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Ask Vic: Lions need to draft quarterback of the future now

Question: I have seen the Lions draft Chuck Long, Andre Ware and Joey Harrington. They were all flops. How much better than any of those quarterbacks is Matt Stafford of Georgia? Rather than take him with the top overall choice, I think the Lions should draft a left offensive tackle. I don't even believe they should take a quarterback, such as Josh Freeman of Kansas State, with the 20th overall pick. Daunte Culpepper can last a couple of years until someone comes along that the Lions can bring along slowly. What are your thoughts? -- Phillip O., Plant City, Fla.

Mayock's rankings

Mike Mayock is fired up for the 2009 NFL Draft. Check out his position-by-position rankings to find out where players such as USC QB Mark Sanchez stack up. Mayock's rankings ...

I have no idea whether Stafford will prove to be a better NFL quarterback than Long, Ware or Harrington. However, I don't think you should automatically write him off as a failure simply because the Lions are in a position to select him with their first pick and their previous first-pick quarterbacks failed.

I do think the Lions have to come out of this draft with a quarterback. Even if, as you say, they can get by for a couple of years with Culpepper -- and that is hardly something I'd be willing to take to the bank -- they must begin the process of developing a franchise quarterback right away. The new people in charge of the Lions' draft understand that this is a quarterback-driven league, and until they get that position right, they will continue to be a bottom-dweller. Despite his defensive background, new coach Jim Schwartz understands that as well. There are some good offensive tackles who will be selected within the first few picks, but I'm not convinced that selecting one of them makes more sense than taking a franchise quarterback.

And the Lions' franchise quarterback could very well end up being Stafford. He has a strong, accurate arm. He shows good poise in the pocket. He reads defenses well.

This draft's quarterback crop is not particularly deep. For now, the only other player at the position who appears worthy of first-round consideration is USC's Mark Sanchez, who is not likely to be available at the 20th spot. If the Lions don't have a conviction on Stafford and aren't able to trade their way into a place where they could land Sanchez, they could consider Freeman at a later point. I also think they'll take a hard look at the free-agent market for a quarterback.

As for the draft, my sense of how the top five shapes up before the scouting combine is as follows: Lions (Stafford), Rams (Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia), Chiefs (Everette Brown, DE, Florida State), Seahawks (Andre Smith, OT, Alabama), and Browns (Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest).

Question: So what is next for Byron Leftwich? Sure, he got a Super Bowl ring with Pittsburgh but not in the role he wanted. Can he start somewhere else? I'm pretty sure the Steelers won't be able to afford to keep him as a backup quarterback, but that would be great if they could. -- Jason, Altoona, Pa.

From everything I've seen and based on what I've heard from folks around the league, Leftwich ranks among the better quarterbacks likely to hit the free-agent market. I definitely see him winding up as a starter for another team in 2009.

Leftwich did wonders for his stock with his strong relief performance after Ben Roethlisberger was injured against Washington. Being a backup also has helped Leftwich's development tremendously because it gave him a new perspective on his career. The task of trying to earn his way back to a starting job forced him to become a better student of the game.

Leftwich has thrived from playing for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, telling me a few days before Super Bowl XLIII, "Mike Tomlin challenges you every day. He makes it fun to come to work every day." That refreshed approach should serve Leftwich well with his new team.

Question: Is it likely that Ray Lewis will test the free-agent market this year given there is no current offer on the table from the Ravens and no apparent progress being made to re-sign him? What teams do you feel would be interested in acquiring Ray for this upcoming season? I have heard that Dallas could be a possible landing spot. How credible is that rumor? -- Matt K., Baltimore

John Harbaugh, the Ravens' coach, is on record as saying that team owner Steve Bisciotti is prepared to spend a great deal of money to retain Lewis. How much that is and, more importantly, how much Lewis will demand to stay in Baltimore remains to be seen.

The fact is, when a player gets this close to reaching the free-agent market without a deal from his current team, the chances of him departing tend to be better than his chances of staying put. But I would not rule out the Ravens making a strong effort to keep Lewis because they realize how important he is to their ability to remain a contender. They also have a couple of other linebackers heading to free agency to consider -- Terrell Suggs, their best pass-rusher, and Lewis' partner inside, Bart Scott.

My sense is that the Ravens will make every effort to keep Lewis and Suggs but are likely to say goodbye to Scott, whose absence would be felt. And if the Ravens are only able to keep one of the three, Suggs figures to be that player because he has more productive years ahead.

The Cowboys could take a run at Lewis. I also would expect the Jets and their new coach, former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, to be in the mix as well for Lewis, Suggs and Scott. At least one of them is likely to be reunited with Ryan in New York.

Question: The Texans have had their share of draft disasters, but shouldn't we give them some props for the Mario Williams pick? They were so maligned for passing on Vince Young and Reggie Bush, but with one seemingly incapable of taking the field and the other having really been no more than a role player -- although admittedly a very talented one -- aren't Williams' 26 sacks in two years making him look rather good as a value? He has quietly established himself as an elite pass rusher, which is definitely worth a No. 1 pick, and should stay that way for years. What do you think? --Arthur, United Kingdom

I absolutely agree with your points on Williams. His performance does, indeed, provide sweet vindication for the Texans and especially for their former general manager, Charley Casserly. Casserly had it right when so many of us -- including yours truly, who thought Bush should have been the guy -- were so wrong.

Williams might not be big on flash, but so what? He has been a steadily improving, consistent force. The Texans look to be a team on the rise, and Williams should continue to be an integral part of their emergence as a playoff contender, which I suspect will be during the '09 season.

Question: I have been coming to the Pro Bowl for the last seven years. It is a perfect mixture of paradise with America's favorite sport -- a place to bring the family on vacation while watching the league's best athletes at their positions. How could the NFL move this game back to the mainland? I know money talks, but I can't imagine the players are thrilled with this decision. Hawaii offers NFL players the chance to bring their entire family on a relaxed vacation. I also don't understand why they would play this game the week before the Super Bowl. Although I am just a fan of both Hawaii and the NFL, I hope that the NFL realizes that Hawaii is the only place to play this relaxed game. -- Tyler T.

First, the NFL, based on comments from commissioner Roger Goodell and conversations I've had with other league officials, does see Hawaii as a wonderful site for the Pro Bowl. The NFL would like to have the game return there, perhaps as soon as 2011, and include it as part of a site rotation.

But I agree with the efforts being made to try and make the game more relevant. Staging it in Miami, a week before Super Bowl XLIV, offers some obvious advantages, the biggest of which is a dramatic increase in media coverage. The commissioner is especially interested in seeing whether scheduling the game at a time when football is still a primary thought among fans -- as opposed to being an afterthought, which is the case a week after the Super Bowl -- will cause any appreciable increase in television ratings.

Members of the Super Bowl teams selected to the game won't be able to participate, but that does not necessarily represent a large number of players. I've heard questions have been raised about whether players who took part in the conference championship games from the week before would play in the Pro Bowl. However, as the commissioner pointed out, if Super Bowl players were able to take part in the Pro Bowl one week after playing, the same should be true for conference championship participants.

Several players at the last Pro Bowl were outspoken about wanting the game to remain permanently in Hawaii. They don't see playing anywhere on the mainland as a reward for being an all-star selection. If this attitude should translate into a decline in participation, then that could pose a problem and perhaps force the league to rethink the whole idea of staging the Pro Bowl.

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