Beware of using the No. 1 pick as consolation

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
The masses have spoken. Or, at least, the vocal minority. Danny of Minneapolis is requesting a moratorium on Jay Cutler posts. So is Chicago via Detroit, and who knows how many others.

Fair enough. I can't promise we'll never discuss Cutler again. And I realize that what follows is tangentially related. But it's probably better that we make a gradual transition.

In the wake of the trade, it seems that many observers are jumping to the conclusion that Detroit is now more likely than ever to draft Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick. The Lions were among a handful of teams that investigated a trade; Cutler's arrival in Chicago leaves the Lions with a depth chart that includes Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton and Drew Henson.

The Lions still need a quarterback and might well draft Stafford. But for their sake, I hope it's not because they lost out on Cutler. You can only hope it's because they have independently determined that Stafford can be their franchise quarterback. Otherwise, they would be reaching into the dangerous waters of need-based drafting.

I'll be writing more on this topic later in the week, but in general the Lions should avoid settling on Stafford simply because he's the best quarterback in the draft. In itself, that's not an adequate qualification for being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft -- not when that position mandates the player becoming one of the highest-paid players in NFL history.

I think the Lions are keenly aware of this distinction, at least based on coach Jim Schwartz's comments last month at the NFL owners' meeting. Schwartz said there should be no existing concerns about a player drafted No. 1.

Schwartz: "If the player fails to jump through any of those hoops, so to speak, you're not going to be comfortable. Particularly at No. 1, you need to be comfortable with everything about that player. When you draft a player in the seventh round, you can overlook some things. Now you're saying, 'What positives does he have? OK, well, he might not have this, but he does have this. OK, we can take him.' Maybe third round, fourth round, those kind of picks. When you're talking about the No. 1 pick, you better be comfortable with every facet."

I tend to view the Lions' pursuit of Cutler on a parallel track from their draft preparations. A rare opportunity presented itself for a team with no long-term answer at quarterback. Obviously, Detroit wouldn't have drafted Stafford had it acquired Cutler -- for one thing, it wouldn't have had the No. 1 pick -- but I suggest caution in viewing the situation as an "either-or."

The Lions weren't necessarily going to trade for Cutler or draft Stafford. If anything, their inquiries about Cutler could represent some lingering questions about their draft options. Ultimately, however, you have to hope the Lions don't draft Stafford simply as a reaction. You hope it's because they're independently convinced.