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Seahawks keep tabs on Stafford

The Detroit Lions had their socks blown off by him during a private workout three weeks ago.

The St. Louis Rams have an aging quarterback with a salary that will balloon to $10.5 million in 2010.

And the Kansas City Chiefs are tired of picking up quarterbacks off the scrap heap left from others.

And so it appears that Matthew Stafford, the University of Georgia quarterback and soon-to-be first-round draft pick, will be selected by one of the first three teams that get a shot at him at next weekend’s NFL draft.

But if the strong-armed slinger happens to slip? Don’t be surprised if the Seattle Seahawks jump at the opportunity to take Matt Hasselbeck’s eventual successor at No. 4.

While not all of the so-called experts are convinced that Stafford can be a Pro Bowl player, the consensus is that he’s the top signal-caller in this year’s draft. Stafford and USC’s Mark Sanchez are expected to be the only two high draft picks from a thin group of quarterbacks in the Class of 2009.

So what makes Stafford the most highly regarded quarterback – if not player – on most draft boards?

“Rare arm strength,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in a conference call with reporters last month. “Elite arm strength is rare, and this kid has it.”

The Lions are so smitten with Stafford that they reportedly started preliminary contract negotiations with him last week, along with Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry and Baylor tackle Jason Smith.

Should Stafford slide past Detroit, St. Louis and Kansas City, the Seahawks would undoubtedly be flooded with phone calls from prospective trade partners. But with an aging quarterback – Hasselbeck will turn 34 in September and is coming off a season marred by back problems – and a new head coach in Jim Mora, Seattle might be looking at the No. 4 overall pick as an opportunity to build for the future.

The Seahawks’ history of quarterbacks is more about finding diamonds in the rough than top-end draft picks. Seattle acquired Hasselbeck from Green Bay, swapping first-round picks with the Packers and adding a third-round pick to acquire a player who had never before started an NFL game. Dave Krieg and Jon Kitna were undrafted free agents, while Jim Zorn was signed off the street after spending one season as a Dallas Cowboys backup.

For the first time in a long time – Seattle hasn’t chosen this high since taking cornerback Shawn Springs No. 3 overall in 1997 – the Seahawks are in position to add a franchise quarterback to the mix.

Stafford seems to fit that profile more than any other quarterback in this year’s class, so the Seahawks might not mind seeing three teams pass on him.

Just don’t bet on that happening.

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