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Heavy gamesmanship atop the 2009 draft

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
I suppose there are several ways to read into the headline quote from Detroit's pre-draft news conference Tuesday afternoon. I choose none of the above.

Curry Stafford Smith
To review: General manager Martin Mayhew told reporters there is a "very good" chance the Lions will have their No. 1 pick signed before the start of Saturday's NFL draft. You'd probably be remiss in considering the statement a reflection on how well negotiations are going. In reality, I don't think Mayhew could have said anything else if he wants each player's agent to believe he is serious about having a contract done -- with someone -- by Saturday.

Based on all indications, the Lions are trying to sign Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford. Their primary leverage in those talks is insisting they will move on to Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, or possibly Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, if they can't agree to terms with Stafford before Saturday afternoon. That insistence places a time demand on Stafford to accept Detroit's best offer, which theoretically would be higher than what he would get if the Lions passed and another team drafted him at a lower spot.

If Mayhew were less optimistic with his public statements, Stafford might assume the Lions would push beyond their self-imposed deadline and draft him without agreeing to a contract. If that seems like a possibility, Stafford and his agent could just sit tight and wait for the Lions to break and draft him anyway. Once that happens, Stafford would be locked into the No. 1 financial slot in the draft.

So by saying there is a "very good" chance they'll have a contract by Saturday, Mayhew is really saying there is a "very good" chance he'll have a deal -- with somebody. If it's not with Stafford, it will be with Curry or Smith.

The Lions seem to want Stafford. The critical moment, that undetermined time when they must reach an agreement or move on, will come soon enough. For now, we're still in gamesmanship mode.

For those interested in some of Mayhew's other comments, here is a partial transcript of the news conference, courtesy Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.