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GM Mayhew confident Lions will have No. 1 pick signed before draft

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions are avoiding even subtle hints about who they will take No. 1 overall.

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, though, said Tuesday the chances were "very good" an agreement will be reached with a player to be determined before the NFL draft.

"We plan on getting something done prior to making that selection," he said.

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Mayhew declined to say much else during a news conference with just under 100 hours left on the clock before the first pick is made Saturday.

"I hope nobody is expecting anything earth-shattering," he said in his opening comments.

Mayhew acknowledged the list of candidates has narrowed, but he wouldn't talk about specific players when he was asked a general question about Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Detroit is expected to draft Stafford, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry or Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith with the No. 1 pick, hoping one of the college stars will help turn around the NFL's first 0-16 team.

Messages seeking comment were left with agents for Stafford, Curry and Smith. Smith's and Stafford's representatives work for the same company.

Smith said during a conference call from Waco, Texas, that he's focusing on football and letting his agent handle negotiations.

Stafford has made it clear he hopes to play in Detroit.

"I think it'd be an honor to be able to be picked No. 1," Stafford said last month after his pro day in Georgia. "And also, I want to get a chance to turn something around. It'd be a heck of a place for me to be able to go."

Mayhew said there has been some "moderate interest" from other teams seeking a trade for the No. 1 pick, but reiterated that it's not an attractive slot because of the requisite contract demands.

"I think the system is broken," Mayhew said. "The idea, I believe, was to have teams who hadn't been as successful have an opportunity to get better by picking first. Now, if you miss at that pick, or you miss early, which we have, it really sets you back even more."

The Lions are 31-97 since 2001 -- the worst eight-year stretch by an NFL team since World War II -- in large part because the Matt Millen-led front office drafted busts: QB Joey Harrington, WRs Charles Rogers and Mike Williams.

Whomever Detroit decides to make the first pick of the post-Millen era, the franchise will have to guarantee $30-plus million in a contract with that player.

"It's very complex," Mayhew said. "That's another reason to try and get something done earlier."

Two of the last three No. 1 picks -- Miami's Jake Long and Houston's Mario Williams -- had contracts before they were drafted, and seven of the last eight were signed by July at the latest.

The exception was JaMarcus Russell, who didn't join the Oakland Raiders until September in what was the longest holdout by a top pick since 1986 when Bo Jackson chose to play baseball instead of signing with Tampa Bay.

Mayhew sees only positives in getting a deal done before the draft.

"Then you know that you have that player throughout the entire offseason," he said. "You don't have a contentious situation with the player. You don't have a holdout."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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