On March 18, New England offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien flew to Fort Worth to work out TCU quarterback Andy Dalton.
On April 4, the Indianapolis braintrust -- GM Chris Polian, coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen -- flew south to work out Dalton.
Today, Dalton flew to New Orleans to spend the day with Saints coach Sean Payton and the Saints' staff.
Hmmm. Those are the employers of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. So the teams that employ the three best quarterbacks in football (I'll listen to your arguments if you want to include Aaron Rodgers in there and make it top four) are doing more than routine due diligence on a quarterback sure to be picked somewhere in the first two rounds of the April 28-30 NFL draft. What gives?
"I think it says three things,'' said Colts president Bill Polian, who, along with son Chris and Caldwell, will make the Indianapolis choices in the draft. "One: In an era of free-agency unpredictability, you'd better do your due diligence and then some when a prospect comes along that you like.
"Two: Tom and Peyton, at least, are probably closer to the end of their careers than they are to the beginning. We hope -- I know I certainly do with Peyton -- that they have a long time in the league, but you have to prepare for anything.
"Three: This is the most muddied draft board to come along in years. You just want to make sure you're as prepared as you can be about everyone when draft day comes around, and that's taking a lot of work.''
I wondered if because Manning is unsigned, and you never know what system will be in place when the teams finally get back to putting their teams together, that the Colts have some fear about the position long-term.
"Sure,'' Polian said. "I don't think you can stick your head in the sand about anything in the league right now. We don't know what's going to happen with the new system.''
Translation: Polian knows there's some small chance -- and I would call this chance very remote, maybe 50 to 1, that the league will agree to some system with the players that wouldn't include a franchise player, and may include the ability of the great players to experience real freedom once their contracts expire. I doubt this happens, and you can bet that Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay would almost certainly not vote for a system that doesn't include the ability to franchise at least one player. But if you're the Colts, you'd be stupid to ignore it. And you'd be stupid to not go all-in on studying the quarterbacks at the top of this draft. Just as the Saints, with Brees entering the final season of a six-year contract he signed in 2006, would be foolish to not look into quarterbacks in this draft.
On opening day this season (assuming there is one), Manning will be 35, Brady 34 and Brees 32. I think Dalton will be picked somewhere between 15 and 45 in this draft, and so unless New England pulls the trigger unexpectedly on him, I'd doubt he'd go to any of those teams. But it just shows the shifting sands of the NFL right now, to look at the landscape and know that you can't be sure what kind of system the 32 franchises will be operating under in 2011 and beyond.
Now onto your email:
BECAUSE THE OWNERS HIRED HIM.
In theory, that's exactly how the negotiations should go. Except Roger Goodell had to go in front of all the owners when he was vying for this job five years and sell his thoughts and plans for the league to them. He never had to sell himself to a single player. Ideally, he would be a neutral party, and I know on many issues he tries to be. But the players will never see him as an equal, or as an equal party to each side.
GOOD QUESTION, JASON.
You can be a great quarterback with functional movement skills in the pocket, which Mallett appears to have. It's not solely the mobility and speed that are knocks on Mallett. There are off-field concerns, and concerns about his mental makeup. But I think you'd be naïve to think the lack of speed and athleticism (he tested very poorly in the broad jump) shouldn't be a factor. I'm not saying this should eliminate Mallett from draft boards, but if I told you that many defensive tackles in the draft -- guys who will be chasing Mallett over the next few years, ostensibly -- are a half-second faster than he is in the 40, would you think that should be no factor in grading him as a player?
DON'T AGREE WITH YOU.
Greetings all the way down to Belize! Thanks for writing. Teams are telling me it's been a while since there were two receivers as good as Julio Jones and A.J. Green in one draft, and two corners as strong as Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara. Von Miller is very well-respected. There are four or five seeming day-one offensive-line starters, and an intriguing, but hole-filled group of six or seven quarterbacks. So I'm not sure I'd agree with your assertion there.
MORE EMAIL FOR STEVE SABOL.
Sure thing -- and thanks. It's Sabol.NFLFilms@NFL.com.
IF THIS THING LASTS INTO THE SEASON, YOU WON'T BE ALONE.
You may be. I hope not. But I'll say what I keep saying to everyone about this labor deal: Companies of all shapes and sizes in the United States have labor disputes. The NFL hasn't missed a real game in 24 years. The fact that they're wrangling over how to split revenue is something to me that's long overdue. It could be that games will be missed this year; no one knows. I'll just make the point that it seems silly to throw both sides over the cliff when the first game is still 20 weeks and two days away.