Hot-topic issues on the minds of those at NFL Annual Meeting

DANA POINT, Calif. -- I arrived here early Sunday afternoon for the NFL Annual Meeting and got through the lobby of the St. Regis Hotel as quickly as possible and into a quiet corner where I could talk about the football issues on the minds of some of the general managers and coaches.

We talked until 5:30 p.m., when it was time to hear former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talk to all in attendance. She was so impressive discussing her thoughts on the nation, international issues and, of course, her love of football. Commissioner Roger Goodell introduced her as the person who wanted his job, which drew a good laugh from the crowd. She responded with a statement about when she was dealing with issues in the Middle East, Russia and other hot spots around the world, the job of NFL commissioner looked pretty good. That drew further applause. She was very impressive and the perfect kickoff to a week of serious football talks.

Here's a look at some of the football topics discussed on the opening day. I was glad I brought along CDs of many of the interviews Tim Ryan and I have done with the draft-eligible players for the football people to take home with them and listen to if they so desired.

1. The three first-round QBs

It is clear as teams start to de-emphasize free agency that draft conversation is taking center stage, and that means the three quarterbacks atop the draft boards were a hot topic. It was good that I had a chance to interview all three in the past 10 days and share some thoughts about each one.

Josh Freeman was very confident when he joined us on "Movin' The Chains" on Sirius NFL Radio and believes he is ready to lead a team with his big cannon arm. There's no doubt he has impressed the people I talked with in Dana Point, and is under serious consideration somewhere in the middle of the first round.

There is a lot of buzz surrounding Mark Sanchez at the owners meetings. At least three teams are scheduling some time alone with him while they are here in California. With his pro day scheduled for April 1, teams want to get in another interview with him and possibly set up a private workout.

I had the opportunity to talk to Sanchez last week and was very impressed with his ability to attack any issue I presented, whether it was his lack of starting experience or the Oregon State game, which may have cost his team a chance at the national championship. His ability to accept blame in the loss and what he did at halftime to fix problems was impressive, and I suspect when he meets with teams in the next few days they too will walk away impressed. It sounds more and more like he will be a top-10 pick.

Matthew Stafford may very well be the first pick in the draft, even though I still have Eugene Monroe atop my latest mock draft, which means nothing.

Two general managers in Dana Point said that when all is said and done, the Lions have to take the quarterback. I'm not so sure yet, but I am inching closer to agreeing with them, especially after talking with Stafford at the end of the week. I asked him about his three bad throws at his pro day, and he quickly analyzed the throws and what he did to self-correct the problem. This tells me that Stafford understands his mechanics and fixes a problem right on the game field, a place where he can't get any coaching.

We also discussed the ugly first half Stafford played against Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl, which I watched closely before we spoke. Stafford admitted he put too much pressure on himself going into the game, especially when he knew deep down inside that he was leaving school after the game. He went to the locker room at halftime and regained his composure. That's a trait every team wants from its quarterback.

As usual, the first-round quarterbacks are starting to make their move up the draft boards and the owners meetings are just proof that they are one of the hot topics at the St. Regis Hotel.

2. Free agency was a quicker, shorter flash

One general manager said that he was concerned about the $41 million guaranteed that Albert Haynesworth received from Washington, but he was glad to see free-agent prices simmer down after one week.

I asked him why the quick drop-off, and it was his opinion that many teams locked up their good players leading up to free agency. There were also a number of teams that finally learned the lessons of foolish spending from years past. I revisited the Haynesworth deal and the general manager did feel there would be a ripple effect of that guaranteed money on future high-profile players. The effects of the Haynesworth deal may be felt for years to come.

Of course, a lot rests on how Haynesworth plays in 2009. If he plays well, a number of players will work off the deal. If he plays poorly, it will restrict big money down the road out of fear it was money wasted.

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3. Drama in Denver

Wherever I turned, it was easy to get an opinion on the Jay Cutler situation in Denver. On the subject of whether or not Cutler would get traded, I would say the answers were split 50-50. As one coach said, "There are at least five teams that need him right away and another seven teams that will need him shortly and can't wait because a guy like Cutler doesn't come along that often."

Teams that need him aren't going to talk at all, but teams that don't need him because of their own good fortunes at quarterback can't believe he's really available. I wrote about Cutler last week and what his value might be based on his production, age and contract. When you factor in that the Broncos would need to come out of any transaction with a quarterback and high draft compensation, it really gets down to just a few teams that could pull the trigger.

I'm sure I will have more to say about Cutler by the end of the week. What if the Broncos really liked one of the rookie quarterbacks? What if a third team, such as Cleveland, got in the mix? What if a team with a veteran quarterback would put him in the deal along with their first-round pick?

Stay tuned as the meetings get under way and I get a chance to sit down with Falcons president Rich McKay to discuss the Competition Committee proposals. We will also get a better idea of where the CBA negotiations are headed in the next few months.

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