NEW ORLEANS -- Dispatches from the coaches Tuesday media breakfast at the NFL's annual meeting, during which, lo and behold, some actual football talk transpired....
• From my vantage point I couldn't quite see whether Pete Carroll wore a cat-ate-the-canary look on his face when he heard the question. But when a Philadelphia-based reporter inquired whether his Seahawks have had conversations with the Eagles regarding a trade for quarterback Kevin Kolb, you could almost hear Carroll's brain whirling as he very carefully chose his words.
"There's no conversations going on,'' said Carroll, perhaps notably dropping into present tense. "Not what you want. I talk to [Eagles head coach] Andy [Reid] a lot. I like Andy a lot.''
And my sense is Carroll likes Kolb a lot, too. According to SI's Peter King, the Eagles reportedly have already been offered a first-round pick by one interested team, and Seattle is certainly among the leading suspects. The Seahawks tried trading for an unproven quarterback of the future last offseason with the Charlie Whitehurst deal, and given the move wasn't exactly a smashing success, it stands to reason they have Kolb in their sights. Especially if they don't wind up having to surrender 2011 draft picks for him, but instead get to pay the bill for the move in 2012, should the lockout linger past draft day.
"It's good that people think that,'' Carroll said, of the rumors linking No. 25 Seattle to Kolb. "Because every opportunity that's available, we investigate. We want to [take] every opportunity, and that's one that's been out there. They've said he's a guy they would possibly move. So those kind of discussions, it doesn't matter where it's coming from, we're trying to be privy to all of it. We just want to know what's going on.''
Not exactly a flat denial of interest, wouldn't you say? Especially when Carroll followed that up by extolling the attractiveness of trading for a young veteran whose limited playing experience came in Philadelphia.
"Anybody who comes through Andy's program has been through a great system, with great coaching and leadership and direction and all of that,'' Carroll said. "And that adds to the value of the player, rather than [getting] a guy who's coming fresh out of college.''
Seattle is likely to have competition for Kolb, of course. Minnesota, Arizona, San Francisco and Tennessee all make some sense. But for now, I'm leaving my buck on the Seahawks and Carroll being the most aggressive pursuer. Making the bold move has certainly been Carroll's track record during his brief Seattle tenure.
• I spent a good chunk of time at Chan Gailey's table, and while I still don't know for sure if the Bills will go quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick (I believe they will), I am certain Gailey is more than sold on both Cam Newton's and Blaine Gabbert's NFL prospects.
"I can tell you right now there's no question they have an outstanding skill set, both of them,'' Gailey said, when I asked him if he had determined whether Newton and Gabbert were capable of playing and playing early in the NFL. "Outstanding. Not average. Not above average. Outstanding. Both of them [will] play early and long. I knew that after I watched them on tape.''
OK, juxtapose that with Gailey in the next breath talking about how he believes he can win "a bunch of football games'' and even "a championship'' with current Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and it's clear the Bills head coach is sending some mixed signals. But while Gailey really likes Fitzpatrick, I think he knows his team could potentially draft a special player at No. 3, and it's not a chance he's likely to pass up.
"Anytime you have an opportunity to get a franchise guy, a guy you think can take you to the Super Bowl for 10-12 years, you've got to take a long hard look at that guy,'' Gailey said. "If you believe that, and you've got to believe that in your heart of hearts, you got to make that thing happen. And if you don't, where we sit right now is we've got Ryan, who we really believe in and really trust.''
After hearing Gailey gush over Newton and Gabbert, I have to believe he thinks one of them, or maybe both, have a chance of being franchise guys over the long haul in the NFL. If Gailey follows his own advice, it sounds like quarterback will be the pick in the third spot.
• Newton and Gabbert have another potentially important fan in new 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. The ex-Stanford coach and onetime NFL quarterback said of Newton: "That's plutonium-grade raw material right there. He's as good as anybody who probably came out in 10 years.''
Harbaugh, whose club owns the No. 7 pick, didn't quite go to the same lengths to praise Gabbert, but it was close. He called Gabbert's pro day workout at Missouri last week "dazzling,'' and raved about how both spread-offense quarterbacks had quickly adapted to the footwork required in a pro-style, under-center offense.
"I've been impressed watching the guys that I've watched taking snaps from under center,'' Harbaugh said. "Even though they haven't done that [in college], they can do it. These guys coming out in this draft can do that.
"There's so much good to see off the tape. The wins, the ability to throw the ball. Those guys we're talking about can power a ball through a defense. And the athleticism is so important. I put that as the No. 1 criteria for a quarterback, those athletic instincts.''
• Continuing the emphasis on the first round of the draft, and in particular, the top-rated quarterbacks, I peppered new Carolina head coach Ron Rivera with questions about Gabbert, who the Panthers visited in Missouri on Saturday. I still have Carolina taking Gabbert first overall in my latest mock draft, but plenty of folks think the Panthers will wind up in Newton's camp, or perhaps select a defensive lineman. Spoiler alert for my 4.0 mock: I'm sticking with Gabbert, especially after listening to Rivera on Tuesday.
"He was exciting,'' Rivera said of Gabbert. "A good-sized guy with a good arm, good touch, good footwork. And he had good presence. That's probably the greatest thing I remember, was his presence. We went to dinner with him, then had an opportunity to visit with him on the board and in the classroom. He had a pretty relaxed way about him. He was confident.''
Rivera said Carolina is still considering "about eight guys'' for the No. 1 pick, but that sounds a bit high this late in an admittedly unusual draft season. The Panthers are "about 60 percent'' through the scouting process, Rivera said, but are still a week to 10 days away from starting to conduct visits in Charlotte with all of their top prospects.
It sounds like Rivera and Carolina have already worked through the issues regarding Newton's and Gabbert's experience in the spread offense, and they're not scared of drafting a quarterback who did almost all of his collegiate work in the shotgun formation.
"The thing people have got to realize is, if you watched the Super Bowl and you watched the way Aaron Rodgers played and the way Ben Roethlisberger played, yeah they were under center, but they were in the shotgun for a lot too,'' Rivera said. "You can sit there and do that with almost all the quarterbacks in the league. So it's not like he's going to go from being in the shotgun to now he's going to be under center for 55 of the game's 60 plays. That's kind of an unfair depiction of what these guys can and can't do.''
• Once the league's head coaches got a hold of the kickoff rule change proposal that the competition committee introduced here, it was pretty clear that bringing touchbacks out to the 25-yard line wasn't going to fly. The coaches quickly pointed out that teams would find it almost irresistible to try to lob the ball inside the 5-yard line in an effort to pin return man deep, thus not bringing about the desired effect of more touchbacks and more player safety.
"Everybody was just going to try and hang the ball inside the 25 rather than just give them the touchback, and you'd probably end up with the return men taking even more contact than before,'' one head coach said. "It wasn't going to work the way they thought it would work.''
* Now that there's a little buzz about Alabama's Julio Jones perhaps leap-frogging Georgia's A.J. Green to be the first receiver selected, it's very possible that Green could be sitting there waiting for Cleveland at No. 6. New Browns head coach Pat Shurmur didn't sound like he would have any problem if that scenario unfolds. Finding a No. 1 receiver for second-year quarterback Colt McCoy has to rate high on the Browns' draft need list.
"We got to know him a little bit at the combine, and I think he's a fantastic kid and a great player,'' Shurmur said. "As we go forward here in the next few weeks, we'll get some more information, but I think he's an outstanding player. He's a good-looking guy.''
I asked almost every coach I talked to how many "elite'' players were in this year's first round, and Shurmur surmised that list could even extend beyond this year's top 10.
"You'd like to say it's beyond the top 10 picks, but elite for each team could [mean something] different,'' he said. "But I think at the No. 6 position we'll going to be able to draft a real fine player, an elite player. I think it's a pretty interesting place to pick. We'll have good choices there. There's a handful of guys who could be available and they're all very attractive.''
• Things tend to be fluid when it comes to the Arizona quarterback situation of late, but I don't foresee the No. 5 Cardinals targeting a passer in the first round. Arizona will go after Kolb in trade talks, but it won't be offering its 2011 first-round pick in exchange for a guy with minimal NFL starting experience. Especially not when the Cardinals could be in prime position to take Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller in the five slot.
If they don't get Kolb, the Cardinals will shift their focus to landing veteran Marc Bulger, who will be a free agent whenever free agency finally arrives. Bulger, who backed up Joe Flacco with a one-year deal in Baltimore last year, is said to still be deciding what he wants to do this season. He'd like to stay near St. Louis, where his wife is an eye doctor, if at all possible. Here's guessing the Cardinals could be very flexible in terms of his travel schedule if it helps motivate both sides to reach a deal.
• As you might have heard, the only NFL head coach to skip the league's annual media breakfast Tuesday was New England's Bill Belichick, who didn't exactly come across as apologetic for his faux pas.
"Sorry I missed you this morning,'' he said later to reporters. "Alarm clock just didn't go off.''
Belichick isn't the first coach to blow off the media breakfast at the annual meeting, but it was a fairly brazen back-of-the-hand gesture for a guy who hasn't won a playoff game in three years. And not to the media, as much as to the rest of his fellow head coaches, who all managed to drag themselves out of bed in time for the 7 a.m. breakfast.
• The last word: From Saints head coach Sean Payton, on whether his stature in New Orleans has taken a hit with the news that he and his family have bought a house in Dallas and moved there:
"You know, two losing seasons in a row and they, along with everyone else, are gonna help you move.''