Lions'

Alabama left tackle Andre Smith just got off the podium here in Indianapolis. He said he measured 6-foot-4 and 332 pounds with 36-inch arms, and downplayed any concerns about his weight.

“No sir, I've never been that high,” Smith said when asked about reports he ballooned to 380 pounds this year. “The highest I've ever been is 345.

“I never had a problem at the university as far as having a weight issue.”

Smith said his normal playing weight is around 330 pounds, and he hasn't yet decided if he's going to work out this weekend. He said he wants to get his “numbers down” after only training for three or four weeks at Athletes Performance Inc. in Tempe, Ariz.

So far, Smith said he's been in contact with the Redskins, Panthers, Saints and Jets among other teams. He hasn't talked to the Lions, though they could meet this weekend.

But Smith said he grew up a Barry Sanders fan and knows Lions cornerback Ramzee Robinson, who played at Alabama.

“I want to play for the Lions,” he said.

How Jim Schwartz almost got fired in Cleveland

Jim Schwartz broke into the NFL as an unpaid intern under Bill Belichick in Cleveland whose duties entailed picking up players from the airport and making cigarette runs for secretaries.

“That was my tuition to be exposed to the happenings that were there and to be able to learn,” Schwartz said. “And it was obviously well worth it.”

One of his first days on the job, however, Schwartz jokes that he almost got fired. The story:

“I'd been hired for a job that paid zero,” Schwartz said. They gave me an apartment and I could eat food in the office. They always had stocked kitchens and things like that. Well, they brought me up for a mini-camp. What happened is Bill did the old NFL trick of, hey, if you have a good practice on Thursday I'll give you off on Friday. Well, my plane ticket didn't go home until Friday so he gave the team off and all the coaches and players were out of there.

“Well, I don't have anything to do for a full day so I'm around the office literally like the entire day and don't see another soul and I'm waiting for my flight that's leaving at like 6 o'clock, so I go in and grab some lunch and I use the rest of the turkey and eat it. And I'm literally getting some crackers and I take a bite of the sandwich and in walks Coach Belichick. And he had been working out and he's rooting through the refrigerator, looking for a bunch of stuff, and I'm eating. And he looks over at me and he said, 'Have you seen the turkey?' And literally I had used just the exact last thing. And I got like a mouthful of turkey and I was like, 'Um. I just used the last …' And he was like, 'Oh, what the …'

“And really that was my first meeting, so I called home and said this might be a one-way ticket home.”

Now, of course, Schwartz considers Belichick one of his closest friends and coaching mentors.

"Probably had more to do with my development than anything," Schwartz said.

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Schwartz: 'We have a lot' of needs

In answering a question earlier this morning, I said I didn't see the Lions lavishing big money on receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency because they have more pressing needs on defense at tackle, middle linebacker and cornerback.

With that in mind, I asked Lions coach Jim Schwartz what he felt his team's biggest positional needs are this offseason.

“We have a lot, let's put it that way,” he said. “We probably have, just in evaluating the team and looking at all 16 games and sort of going through, we probably have a little farther to go on defense then we do on offense. When I talk about wanting the team to be big, strong and physical, there are more of those pieces in place on offense than there are on defense.”

But is one position more key than others, sort of like a nosetackle would be if the Lions were going to a 3-4 defense (which they're not)?

“There's a reason the record was what it was last year,” Schwartz said. “And it wasn't because of bad luck or a rash of injuries. There's a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Just a couple names I think the Lions will consider in free agency: Titans safety Vincent Fuller, who had a good relationship with Schwartz in Tennessee and is looking for the chance to start somewhere; Titans cornerback Chris Carr, who could double as a return man; and middle linebacker Mike Peterson of Jacksonville (assuming new senior personnel executive James Harris has good things to say).

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Combine coverage: Schwartz on Kitna

Lions coach Jim Schwartz said no decision has been made on whether to pay Jon Kitna the $1-million bonus he's due next month, but he also said the veteran quarterback is “expected to be” around to take part in the team's offseason program.

“You guys keep on putting the cart before the horse,” Schwartz said at the NFL Scouting Combine Thursday. “You're wanting to know if we promised the starting position to (Dante) Culpepper. From my standpoint it's like, jeez, could anything be a worse decision then promising a player that I've never seen practice, that I have no sort of relationship, promising somebody a starting position? We need guys to compete.”

Asked if he'd be willing to pay Kitna's bonus, due the fifth day of the league year, in order to keep Kitna in the quarterback mix, Schwartz said, “Yeah. Let's put it this way: I'd like to keep as many options open as we could.”

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Blogging the combine: Thursday morning thoughts

I'm hunkered in here at Lucas Oil Stadium waiting for a day of interviews with NFL personnel and potential draft picks. Lions coach Jim Schwartz is scheduled for a formal press conference at 10:15 and will do Sirius radio shortly after that. Tight ends and offensive linemen will be available sporadically throughout the day, too, and it'll be interesting to see what kind of shape big left tackle Andre Smith of Alabama is in.

I saw Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford briefly this morning as he boarded a bus to go for his medical evaluations. He had his combine-issue sweatshirt on so you couldn't tell exactly, but I get the sense he's in fine shape (despite some suggestions otherwise by the anti-Stafford group). Stafford and the other signal callers aren't available for media interviews until tomorrow, but they'll begin meeting with teams tonight.

I'll have updates throughout the day so check back periodically.


Blogging the combine: Josh Freeman

Just arrived in gray Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, where I'll spend the weekend blogging about all things Lions and all things draft.

First story of my trip: I get off the plane, grab my checked bag and am waiting for a cab, talking with a Lions assistant who was on my flight when my cell phone rings with a number I don't recognize. I answer and it's Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman's father returning a call from earlier this week.

I excuse myself from talking with the Lions assistant, apologize to Ron Freeman and he cuts me off with a hearty, "Tell him to take that quarterback Freeman No. 1" (or some light-hearted joke to that effect).

When all is said and done here in Indy, Freeman will probably establish himself as a solid first-round pick. He's got tremendous upside with a big frame and big arm, his father said he'll take part in all the workouts (unlike Matt Stafford), and he'll no doubt tempt some quarterback-starved team in the bottom half of the first round.

I believe the Lions will take a quarterback sometime during the draft - just a hunch; the team is still evaluating every position - and Freeman might interest them at No. 20 if they pass on Stafford and Mark Sanchez at the top of the first round.

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Backus a candidate to play guard

General manager Martin Mayhew recently asked Jeff Backus about changing positions from left tackle to guard, a team source said. Backus, the same source said, is open to the idea.

It's not known whether the change will take place – Backus has started every game, 128 straight, at tackle since entering the league as a first-round draft pick in 2001 – but the fact that both sides are comfortable with the move gives the Lions more flexibility this offseason and might make it more likely they'll consider drafting an offensive lineman No. 1 overall.

Both Mayhew and new coach Jim Schwartz have expressed a desire to get bigger and more physical up front, and the Lions have a vacancy at guard after releasing Edwin Mulitalo last week. (Damion Cook, who shared the starting duties with Mulitalo last season, is scheduled to become a free agent.) The Lions return Backus, center Dominic Raiola plus the entire right side of a line (tackle Gosder Cherilus and guard Stephen Peterman) that allowed 52 sacks last year, second most in the league.

“Just because 4/5ths (of last year's starting linemen) are on the team right now doesn't mean that 4/5ths are going to be starting at the end of training camp when we go into next year,” Schwartz said Tuesday. “Like I said, those decisions haven't been made. It's way too premature to read too much into that. You want to have as many options open to you when you go into the season as you can. That includes experience, that includes guys that are familiar with the scheme and everything else.”

While most pre-combine draft projections have the Lions taking Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford with the first pick, three elite tackle prospects also are available in Alabama's Andre Smith, Baylor's Jason Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe. Last year, eight tackles went in the first round (including Cherilus) and the Dolphins took Michigan's Jake Long No. 1.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper predicted last week that “by the eighth pick three offensive tackles are off the board” this year.

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Orlovsky 'excited about free agency'

Quarterback Dan Orlovsky said Tuesday he wants to remain a Lion, but does not expect to come to terms on a new deal before he becomes a free agent Feb. 27.

“I'm excited about free agency,” Orlovsky said. “I'm not stupid. I know no one's going to say come in and be our starting quarterback, but I'm still young. I'm only 25 so I'm excited there are some teams interested in me as a young guy with some experience and see where it takes me.”

Orlovsky started seven games for the Lions last year and was the most effective of the five quarterbacks to see playing time. As an unrestricted free agent, he could interest teams like Buffalo, St. Louis and Seattle.

He did not want to comment on Daunte Culpepper's renegotiated contract or comments attributed to him through former Lions receiver Mike Furrey on Sirius radio last week that the team wants to re-sign him as a backup. But Orlovsky did reiterate his long-professed stance that his preference is to return to the Lions and compete for the starting job.

“Being completely honest, I want to be back there,” he said. “People think I'm crazy for saying that. Who would not want to play with Calvin (Johnson)? That's the brutal truth of the situation. But I also want to be part of the change.

“My home is there, I know the team, I know the players, I want to be part of it.”

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No decision on Kitna yet

While team president Tom Lewand said the Lions are “prepared to go forward with Daunte (Culpepper) in our quarterback mix,” no decision appears to have been made (or at least conveyed) about Jon Kitna's future under center.

Kitna is due a $1-million roster bonus in early March – I previously and erroneously reported it was $500,000, but escalators achieved earlier in the contract doubled its value – and though the Lions have plenty of cap space it seems unlikely they'd be willing to pay that amount if they're intent on starting Culpepper and/or drafting a rookie No. 1 overall.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz said whether or not the team re-signs Dan Orlovsky will have no bearing on Kitna's status, and Lewand shook his head in agreement as Schwartz spoke. He also declined to reveal any internal evaluations on any of the five quarterbacks who played last year.

Kitna started four games (and all of the previous two seasons) before going on injured reserve in mid-October with back problems. Orlovsky made seven starts despite a serious thumb injury, and Culpepper signed midseason and immediately started the next five games before a shoulder injury cut short his season. Drew Stanton and Drew Henson also are under contract.

“We want to keep all options open and a lot of that depends on free agency, a lot of it depends on the draft and those kinds of things,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “I think you don't want to shut any door before it's time, so to speak.”

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Culpepper back, Hanson re-signs

Lions president Tom Lewand said today that quarterback Daunte Culpepper has restructured his contract and will return next season. Terms of the new deal were not immediately available, but Culpepper is still on a one-year deal.

Kicker Jason Hanson, who was slated to become a free agent next week, also has agreed to a new four-year contract. The Lions were prepared to use the franchise tag on Hanson had the two sides not agreed to a long-term deal by Thursday.

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Sanchez may work out in Indy

Matt Stafford isn't expected to throw at the NFL combine this week, but Mark Sanchez, the other quarterback that might interest the Lions at the top of the draft, is leaning towards a full workout in Indianapolis, his brother and co-agent Nick Sanchez said Monday.

“Right now we're preparing to do everything,” Nick Sanchez said. “It'll be one of those game-time decisions, see how he's feeling. We're training to do everything.”

Sanchez and Stafford are widely considered the top two quarterbacks in the draft, and ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said last week both are worthy of going No. 1 overall. Of Sanchez, Kiper said, “if he would have gone back to USC next year he would have been probably lock, stock and barrel the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. That means something.”

Sanchez's decision to work out, if he follows through on it, won't assure him of top billing in this class, but it's a good sign nonetheless. First, personnel types like to see players compete on a stage like the combine and like to see quarterbacks throw outside their comfort zone to receivers they don't know. Second, if he performs well, Sanchez will generate some of the No. 1-overall-buzz he's lacking right now. That shouldn't influence general manager Martin Mayhew one way or another, but it could help convince a skeptical fan base that Sanchez is worthy of that choice.

The biggest question teams have with Sanchez is his lack of college game experience (only 16 starts). That won't be answered at the combine, but for the Lions, a team looking to develop a quarterback long-term and likely to start a veteran this year, that might not be an issue.

Workouts for all quarterbacks are scheduled for Sunday.

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Answering your emails

Once a week during the offseason I'll try to answer your burning Lions questions.

Do the Lions really want to re-sign center Dominic Raiola?
It sure appears that way. I don't know that it's top priority in mid-February with free agency two weeks ago and draft preparation ongoing, but president Tom Lewand indicated at the team's town-hall meeting last month that extending Raiola's current contract is a priority. The full quote:

“I think (having about $35-million in cap space) enables us to do the kinds of things we're going to want to do from a personnel standpoint both in free agency and in the draft. Obviously with the No. 1 pick and two No. 1s, five in the top 80-plus, we've got to have that flexibility. But I also think it's important when you start talking about the guys that are currently on our roster, whether they're going to be free agents like the guys coming up this year like a Jason Hanson or guys who are in the last year of their contracts like a Dominic Raiola. Part of what we want to do as we're looking at building this the right way and for the long term is keeping those guys who are our own players, who've had success. Ideally we've drafted them and they've grown up within the system and they can kind of be the cornerstones of our team as opposed to trying to get enamored by the potential quick fixes that are out there.”

Raiola will be a free agent next February. I know he catches plenty of flack from fans and didn't help himself with his one-finger salute last year, but he was a Pro Bowl alternate two years ago and he did start 104 straight games before his November thumb injury. He's worth keeping around (though a poor 2009 or the drafting of someone like Cal's Alex Mack could change that).

What are the chances the Lions re-sign Leigh Bodden as a free agent?
I'd say slim to none are about right. You never want to rule anything out, but the sides are ready to part ways. Bodden wasn't happy with the way he was treated in Detroit and he'll find suitors on the open market. And the Lions, no doubt, have their sights set on other free agents.

The one thing I do find curious, general manager Martin Mayhew said Thursday that Bodden's release was “100 percent” cap related. If that's the case, then Lewand or someone should have to answer for the contract that put the Lions in the situation of cutting their best (albeit disgruntled) cornerback. Bodden signed an extension last summer after his trade from Cleveland that called for a whopping $8.6-million bonus to be due later this month. Sure he underperformed last year, but if Mayhew is to be believed the Lions would have kept Bodden of not for that lump-sum payment. And now, they have one more hole to fill.

I've written this already, but here's Mayhew's response when I asked him, in light of his comments, if he regretted how the Lions structured Bodden's contract: “There's a lot that went into that deal and what a lot of people don't know is Leigh wasn't really happy with his contract in Cleveland when he got here. And so we restructured it, and who knows what would have happened if we hadn't done it. So I'm happy that we did it, happy that we know kind of where we are with him and there's some good players out there who can play that position.”

What, if any, other changes to the front office are coming?
OK, so this is slimmed-down version of the three-part question I got from Myth. I think the Lions are pretty happy with the way things are structured now. They obviously don't believe the problems that led to last year's 0-16 season were systemic. Mayhew, Lewand, most of the scouting department and several assistant coaches all kept their jobs. A scout or two still could be let go after the draft, but I haven't had any indication that will happen.

I think Mayhew with Shack Harris as his sounding board is a nice 1-2 punch up top. As for Cedric Saunders, there were rumblings he was headed back to Tampa Bay to join the front office down there before the Lions extended his deal. He won't be an NFL general manager next year, but he's well thought of in Detroit (and elsewhere) and on track to be a player in personnel decisions for some organization in the near future.

Are the Lions interested in Derek Anderson?
You could insert Chris Simms or Byron Leftwich or a number of other free-agents for Anderson, but regardless my answer is the same: Ask me again after the combine. First order of business for the Lions is figuring out what they're going to do with their own quarterback situation. I don't believe anything's been decided there, though my best guess at this point remains they bring back Daunte Culpepper, release (or trade) Jon Kitna, don't re-sign Dan Orlovsky and draft a quarterback high in April's draft, with Culpepper playing the bridge to the future.

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More from Mayhew, Harris

As the Lions' new senior personnel executive, James Harris' role is all-encompassing. General manager Martin Mayhew remains in charge of all football-related decisions, but Harris will help organize the team's scouting departments, he'll have input when it comes to draft-day decisions, and next year he'll be directly responsible for scouting a handful of schools (presumably those close to his home in Florida, where he'll work part of the time).

His biggest job, however, is to be a sounding board of sorts for Mayhew, a first-time GM who's smart enough to surround himself with an experienced hand he can lean on in tough times.

“He's going to be a good mentor for me,” Mayhew said. “A lot has been made about the experience factor. This is an experienced guy, he's got 20 years in it. He's very well-respected in the National Football League. He has a good eye. You ask any scout and they'll tell you James has a really good eye. So I think it's important to have a guy like that.”

Already, Mayhew said Harris sat in on the team's free-agency planning meetings this week and will be involved in discussions on what to do with quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Jon Kitna. Both men are due roster bonuses in the coming weeks – $2.5 million for Culpepper, $500,000 for Kitna – and Mayhew said Thursday what to do with the quarterbacks is “the biggest personnel decision that we have to make this offseason.”

• Harris didn't get into specifics about what led to his departure from Jacksonville, but he acknowledged “none of us was really expecting the way it happened.” The Jaguars, popular Super Bowl picks in the preseason, finished a disappointing 5-11.

• He also said he considered sitting out this season, which jives with what I heard early in the search process, that he wasn't in any rush to take a subordinate role. “That was my first thought was I would just sit out, take a look at it, consider retiring, walk away from the game,” said Harris, who interviewed for the general-manager job in Cleveland. “I talked to Martin. It started getting interesting to me. At first it was not something I really wanted to do and then I started thinking about it and getting an opportunity to work with a guy like Martin and this organization started appealing to me and we talked and I'm here today.”

• Mayhew was asked if he'd be OK if Harris voiced strong opposition to his decisions as they related to, say, the No. 1 overall pick. “There were any number of yes men available, and we didn't pick any of those guys,” he said.

• Mayhew also said Harris' arrival doesn't affect the jobs of anyone else in the front office. Sheldon White remains director of pro personnel, Scott McEwen is director of college scouting, and vice president of football operations Cedric Saunders will continue to play a bigger role in both scouting and personnel. If there are any more changes upstairs, I wouldn't expect them until after the draft.

• Final note for the night on the cuts earlier this week of Leigh Bodden, Dwight Smith, Dan Campbell, Mike Furrey and Edwin Mulitalo. Mayhew said “every decision that was made was about winning football games and for different reasons, some age, some injury-related, some cap-related. But each one of them was about winning football games. Nothing else there.”

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Lions will franchise Hanson, other notes

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew met with beat reporters this afternoon to introduce new senior personnel executive James "Shack" Harris. Naturally, the topic of conversation turned to other matters. Mayhew said the Lions will use the franchise tag on kicker Jason Hanson if a contract is not agreed upon by the Feb. 19 deadline to designate players as such.

"I think we'll get something done prior to that," Mayhew said. "If we don't then we'll franchise Jason."

Other notes:

• Mayhew said negotiations also are under way to bring back guard Stephen Peterman and fullback Moran Norris.

• As for the release of cornerback Leigh Bodden last week, Mayhew said "100 percent" of that decision was contract related. Still, he said was "happy" with the decision to extend Bodden's contract last summer to include an $8.6-million roster bonus. "I'm happy that we did it, happy that we know kind of where we are with him and there's some good players out there who can play that position," Mayhew said.

• Mayhew also said "there's a possibility" that both Daunte Culpepper and Jon Kitna return next season. Culpepper is due a $2.5-million roster bonus in the coming weeks, Kitna is due a $500,000 bonus.

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Shack officially on board

A day after (finally) announcing Jim Schwartz's coaching staff, the Lions completed their front office with the long-rumored addition of James "Shack" Harris.

The former vice president of player personnel with the Jaguars, Harris will serve as a senior personnel executive with the Lions. According to a press relesae, he will assist general manager Martin Mayhew "in the day-to-day management of the player personnel department and .. in the player evaluation process for college and pro talent."

The Lions have two first-round picks in April's draft, Nos. 1 and 20.

Harris worked with new Lions coach Jim Schwartz in Baltimore from 1997-98.


Ties that bind

I point this out not to pick on the Lions – it's the way things are done in the NFL and, for that matter the world; you hire people you know and trust, either directly or through others you know and trust – but because it's hypocritical now for the same people who banged on Rod Marinelli for hiring ex-Tampa Bay assistants to praise Jim Schwartz for putting together the staff that he did: Every non-holdover assistant on the Lions' new staff has deep-rooted ties to Schwartz, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan or defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.

Linehan spent the last three years as head coach in St. Louis, where new quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton served as his offensive assistant. Offensive quality-control assistant Todd Downing also worked with Linehan the last three seasons at a variety of positions, and tight-ends coach Tim Lappano coached at Idaho when Linehan was a player there two decades ago.

Cunningham comes from Kansas City. So does assistant secondary coach and Harvard Law grad Daron Roberts. Defensive-line coach Bob Karmelowitz spent the last three years in Houston, but he was in in Kansas City for nine previous seasons, including six during Cunningham's tenure as defensive coordinator and head coach.

Assistant defensive-line coach Kris Kocurek didn't coach in K.C., but he played briefly as a defensive tackle for the Titans in 2001, when Schwartz was defensive coordinator and Cunningham assistant head coach. Linebackers coach Matt Burke spent five seasons with the Titans, the last three as a defensive quality-control assistant working alongside Schwartz.

Offensive-line coach George Yarno and secondary coach Tim Walton have less direct ties to Schwartz and his coordinators, but both worked under former Michigan State coach Nick Saban at LSU. Linehan spent one year with Saban in Miami, and Schwartz and Saban worked together for two years with the Cleveland Browns.

I think Schwartz did well in assembling the staff that he did. Cunningham is aggressive and a proven motivator. Linehan is a bright offensive mind with new perspective from his failed stint as a head coach. Their assistants should be in lockstep with what they're teaching and that's a must as the Lions rebuild. But, as Marinelli and plenty of others can attest, that doesn't guarantee success in the NFL.

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