NFL teams value QBs highly

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

To heck with the suspense, the Detroit Lions went for the expense.

As predictable as they were every Sunday in their recent 0-16 season, the lowly Lions made sure there was minimal drama at the top of yesterday's NFL draft after coming to terms with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford late Friday night.

Four picks later, the New York Jets brought life back into the party at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall, however. Trading up a dozen spots to get the fifth pick from Cleveland, the Jets selected USC quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Suddenly, a crop many believed to be weak at the game's marquee position had two gone in the top five. Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman made it three in the first round when Tampa Bay traded up to get him at No. 17.

"I get a chance to play for a great organization, I'm excited," Stafford said moments after taking the stage to make the top pick official.

A great organization is debatable, obviously, but equally so, money isn't an issue.

Stafford signed a contract worth a whopping $41.7 million US guaranteed and a maximum value of $78 million over six years. That deal will make owners around the league cringe and surely will be the impetus for change when negotiations get cooking for the next collective bargaining agreement.

To put the cash into perspective, Stafford's guaranteed take is more than double the $20 million Eli Manning procured from the New York Giants five years ago when he was the first overall choice.

Apparently teams can't help themselves when it comes to the appeal of quarterbacks, even if their records hint at ordinary. Adding to the attraction of Stafford, Sanchez and Freeman was the fact that rookie QBs Matt Ryan (Atlanta) and Joe Flacco (Baltimore) each started and had success this past season.

It's difficult to say a team with the No. 1 pick is cursed, but the Lions were stuck in a no-win situation this spring having to pay big money for a big risk. Apparently the auto industry hasn't completely decimated the Ford family, which owns the woeful franchise. They can't afford many more lemons on the football field, however.

"We feel we have a young guy that can lead us," the man on the hot seat, Lions GM Martin Mayhew, said. "Now it's up to us to develop him and get good players around him."

As a junior with only three years at Georgia, Stafford may well need some time to develop. But scouts were taken with his arm strength and the Lions were among the most impressed.

The Jets' move to get Sanchez certainly was the stunner of the opening round. Though interest rocketed in the Trojan in recent weeks, he played only 16 games in his abbreviated college career.

That said, it was a spectacular season under USC (and former Jets) coach Pete Carroll, who favours a pro-style offence. Sanchez threw for 3,207 yards and 34 touchdowns with a nifty 65.8 completion percentage.

"It's exactly the right place for me," said Sanchez, who many analysts feel was the safest quarterback prospect. "It's where I wanted to be."

The Jets had to do some dealing to get him, sending the No. 17 and No. 52 picks to the Browns as well as safety Abram Elam, defensive end Kenyon Coleman and quarterback Brent Ratliff.

The other big (and expected) development early in the opening round was the run on offensive linemen as teams tired of having their quarterbacks beaten up made moves to protect them. It started at No. 2 where the St. Louis Rams opted for Jason Smith to help keep Marc Bulger safe.

Four spots later, the Bengals took Andre Smith, much to the relief of quarterback Carson Palmer, and at No. 8, Jacksonville snagged Eugene Monroe.

Not all believed in the quality at the top of the draft, however. The Patriots twice dealt their first pick, eventually getting out of the first round completely.

No suspense for these guys. And far less expense.


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