What a strange focus we have had this year in the NFL. Barely a few games into the season, there was less attention paid to the best team -- the Packers -- than given to the the team that could end up as the worst. The reason, of course, is that the discussion revolves around a player thought to be a once-in-a-generation player: Andrew Luck.
I must first disclose some bias here. I am a Stanford alumnus, having attended during the time of another can't-miss quarterback, John Elway. I also was general manager of the Barcelona Dragons in the NFL's World League with a colleague in the same position with the Frankfurt Galaxy: Andrew's father, Oliver Luck. And, of course, I like Andrew's name.
Disclaimers aside, from talking to NFL scouting directors, Luck grades out as someone that can change the fortunes of an NFL franchise. On the field, he has excellent football intelligence, mobility, arm strength, superior mechanics, presence, etc. Off the field he is a humble and respectful teammate while succeeding in a rigorous academic curriculum. A friend at Stanford told me Luck is completely without pretense and fits in seamlessly with his peers.
In watching Luck I am reminded of a player that I was around for three years, Aaron Rodgers (even though Aaron attended archrival Cal!). They both appear to be singular talents with natural leadership skills, off-the-charts intelligence, and an innate ability to tune out the extraneous noise and focus on what is important.
A Different Kid
College players with remaining eligibility -- which Luck will still have -- must declare for the NFL Draft in January. Luck is presumed to be entering.
However, we are not dealing with your average college football player. Luck has lived overseas and now lives in one of the more idyllic places in the country. Last year, he chose Stanford and Palo Alto over the Panthers and Charlotte. Might he again choose Stanford and Palo Alto over the Colts and Indianapolis? Do not be shocked if he does.
Luck's can't-miss ability coincides with a sea change in rookie compensation in the NFL that makes the right to draft him even more valuable than ever.
In 2010, Sam Bradford received a contract that will pay him $48 million in the first four years of his career. In 2011, Cam Newton received a contract that will pay him $22 million in the first four years of his career. In 2012, Andrew Luck (if he turns pro) will receive a contract that will pay him $24 million in the first four years of his career, still roughly half of the cost of Bradford's.
The uniqueness of Luck combined with his discounted cost creates the perfect storm of value for the team with the worst record this season. Leading to...
Lose for Luck
The noise this season about "Lose for Luck" always seemed strange. I understand the concept, but question the possible execution.
Football is the ultimate team sport. The best -- and worst -- players play less than half of the plays. Beyond pride in performance, I cannot envision football teams intent on losing. Are players going to stop blocking and tackling? Seriously?
Moreover, players on the league's worst team have a lot more to fret about than Andrew Luck. A team finishing with the first pick in the Draft is going to have considerable turnover in coaches and players, meaning many of them won't receive the benefit of playing with Andrew Luck.
Colts: Take him
Although we were drafting in the 24th position as compared to the top pick, I remember selecting Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay in 2005 (I got him on the phone after his long wait and kept him waiting another excruciating 12 minutes in case we received a strong offer to trade the pick). We had the most durable quarterback in NFL history -- Brett Favre (remember him?) -- still playing at a high level but picked Aaron, not for the present, but for the future.
The Colts will likely be in a similar position and they must select Luck. Franchises need to evolve. Peyton Manning is their past and, assuming recovery from his neck injury, short-term future; Luck could be their long-term future, and a bright one at that.
Peyton Manning has a $28 million option bonus due in February and a $7 million salary in 2012. Whether the Colts exercise, renegotiate, or delay payments of that option is an interesting debate for another column. Whatever their decision, they should select Luck. Yes, there will be a disproportionate amount of money at quarterback but it will not be much different than this year, as the Colts paid $4 million to Kerry Collins as an insurance policy. And unlike Luck, Collins had no upside.
And, of course, by the time Luck is in a position to make "real money", the Colts will likely have moved on from the legendary Manning.
In Green Bay, we paid Favre about $35 million for the three seasons that Rodgers was his backup. A similar scenario may ensue in Indianapolis.
With the Colts having a season to forget, their Luck can change in April.