If there's a market, there will be one for Eagles quarterback Kolb

Several teams already have felt the Eagles out about their willingness to deal Kevin Kolb. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)

INDIANAPOLIS - The question of whether Kevin Kolb should stay or go could end up being moot if the NFL's labor standoff results in a long lockout that goes into the summer or early fall.

That would be unfortunate for Kolb, who desperately wants the opportunity to be a starter and isn't going to get it in Philly this year as long as Michael Vick is alive and well. And it would be unfortunate for the Eagles, who would have no difficulty getting a first-round pick for Kolb if they were able to trade him before the April draft.

If you doubt that, take a gander around the league at the shocking number of teams in the market for a quarterback.

Do you really think the Panthers are sold on a future with Jimmy Clausen behind center? Or the Broncos with Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow? The Bills with Ryan Fitzpatrick? The Cardinals with John Skelton? The Browns with Colt McCoy? The Redskins with Donovan McNabb or Rex Grossman?

It's a matter of supply and demand. Right now, the demand for quarterbacks who can walk and chew gum at the same time is as high as it's been in years. It's why unproven college quarterbacks like Cam Newton (Auburn) and Blaine Gabbert (Missouri) and Jake Locker (Washington) and Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) and Andy Dalton (TCU) are rocketing up the draft charts. And it's why several teams already have felt the Eagles out about their willingness to deal Kolb.

"Look around the league," said Ron Rivera, the Panthers' new head coach, whose team owns the first pick. "Franchise quarterbacks are what's happening in this league in terms of it becoming a passing league. Teams that have those guys that can attack you vertically really, I think, are tough.

"I came from San Diego where we had Philip Rivers, a tremendous quarterback. We've got to find a situation like that here. Whether that guy is on our roster and we develop him or he's here in the draft, we have to get him."

Said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, whose current on-site quarterback options are Joe Webb and Tarvaris Jackson: "You look at the playoff teams last year, I don't think there was one that had a question mark at quarterback. You've got to get that right. And this is the time to do it."

If you look at the selection order for the April draft, each of the first eight teams on the board, and 12 of the first 16, could - or should - be in the market for a quarterback.

Not many of them are going to be able to find Mr. Right in the draft. Gabbert is expected to be a top 10 pick, maybe even top five, maybe even top two. Newton, who didn't have a particularly impressive workout yesterday at the combine, is a potential top 10 pick. Locker could go later in the first round. Mallett and Dalton probably are ticketed for the second round. But that still leaves a lot of teams desperately searching for quarterback help.

The difference between Kolb and the top quarterbacks in this draft is that coaches and scouts have a body of NFL work on which to judge him. Not a big body, but enough of one.

They've seen him play in a pro-style offense. They've seen him go through his progressions and read NFL coverages and deal with NFL blitzes. They don't have to project how he will do at the next level.

Newton's an incredible physical specimen with a Vick arm and Vick speed and a Ben Roethlisberger body. But both he and Gabbert played in college offenses that are nothing like they will be asked to run in the NFL. Will they be able to make the transition? Who knows?

"[Newton's] skill set - he has a superior skill set," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. "I don't think people will pass up on the talent. But it's tough, because it's a tough transition.

"The Auburn offense is a great college offense. It's fun to watch. But it's really not the same [as the NFL]. So it's hard to evaluate that. You have to look at the guy, see how smart he is, does he have the skill set, can he throw the ball, can he make the drops, can he make the reads?

"You have to put him on the [white] board. You have to do a lot of interview stuff with him and try to figure it out from that respect. Matt Ryan came out of a pro system [at Boston College] and he fit right in really quickly as a rookie. These guys who come out of the spread offense, it's a little bit of an adjustment for them."

It should be pointed out that Kolb also came out of a spread offense in college. So did the Ravens' Joe Flacco. So did a lot of successful NFL quarterbacks. It can be done. The key is determining which guys will be able to make the leap in a reasonable amount of time and which ones won't.

"The most important thing is having confidence that your quarterback can understand a very complicated NFL offense, and what NFL defenses are doing in like, 1.2 seconds, and be able to make the right decisions," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who knows quarterbacks like McDonald's knows hamburgers. "If you know when and where to throw the football and have a good release, you can play in this league at a high level."

Billy Devaney, the Rams' vice president of player personnel, was with the Chargers 13 years ago when they made one of the biggest quarterback draft goofs in history, selecting Ryan Leaf with the second overall pick. He had a lot better luck last year when, as the Rams' top personnel decider, he selected NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford with the first pick.

"It's a good thing we have Bradford, because I'd feel a little silly answering [quarterback questions] after some of the quarterbacks I've been involved with," Devaney said. "But we do have Bradford."

Devaney said the most difficult aspect of evaluating a first-round quarterback is figuring out how he's going to react to his new circumstances.

"You know what, the on-field stuff is almost easy to look at," he said. "Those guys are the highest-paid for a reason. The stuff that they have to go through, and the pressure that's on them away from the field, that's the hardest thing to judge.

"How's the kid going to handle that? How's he going to handle being, in our case last year, the first pick in the draft? How's he going to deal with the big contract and being the face of the franchise? It takes a special guy to be able to handle all that.

"And somebody who's drafted in the first round, you know what the expectation level is right away. It's hard, and a lot of guys just don't handle that [well]. They still have the skill, the ability to play. It's all the peripheral stuff, the intangible stuff. And that's always the hardest part to predict."

History has shown that just one out of every two quarterbacks taken in the first round pans out. For every Peyton Manning, there is a Leaf. For every Matt Ryan, there is a JaMarcus Russell.

Teams have done a better job lately. A total of seven quarterbacks have been taken in the first round of the last three drafts, and the early reviews on most of them have been promising. But it's still a crapshoot.

"Every team that thinks they need a quarterback needs to grind the heck out of all these [top] guys,'' Mayock said. "Franchise quarterbacks trump every other need. If you don't have one of those guys, you don't win in this league. You just don't.

"Three years ago, Miami took [offensive tackle] Jake Long [with the second overall pick]. Great football player. But that opened the door for Atlanta to take Matt Ryan. You have two franchises going in two different directions based on that one pick. One pick. If you think a guy is a franchise quarterback, you have to take him."

And if you don't, you've got Andy Reid's and Howie Roseman's cell-phone numbers.

Send e-mail to pdomo@aol.com