Most of the speculation has the Baltimore Ravens set to take a quarterback with their first-round pick in the NFL draft, possibly moving up from No. 10 to snag Marshall's Byron Leftwich, or down, anticipating that California's Kyle Boller will be available later.
"We are in the business of trading this year," General Manager Ozzie Newsome said earlier this week of the April 26 draft. That caused a stir within the NFL, because in their previous seven drafts the Ravens have stood pat in the first round.
Newsome's comment and the team's failure to douse all the quarterback guessing could be a way of masking their real intentions, because the defensive line and wide receiver units also need the sort of major long-term upgrades that a first-rounder ought to deliver.
But Coach Brian Billick admits: "Probably the most prohibiting thing since I've been here is the fact that we haven't had that continuity [at quarterback]. Everything begins with him, in terms of the productivity of the receivers, how much offense you can put in?
"We've done more collectively [on pre-draft quarterback evaluations] than on any position since I've been here."
The most important position in football also has been the most fluid under Billick. In his four years, the Ravens have had six starters. In 2000, they won their last 11 games and Super Bowl XXXV after Trent Dilfer replaced Tony Banks. Dilfer was cut not too long after the victory parade. And his replacement, Elvis Grbac, who cost them a $5 million signing bonus, was gone after one season.
Chris Redman showed savvy and leadership skills in going 3-3 last season in his first regular season action since being chosen in the third round of the 2000 draft. But he injured his back, gave way to Jeff Blake for the final 10 games and underwent surgery in mid-January.
Billick offered the starting job to Blake if he took the Ravens' offer before the start of free agency, but he declined and opted for the Arizona Cardinals. So far, the Ravens have passed on veteran free agents and their available quarterbacks at the moment are Redman and clipboard-toting Anthony Wright.
"We have a lot of faith in Chris Redman," Billick said.
Redman's recovery has gone well, but the risk is obvious.
Billick also wonders: "How does he hold up in a game?"
Ravens player personnel director Phil Savage said four quarterbacks are worthy of being chosen in the first round: Carson Palmer of Southern California, Leftwich (H.D. Woodson), Boller and Rex Grossman of Florida. Palmer is expected to be the overall No. 1 player taken, presumably by the Cincinnati Bengals. Grossman generally is considered the fourth-best quarterback prospect.
Various draft projectors have suggested a difference of opinion within the Ravens about Leftwich and Boller. Newsome and Billick laugh about that, because one report had Newsome and the scouts preferring Leftwich and Billick leaning toward Boller and another insisting the exact opposite, that Billick prefers Leftwich and the front office wants Boller.
"We'll always be on the same page," said Newsome, who also encourages a lively exchange of opinions among scouts and coaches before a decision is made.
Added Billick: "We are as one."
Each of the quarterbacks is exceptionally gifted, but has at least one significant possible flaw.
"Leftwich is one of the best passers that's come into the draft in quite a while in terms of accuracy," Savage said. "And he has more than just a fastball. . . . He has the ability to squirt the ball out there at a lot of depths. He has character and charisma. I've seen him live about five times over the last three years, and every time I've left the stadium I've thought: 'He's got his act together.' "
However, Leftwich has a twice-broken left leg. A year ago, a rod was inserted into the tibia to repair a stress fracture. In an early-November game last season, he suffered a hairline fracture in the same bone but continued to limp through nearly every down the rest of season. During a visit to the Ravens on Wednesday, he passed a physical.
Like Palmer, Boller blossomed late.
"But he has all the physical qualities -- big [6 feet 3, 234 pounds] and with a strong arm," said Savage. "A terrific talent."
Savage also said quarterback is "the grayest area" of any draft.
"No one can really identify and pinpoint why these guys either flourish or fail," he said.
That has not diminished the Ravens' enthusiasm for the job this season.