NEW YORK – The Detroit Lions agreed to terms with Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford on a six-year, $78 million deal that includes an NFL-record $41.7 million guaranteed, sources told Yahoo! Sports on Friday. The deal represents the largest amount of guaranteed money for any player – rookie or veteran – in NFL history, exceeding the $41 million guaranteed that defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth received from Washington at the beginning of free agency this offseason.
Stafford and Haynesworth are the only players to top the $40 million guaranteed threshold.
Two sources confirmed that Stafford had agreed to terms with Detroit but had not yet signed the deal as of Friday night. The Lions had been intent on having the top pick signed in advance of Saturday’s NFL draft. They had reached an agreement with Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry earlier in the week as a contingency, according to published reports, but their intent all along was to select Stafford.
Stafford, 21, will be the ninth quarterback in the past 12 years to be selected No. 1 overall, and the 17th since the AFL and NFL established a combined draft in 1967. He threw for 3,459 yards and 25 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions in leading Georgia to a 10-3 record last season.
The Lions went an NFL-record 0-16 in 2008.
The Lions like Stafford as a fit in the offense under new coordinator Scott Linehan because of the quarterback's ability to throw deep. Linehan's offense calls for a strong running game to develop play action for deep passes. NFL personnel people say Stafford has the strongest arm in this year's draft.
The expectation is that Stafford will be a backup for one season to veteran Daunte Culpepper, who is under contract with Detroit for one more year as he continues his effort to revive his once successful career. The Lions also would like to upgrade their offensive line for Stafford once he becomes the starter. Stafford could become part of a strong combination with wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who was the No. 2 overall pick in 2006 and tallied 1,331 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Stafford's contract represents an increase of almost $7 million in guaranteed money over the six-year deal that last year's No. 3 overall pick Matt Ryan signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Ryan received $34.75 million in guarantees from Atlanta in a deal negotiated by agents Tom Condon and Ben Dogra, who also represent Stafford. That increase of roughly 20 percent in guarantees could lead to a $50 million guarantee for a high pick next year if this pace continues.
Under NFL rules, the St. Louis Rams – who hold the No. 2 overall pick – now are allowed to negotiate with players on a contract in advance of Saturday's draft. There were reports Friday night that the Rams intended to select USC quarterback Mark Sanchez with the pick and had given him a plane ticket to St. Louis, but two league sources said they considered the report a possible bluff by the Rams in hopes of getting a team such as the New York Jets or Washington Redskins to trade with them for the pick. Marc Bulger, who received a contract extension from St. Louis in 2007, is the Rams' incumbent starting quarterback. Bulger has thrown 22 touchdowns and 28 interceptions over the past two seasons combined after tossing 28 touchdowns to just eight interceptions in 2007.
The Rams, who fired Linehan as head coach early last season, won just two games in 2008. Sanchez threw for 3,207 yards, 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season for a USC team that finished the season 12-1.