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Detroit shakes up top of draft

Trade opens door for Lions to select Johnson or Quinn

Posted: Thursday March 1, 2007 8:07PM; Updated: Thursday March 1, 2007 8:07PM
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Conventional wisdom as it currently exists regarding the top of this year's NFL Draft took its first hit Thursday when the Detroit Lions agreed to a trade that will send cornerback Dre' Bly to Denver in exchange for running back Tatum Bell, offensive tackle George Foster and a fifth-round pick.

Why? Because once the deal is executed Friday, the first day of both free agency and the league's new fiscal year, the Lions will suddenly have the freedom to go in a number of directions with their No. 2 overall pick. The acquisition of Foster, who has started 45 games in the past three seasons, means Detroit isn't locked in on taking Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas, who has been the overwhelming early consensus for the Lions' selection.

With Foster at right tackle and veteran Jeff Backus on the left side, Detroit's offensive line is no longer its crying need, freeing general manager Matt Millen and head coach Rod Marinelli to pass on Thomas if they wish and address another position in the first round.

Though it might stun some given Detroit's recent draft history at the position, the focus might now shift to receiver, where the draft's best overall prospect -- Georgia Tech's gifted Calvin Johnson -- tantalizingly awaits. While Millen drafted a first-round receiver three consecutive seasons (Charles Rogers in 2003, Roy Williams in 2004 and Mike Williams in 2005), some believe the Lions will only continue their trend of making mistakes at that position if they pass on Johnson and his scary-good package of size, speed and strength.

Another option that now looks more plausible at No. 2 for the Lions is Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn, who could be groomed for a year behind Detroit starter Jon Kitna. Quinn's stock could be on the rise again after the Combine, where he reportedly impressed teams in his interview sessions and also ripped off an eye-opening 24 reps on the bench press.

This much is also clearer in light of the Detroit-Denver trade: Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson will not be the Lions' pick, given that Bell gives the Lions insurance at that position should starter Kevin Jones not return quickly enough in 2007 from the foot injury he suffered last year.

Around the league ...

• Despite continued speculation about Oakland and Green Bay having contact regarding a trade of disgruntled Raiders receiver Randy Moss, a source close to the situation said no team -- Green Bay included -- has called to inquire about Moss. There is no timetable driving any potential trade of Moss, the source said, because the Raiders don't owe Moss any offseason bonus of any kind. While Oakland is still thought to be open to moving Moss, any attempt to do is said to be in the "embryonic stages.''

• While Denver, Oakland and Tampa Bay are the teams most interested in pursuing free-agent quarterback Jeff Garcia, the Raiders would not be in position to pay him clear-cut starter money, given they likely will draft a quarterback with their first overall pick. Oakland is expected to offer Garcia a salary that splits the difference between backup and starter's money, reflecting what would likely be his one-year window of first-team opportunity.

Denver is likely in the same approximate ballpark in regards to Garcia's salary level, but Tampa Bay could be the wild card in any bidding. The Bucs re-signed Chris Simms at $5 million for 2007, and assured him he would begin the year as their starter. But Tampa Bay is thought to have some $20 million of available cap room at the start of free agency and has the wherewithal to give Garcia $5 million a season in a short-term deal.

• Where will the biggest of the free-agent names end up? Sources I talked to Thursday said not to discount linebacker Adalius Thomas winding up with New England -- despite an expected price tag that could approach $9 million per season. While many anticipate Thomas being reunited with former Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in San Francisco, some within the league said the 49ers won't necessarily make a strong push for him.

As for Buffalo cornerback Nate Clements, Tennessee is known to have both heavy interest and at least $20 million of cap room. The Titans are looking for a cornerback to replace Reynaldo Hill and play opposite Pacman Jones. Cleveland is thought to be another potential suitor for Clements.