NEW ORLEANS -- As is the case every year, the NFL Annual Meeting is a great place to catch up with owners, general managers and head coaches to talk football. Although labor unrest is the dominating storyline here, there has still been plenty of time to talk about the game.
Here are some topics of conversation I've discussed with folks around the league:
The quarterback trade
What is starting to become clear in New Orleans is that there are real question marks about this draft class of quarterbacks. As one head coach in need of a quarterback said to me, "I don't really like the college kids knowing I have to put (one of them) on the field early. They all look too raw."
That sentiment is a popular one. As a result, many coaches are looking at the potential trade market -- whenever the trade period opens -- as a better option, which means teams with a quarterback to trade know the price has gone up.
The Eagles' situation with Kevin Kolb is a good example. Consider that the Falcons swapped first-round picks and received two second-round picks when they traded Matt Schaub to the Texans in 2007. I asked one general manager, if that trade had a value of just over 1100 points on the trade chart, what would Kolb cost? He said "more." If Kolb's value is around 1200 points, that means the Eagles will ask for -- and probably get -- anywhere from the 12th pick in the first round to a package that would equal a late first-round pick plus future second- and third-round picks.
If the Bengals take a quarterback with the fourth overall pick, the compensation they could acquire for Carson Palmer might be too good to pass up, no matter what the organization is saying right now.
Sitting in limbo
I was in the main lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel chatting with a general manager for a while about how he is handling his business of managing personnel. His response?
"We are in a state of limbo, but we are ready on the pro front as well as the draft, I think," he said.
A head coach currently dealing with a few player issues off the field chimed in that he felt like he was in a state of limbo since he wasn't allowed to reach out and talk with players who might be facing some real problems. The period between June and early July has always been when coaches worry most about their players' off-the-field issues because it's unstructured time, which makes it ripe for issues to pop up. A few head coaches said it felt a little like that time of year now, with the players not at team facilities for offseason programs.
Doing things backwards?
Colts president Bill Polian remembers the days when there was no free agency and the draft was the way to shore up team needs. But most decision makers in today's NFL have always resolved their issues through free agency first, acquiring new veterans and/or re-signing their own players before looking to the draft. There's a good chance that won't be the case this year due to the lockout, which would really change how teams draft.
As one GM said, "If the draft comes first and eight teams take a defensive end in the first round, it is really going to lower the price for any good free agent defensive ends looking for a big pay day."
The first two rounds of the draft will take a number of teams right out of the free-agent market for the positions they selected. Of course, as one GM said, "The draft looks like a weak class for safeties and inside linebackers, so maybe those free agents will actually do better after the draft."
We'll see how it all shakes out, but right now it is uncharted waters for every team.
The importance of 30
Every team is allowed to bring in 30 draftable players prior to the draft, but it's clear that teams don't simply bring in the best 30 players on their draft board.
"We bring in guys from all over the draft, some first-round types, mid-round, as well as late-round guys," Rams general manager Billy Devaney said.
Some teams bring in prospects to re-interview over character issues, some to learn more about their football knowledge and some over medical concerns. The one thing that is clear this week, with little to no action at team facilities, is that there is more interest in team's list of 30 than ever before.
Wage scale could change everything
No one knows what the eventual collective bargaining agreement will look like, but there is some real concern among teams about drafting a quarterback high in the first round and the potential of only getting to sign him to a four-year contract -- if there is a rookie wage scale -- instead of the five- or six-year deals of years past.
As one coach said, "Sometimes a guy doesn't even get on the field in his first few years, and there's not enough information to franchise tag him or let him go. Teams will probably rush quarterbacks on the field to find out, and that's not a good thing."