By all accounts, the deadline for a signed deal is tonight. When we wake up tomorrow morning, either Matt Stafford or Aaron Curry is going to be the cornerstone of the Detroit Lions for at least the next few years. Here's a hint: it's going to be Stafford.
Peter King (@SI_Peterking) tweeted yesterday around nine A.M. that the Lions and Stafford weren't anywhere close--but that a deal "has to" get done. I'm hearing that safe refrain echoed all over, that the Lions want Stafford and Stafford wants the Lions and it all just makes way too much sense. That if the Lions really do believe that Stafford is a franchise quarterback, they can't possibly let it come down to money. That they can't bring in Aaron Curry and tell him "you're our man", when Curry knows Stafford was really their man. That they can't pass on the guy who'll turn fifty years of rotten quarterbacking around. That they can't play safe; can't play "not to win". That they can't meekly lay down a sac bunt when they're down 0-16 . . .
. . . and of course, it's all true. I've said before, if the Lions really think that Stafford is a can't-miss franchise quarterback, then they absolutely have to take him. There's also no doubt that this year is the perfect year to take a quarterback; if the Lions even win a single game, they literally will be infinitely better than last season! There will be no expectations, and therefore little pressure. Given a year or two to groom, a year or two to get comfortable, a year or two to mature and grow, a year or two for even more pieces to be put around him, Matt Stafford could indeed be the next Troy Aikman or Peyton Manning. Were it not for the state of the Lions' defense, and the singular character and quality of Aaron Curry, I'd feel a lot better about it . . . and if it weren't for Stafford's percieved accuracy, poise, and production issues in college, I'd feel great about it.
And what of Aaron Curry? It's undeniable that he brings a multitude of incredible qualities to the table: sterling character, protoypical size, breathtaking speed. The ability to drop back into coverage, roam the field like a safety, and run back picks for touchdowns. The ability to man up on a recieving tight end, and take him completely out of the equation. The ability to put a hand down, and come flying around the corner (he didn't do it often, but YouTube proves he can do it) . . . a wealth of seemingly contradictory skills, all rolled up into one. The problem is that the Lions aren't going to use any of those skills. Jim Schwartz put it thus:
"We're going to need a big thumper," Schwartz said. "I mean, a strong thumper in the middle for base defense. We're talking -- I don't want to put height and weights -- but a big, strong, physical player that can play between the tackles and that can take on offensive guards, even though (the linebacker) is being outweighed by almost 100 pounds on some occasions."
Can Aaron Curry be that thumper? Yes, of course. But the premium the Lions would pay for Curry--we're talking eight figures, guaranteed--over, say, USC's Rey Maualuga, would be buying them all that other wonderful stuff that Curry can do, but wouldn't be doing for the Lions. In fact, let's look a little harder at Rey-Rey. Standing at 6'-3", 260#, he's just a little bit bigger than Curry (6'-1", 254#). While he didn't get a clean 40 off at the combine, thanks to a pulled hamstring, scouts timed Maualuga in the low 4.6 range at his Pro Day. Maualuga also turned in short shuttle times around 4.25, which puts him right up with the very best. Many Lions fans have cited the National Football Posts's famous article on short shuttle time being a key indicator of a middle linebacker's success in the NFL; Maualuga clearly shines in that department. All told, Maualuga boasts a little bit more size, slightly shiftier hips, and all his college experience being at Mike, over Aaron Curry. LA Times columnist Sam Farmer tweeted with me a bit yesterday about Maualuga; I offered to lay a dollar that Maualuga doesn't slip past the Lions at 1.20, and he said he wouldn't take the bet--because he agrees with me. Honestly, is Curry's dedication to public service worth an extra twenty million dollars over a player who might even be a better pure MLB from day one?
Okay, okay--no, probably not. If I'm answering the question honestly; if I'm using my head and not my heart, no. Matt Stafford and Rey Maualuga would be infinitely better than Aaron Curry and any quarterback that might be available at 1.20 or later. Will I always pine for Aaron Curry, just like I pine for Patrick Willis and Demarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman and every other monster defender that the Lions have passed up during the Millen era? Yes, absolutely. If Matt Stafford is the next great quarterback in the NFL, will it be worth it?
Er, yes. Yes. I meant "yes".