PHOENIX — At the other 15 tables at the NFC coaches' breakfast Tuesday morning, there was a lot of talk about veteran quarterbacks, as Packers coach Matt LaFleur was surrounded by Aaron Rodgers talk, and the constant buzz about Lamar Jackson was filling the rest of the room.
Panthers head coach Frank Reich was more than content to enjoy his cup of coffee and a relatively quiet oasis, since they made the decision some time ago to move in a different direction.
Despite the early conversations with Derek Carr (who ultimately went to New Orleans), and despite the temptation to shoot for the stars, the Panthers made their own big move by trading to the No. 1 overall pick to draft their quarterback, and Reich sounds more convinced of it now than ever.
"I've said from the very start that we're going to look at all, but the preferred situation is go and get your own," Reich said at the league meetings at the Arizona Biltmore Resort. "Go draft. Because if you hit it right, and you get a young quarterback who's a superstar, you got five years on a contract where, if he's a superstar making on a first contract, as opposed to a guy making $50 million.
"I mean, that just allows you to build a stronger team. So you've got to take advantage of those years."
Of course, the matter of which one they'll cast their lot with for the long haul will remain an open question, and one they're not trying to answer anytime soon.
They spent last week on the road checking out C.J. Stroud, Bryce Young, and Will Levis, and as soon as they leave the league meetings, they'll head to Gainesville, Fla., for dinner and a workout with Anthony Richardson.
They've committed to a thorough process, dragging a full contingent of a dozen or more across the country, and Reich said Tuesday there's no pressure to know the result of the research today. They still have private visits with the four back in Charlotte, and at a certain point, they will obviously narrow the scope.
Reich said that during that process, he'd effectively represent the voice of the coaches, while general manager Scott Fitterer represents the voice of the scouts, and they'll obviously consult with owners Dave and Nicole Tepper, who have been active throughout the process and at the dinners with each of the first three.
Reich said the wide-net approach was "intentional" and that he wanted it to be gradual as well. He compared it to the home makeover shows on HGTV — he insisted it was his wife watching them, not him, though the longer he talked about it, his case weakened — and said he didn't expect a big eureka moment in which the pick would be revealed.
"So it's not like we are the homeowners who kind of went away and are coming back — we're the workers," Reich said. "So we're kind of building this together. And we're seeing it unfold. And I think we're getting glimpses into; I'm getting glimpses into how he (Fitterer) sees it. . . .
"I think along the way, it's developing together."
And Reich mentioned the participation of the Teppers as important as well.
"We do collaborate, but at the end of the day, the decision comes down to Scott and myself," Reich said. "Mr. Tepper, obviously, you know, he's heavily involved in the process, but he's said, he's been on record of saying, 'Hey, this is Scott and Frank making this decision.' He's intimately involved, right? This quarterback that we pick will be the face of our franchise. And so he obviously has to be comfortable with that. And I value his opinion; he's already had some really great insights into the person. This is a guy that has accomplished so much in his life, and he's overcome so much in his life.
"So even though he doesn't have the years of football experience that we have, he has years of knowing what a winner looks like, right? He knows what a winner looks like and feels like. And so his insights into that, as we go out to dinner with these guys and ask these guys questions as he interacts with them, has been very helpful."
Tuesday, Reich got a lot of questions about the perceived top two (Young and Stroud), but also talked about the incredible upside of Richardson, who has only started for one season, but blew the top out of his combine workouts, putting up precedent-setting workout numbers.
While he's clearly the least polished of the top four, he also has a vast supply of talent, and the Panthers do have a coaching staff well-stocked with teachers including Reich, offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, senior assistant Jim Caldwell, and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown.
"He's a guy who you feel like is going to get better fast," Reich said of Richardson.
But without putting too fine a point on it, the big takeaway from Reich's sit-down was that this decision was so big and would have so much impact for so long that taking the time to get it right was the most important part.
He's been a part of a similar search before — when he was with the Eagles in 2016, and they traded up to get Carson Wentz. Reich coached Wentz to the best football of his life, and the fact it wasn't sustainable after he left for Indianapolis doesn't change the way he views what the Panthers are doing now.
"But just going through that process and knowing to be patient," Reich said. "And you might see a throw, or you might sit down with guys and say, I love this guy. And you could be tempted to say; this is it.
"Just finish the process. Just be patient. Be patient. You've got time; we don't have to make this decision today. Stay true to the process."
View photos from Wednesday's Ohio State pro day workout as Panthers coaches and staff watched quarterback prospect C.J. Stroud.