Lions secure QB Stafford

Updated: April 25, 2009, 8:18 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

The Detroit Lions reached an agreement Friday night with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford to make him the first pick in the NFL draft on Saturday.

Introducing Stafford

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Coach Jim Schwartz introduces the Lions first day draft picks, and Matthew Stafford talks about competing.

The Lions announced the six-year deal with Stafford in a news release Saturday afternoon. The deal is for $72 million, with $41.7 million guaranteed. The contract could be worth as much as $78 million if Stafford achieves all of his playing incentives. The guaranteed money tops the $41 million in guarantees Albert Haynesworth received from the Washington Redskins earlier this offseason.

Stafford was out to dinner with about 20 people, including his parents, in Manhattan when he got the news. He stepped outside to talk to agent Tom Condon, who had just completed negotiations with the Lions.

"I went back in and gave everybody the thumbs up," Stafford said.

Then Stafford picked up the check.

The Lions intensified negotiations for Stafford the past three days, knowing they also could reach a less expensive deal with Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry. After Curry's agents visited Detroit's minicamp during the weekend, Lions president Tom Lewand focused on Stafford.

"It's crazy," Stafford said. "I feel like you can't write it any better than that. It's a wild story, and it's good to be living it."

The Stafford deal is the richest given to a draft choice in history, topping the five-year, $57.5 million contract the Dolphins gave to tackle Jake Long last season, and the six-year, $72 million contract Matt Ryan received from the Atlanta Falcons.

"We have a number of needs," first-year coach Jim Schwartz said. "The No. 1 need is talent."

Said Lions general manager Martin Mayhew: "It's up to us to develop him and get good players around him."

Seifert: Rookie rakes it in

This is what things have come to: Matthew Stafford, who has never played a down in the NFL, just set the league record for guaranteed money, Kevin Seifert writes. Blog

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As the week began, the Lions were down to three choices -- Stafford, Curry and Baylor tackle Jason Smith, but the team was insistent on having a contract in place with the first-round pick before the draft started Saturday.

Detroit desperately needs a quarterback to help turn around the NFL's first 0-16 team, and is turning to Stafford after he was a starter in each of his three seasons at Georgia.

Stafford will not be able to fix all of the problems associated with a franchise that has gone 31-97 since 2001 in what has been the worst eight-year stretch by an NFL team since the Chicago Cardinals won 23 percent of their games from 1936 to 1943.

"The great thing about the game of football is, it's a team game," Stafford said on a conference call. "I'm just going to be one piece of the puzzle."

But the Lions can't afford to draft another bust.

[+] EnlargeMatt Stafford
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesMatthew Stafford has agreed to the richest rookie contract in history.

Recent No. 1 picks have proved that.

Eight of the past 11 players taken first overall in the NFL have been QBs, and half of them either haven't or didn't pan out for the teams that took them.

For every Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer, guys such as Tim Couch and David Carr have shown there are no guarantees.

Stafford might get a chance to learn from the sideline initially, backing up Daunte Culpepper.

But Stafford isn't conceding anything.

"I'm a competitive guy," Stafford said. "I'm going to try to get ready as quick as I can."

Schwartz has said Detroit's staff studied Stafford extensively on film.

"We've seen every pass he's thrown in the last two years, and that's where you learn about his decision-making ability," Schwartz said last month.

The Lions also interviewed Stafford, attended his pro day at Georgia and had a private workout with him to learn more about him as a person.

Apparently, they're convinced he is the man to be the face, voice and arm of perhaps the biggest rebuilding project in NFL history.

He was 27-7 as a starter for the Bulldogs, throwing for nearly 51 touchdowns and nearly 8,000 yards with a powerful arm.

"I was relaxing and my hands were relaxing and the ball just shot through and hit me right in the face," Georgia teammate A.J. Green said last year.

When Schwartz was hired last winter, he joked that it was about time to replace Bobby Layne, who starred at quarterback for the Lions when they were an NFL power in the 1950s.

In a coincidence, Stafford and Layne both played at Highland Park High School in Dallas.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer