Following the 2010 college football season, I thought that, if Blaine Gabbert came out, he would probably be a first round pick. I was right in that regard because he will indeed be a first round pick. But I didn't realize how high he could actually go.
Mel Kiper's latest 2011 NFL mock draft has Gabbert going No. 1 to the Carolina Panthers. He predicts Gabbert's solid showing in Indy will help (although he won't throw until his March 17 pro day) and a potential rookie wage scale, which would dramatically decrease the money paid to top picks, could help Gabbert go to the Panthers, or another team, with the first pick.
So it makes sense for Carolina to project that it could take one of the top quarterbacks and open up the trade options, in essence, saying, "To guarantee a shot at the one you prefer, talk to us." Lastly, while I still believe in Jimmy Clausen's chances given his youth, Ron Rivera could not be blamed for targeting his own vision of a franchise quarterback with a pick here or via free agency. It's a leverage position now, but also a potential pick. Part of it is up to Gabbert.
A rookie wage scale would suddenly mean you can trade the top pick because, right now, that's nearly impossible with the cost of acquiring that pick combined with the money you'd pay the top pick. This is definitely a situation to keep an eye on because it could dramatically affect the movement at the top of the draft.