- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Probably the most surprising revelation of last week involved the Denver Broncos.
John Elway, the Broncos' executive vice president of football operations, revealed why he and his staff are looking at quarterbacks. His interest, he said, is not a smoke screen. The Broncos are going to study the top seven quarterbacks in this draft.
Writes Kyle from Henderson, N.C.: "John Elway has proven himself to be a very savvy businessman, from car dealerships, to real estate, to refusing to play for the Colts. Is the quarterback recruiting the Broncos are making public a form of this? A smoke screen effect, perhaps? And what are the chances Tim Tebow will be the starter next year? I can't take another year of Kyle Orton."
The more I see of Elway running the team, the more I like. He comes in with a fresh approach and a nice style. At first, I didn't buy the idea the Broncos and Elway were looking for a quarterback. I still don't think they will take one with the No. 2 pick in the draft.
What I like about Elway is that he recognizes he has some issues at quarterback. He's bold enough to think Tebow isn't the answer. That's smart. Although Orton is good, he's not great. I'm starting to think Elway might take a QB in the second round and call the Tebow selection a mistake.
That interest creates tantalizing possibilities on draft day and thereafter. Thinking that Cam Newton can go No. 1 to Carolina, the Broncos could entice a team such as Tennessee to trade up to the No. 2 spot to get Blaine Gabbert. The Broncos could then take a quarterback in the second round and eventually trade Orton for a second-round pick in 2012.
At least Elway didn't take this job to keep the franchise at status quo. That's a good sign.
From the inbox
Q: With the Patriots having six picks in the first three rounds of the upcoming draft, what is the possibility that in the second round they draft a quarterback like a Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder or Ryan Mallett as a guy they can groom for the future?
From W.C. in Rio Rancho, N.M.
A: No chance. Just like the Colts with Peyton Manning and the Saints with Drew Brees, the Patriots with Tom Brady have to build around him and not worry about trying to replace him. Go back to the time the Denver Broncos drafted Tommy Maddox to groom behind Elway. Elway hated it. Brett Favre liked Aaron Rodgers, but it's evident now he didn't like the idea of having a quarterback being groomed behind him. The Patriots can use all six picks on position players.
Q: What is the Steelers' biggest need? And whom do you think they will take with the 31st pick?
Steve in Pittsburgh
A: They must come up with a cornerback. I still think they will re-sign Ike Taylor, but he's getting old (he turns 31 May 5). They have Bryant McFadden, but he was burned too many times last year. It's time to rebuild at cornerback. They did that a few years ago, but it's time to do it again. You might say the offensive line is a priority, but it's the No. 2 priority on this team. They got by with the offensive line problems last year and made it to the Super Bowl. It's time for work in the secondary.
Q: Should the Cardinals sign Marc Bulger and draft a quarterback in the second round?
Mauricio in Phoenix
A: I do believe their plan is to sign Bulger once that is allowed, but I'm not sold Ken Whisenhunt would use a first- or a second-round choice on a quarterback. At the owners meeting, I asked him his philosophy on quarterbacks. He goes back to his days with Joe Gibbs with the Washington Redskins. Gibbs believed in sitting young quarterbacks, letting them learn the system and then playing them after a year or two. For that reason, the Cardinals would want a veteran quarterback. I do believe they will be in the mix to acquire Kevin Kolb in a trade. Bulger is a key option, but I'm not sold he'd move all the way to Phoenix. I don't see the Cardinals drafting a quarterback high.
Q: I feel like mock drafts are split on whom the Dolphins will take with their 15th overall pick. Is it Mark Ingram or a QB like Ponder/Mallett if either falls that far? In my perfect world, I see the Fins drafting Ingram and trading a fourth-rounder for Steve Slaton for a wonderful one-two punch. What do you think?
Luis in Louisville, Ky.
A: I think the Dolphins would be better served in the short term going for a running back such as Ingram. I'm still a believer that Chad Henne can do some good things at QB. Plus, this year's class of quarterbacks has too many questions for the Dolphins. Since 2004, they have wasted five second-round picks on quarterbacks in either trades or draft selections. Stay with Henne another year, draft Ingram and use the second-rounder on an offensive lineman or a defensive player. I still contend if the Dolphins don't win this year, there will be a head-coaching change after the season.
Q: What is your overall assessment on Christian Ponder? Do you think he is being underrated and overlooked? I know this draft is a draft filled with high-quality quarterbacks, but I believe that Ponder is being overlooked by most, largely because of his injuries. With his performance at the Senior Bowl, combine and pro day, I think he showed he can make all the necessary throws required for the NFL, as well as the ability to make plays when situations break down.
Steven in Huntsville, Ala.
A: I like the Florida State QB because he's accurate and his arm strength is coming back after the injuries. Will be he an elite quarterback? Probably not. But he'll fit in perfectly in a West Coast offense. The better the talent around him, the better Ponder will be. What I see happening is teams at the top of the second round will target him and have to trade up in the lower first to get him. It also wouldn't surprise me if Ponder goes ahead of Washington's Jake Locker and becomes the No. 3 quarterback in this year's draft.
Q: Panther fan here. Am I missing something with Blaine Gabbert? We didn't know anything about him before Andrew Luck decided to forego the draft. In a defensively weak conference with perennial contenders (Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma), he never grabbed any national attention with his play. Why is he suddenly rated above Cam Newton by so many observers? Isn't he more comparable to JaMarcus Russell on the field than Newton? At least Newton has shown the will to win.
Adam in New York
A: Adam, I think the Panthers won't put the Russell label on Gabbert because they believe he will be a good quarterback. I don't get the idea they think he will be great. That's why I see them taking Cam Newton and passing on Gabbert. Don't forget the Panthers still like Jimmy Clausen, but they also can't pass on a quarterback who can get great. I think the Panthers believe Newton can be great and Gabbert can be just good. I would bet their rating on Clausen would be pretty close to Gabbert. Newton's rating would be significantly better. Relax, Adam. You're getting Newton.
Q: Why is Ryan Mallett projected in the second round? His arm strength is unmatched and he is deadly accurate too. He choked at the end of the Alabama game but came up big against LSU, and at South Carolina and Mississippi State. What is the downside that makes him a second-rounder?
Dave in New Orleans
A: Obviously it's more than talent. Mallett has the best pure arm in the draft. Also, he's got a great grasp of offenses and can read defenses. There is a two-fold worry that knocks him down into the second round. His personality scares teams. Whether it's valid or not, he comes across as immature. As a quarterback, you are the leader of the team in the locker room and the face of the franchise. Teams aren't sure he's the right face at the moment. The second problem is his immobility. He's a standing target in the pocket. All that said, Mallett could be like Brett Favre, who was immature coming into the pros and turned out to be a Hall of Famer.
Q: I am a corporate attorney, and I have seen (and been part of) settlement negotiations while litigation is taking its course. Why can't one or more attorneys for players (if not for the NFLPA, then for some of the named litigants) negotiate with the attorneys for the owners right now? At least in California, settlement negotiations cannot be used in trial, so I see no reason why negotiations could not be going on right now. In any event, isn't the real problem the refusal of the owners to provide full financial information?
Ed in Altadena, Calif.
A: You are 100 percent correct. Lawyers for the owners refuse to meet with the settlement attorneys for the players unless the trade association identifies itself as a union, which the players won't do at this time. The players, according to multiple sources, planned to meet with the owners March 28 and spend the week settling this mess. All that had to be done was have a short document go to federal judge Susan Nelson's court saying that the NFLPA's executive board would serve as advisors. The NFL's answer was no. This will be the only way a deal can be reached. Like you, we all wish both sides would go to the bargaining table instead of the courts.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.