It’s official, Andrew Luck will be playing for several NFL teams next year. He’ll play the first three games in Miami and having had a taste of the AFC East, he’ll stick around for the next four weeks in Buffalo before it gets too cold. Then he’s off to Denver for a week of mentoring from fellow Stanford grad John Elway, before a fortnight in Cincinnati. Washington will be Luck’s home after that, before a long flight to spend some time in San Francisco.
He’ll end his tour in Seattle and do it all again next year.
The reason for such a difficult travel schedule is simple – each of these teams is going to be picking first overall next year.
Ever since free agency finally began last week, there’s been a series of knee jerk reactions from the media, fans, bloggers – pretty much everyone associated with the NFL. Every perceived bad decision has been greeted with the use of ‘Andrew Luck’ as an adjective. You could almost dub a bad free agent signing as ‘pulling an Andrew Luck’. The perception seems to be that teams are deliberately making these moves in order to be so painfully bad that they’ll become the worst of 32 teams this year.
I just can’t see it like that.
For starters, what if Andrew Luck breaks his leg in the final week of the college football season? It’s not a proposal I want to dwell on, because it’s a horrible thing to say about a talented quarterback. However, is it not a possibility? Is a team really going to base it’s entire 2011 NFL campaign on the possibility that Luck stays healthy and will therefore be the golden goose everyone’s decided he is?
This concept that there could be as many as five or six teams battling it out to be worse than the others is comical. I would argue it’s just as difficult to become so bad you earn the #1 pick as it is to make the Super Bowl.
Just look how bad the previous owners of the #1 spot have been - last season, Carolina went 2-14 with Jimmy Clausen stinking the place out as the Panthers lurched towards what they thought was a shot at Andrew Luck. He stayed in school.
The year before that, St. Louis picked up just one win. One measely win, despite playing in a wretched NFC West. A truly incredible feat, even for the Rams. The year before that? Not even zero wins would’ve guaranteed you’d get ahead of the Detroit Lions to pick first overall. Miami went agonisingly close to a 0-16 season twelve months earlier, only to be rescued by an unusually terrible Baltimore Ravens outfit.
The year before that? Al Davis.
As I noted in this article earlier in the year, to be consistently bad is incredibly hard. For the first few weeks of last season everyone had the Buffalo Bills as a lock to be picking first overall. Against all expectation, they actually made improvements and settled for the #3 overall pick instead, affording Carolina the opportunity to swoop in and become the worst team in the NFL. Kudos to the Panthers.
The Seahawks are another great example of how difficult it is to pick first overall. Despite a laundry list of injuries in 2008 (and a lame duck coach) the team still managed four wins, enough to pick 4th overall. Not first. Jim Mora came in as coach the season after and arguably made things even worse, yet the Seahawks still only ‘earned’ the 6th overall pick.
There’s a reason why this team has never owned the #1 overall pick and it’s because it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do. Seattle has found it equally tough to be the ‘worst’ as it has to be the ‘best’ in the team’s entire history.
So when Tavaris Jackson was signed from Minnesota to replace media darling and untouchable veteran Matt Hasselbeck, the cries of ‘Andrew Luck!’ rang aloud throughout the nation. What a terrible decision, how could they make such a desperate move? This was either an elaborate plan to get to Luck next April, or it was a short sighted decision that would get the franchise there via error.
Sorry, but I’m not buying it.
I am by no means a big Tavaris Jackson fan, but let’s look at the quarterbacks who featured for the teams picking first overall the last few years:
Carolina– Matt Moore & Jimmy Clausen
St. Louis- Keith Null & Kyle Boller
Detroit– Dan Orlovsky & Daunte Culpepper
Miami – Cleo Lemon & John Beck
Like I said, I’m not trying to suggest Jackson will win the Seahawks that elusive Lombardi Trophy but I’ve a lot more faith in his abilities than Keith Null, Cleo Lemon and Jimmy Clausen. What’s more, the front office have actually put together the foundations of a decent supporting cast. The signing of Sidney Rice – health permitting – could be a master stroke. The offensive line could be the most expensive in the entire NFL, considering it contains two first round tackles, a former #2 overall pick at left guard, a second round pick at center and a recent third round pick at right guard. It’ll take time to grow, but the Seahawks also spent big on a coach to get them up to speed quickly.
Investment has been made in a running back (Marshawn Lynch) and also the receivers (a second round pick on Golden Tate, re-signing Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu). Jackson also has his former offensive coordinator calling plays and knowing his strengths/limitations. Of course, Jackson is also familiar with the team’s new star at receiver.
OK – Jackson might never develop into a great quarterback, but the Seahawks have done pretty much everything physically possible to at least make life a little bit easier for the guy. Can the same be said of Cleo Lemon in Miami? How about Keith Null and Daunte Culpepper?
I appreciate the Seahawks’ schedule is insanely difficult with four games against the tough AFC North, four games against the equally daunting NFC East and games against the top placed teams in the NFC. Have we also forgotten Seattle annually plays six games in the weakest division in football?
As of today I would suggest there are three teams much more likely to pick first overall. Cincinnati are my favorites – they’ll be starting an over rated rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton, they’ve lost players like Jonathan Joseph to free agency and they’ll be playing Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice each. Andrew certainly will need some Luck playing for Mike Brown (don’t go to Carson Palmer for advice, unless you want to pull an Eli).
Denver picked second overall last year and haven’t done an awful lot to improve their areas of weakness. Oh yeah, they also appointed the coach that led Carolina to the #1 pick last year (although John Fox, in fairness, was a lame duck). It could be worse I guess… Jim Mora could’ve accepted that position as defensive coordinator.
Then there’s Washington, who brought in a lot of rookie’s during the draft but lack a lot of proven talent. The offensive line is poor and still growing and they haven’t got any playmakers. They play in the NFC East. They have John Beck and Rex Grossman at quarterback (suddenly Tavaris Jackson doesn’t sound all that bad).
The Seahawks will have to be especially unfortunate with injuries (not unrealistic) and be completely devoid of fortune (more unrealistic) to select first overall. Whatever anyone says about the team last year – and I firmly believe they over achieved on the whole – the effort was there every single week. That team never gave up, even if at times it was seriously outclassed. I have a hard time seeing this coaching staff, this front office and this group of young individuals performing to a level that ‘earns’ the first overall pick. Can I see five or six wins given the schedule? Sure, but that will only be good enough for a place in the 5-12 region of the first round.
I think it’s testament to the way Pete Carroll is rebuilding this team that they’ve already moved beyond being old at key positions, injured or just bad – and now the problems are inexperience and a smattering of key areas that could use investment in the future. The time to be awful was last year when the team really had barely anything but special teams to hang it’s hat on. They still won the NFC West. Now the time has well and truly passed to pick first overall with a solid off season despite the lockout.
As I said – I could still see the Seahawks finishing bottom of the NFC West, or at least third. There’s a long way still to go from being a contender in the NFC, but that is on the horizon if they can add to three key areas for the long term – quarterback, pass rusher, cornerback. That’s still a huge step to take, of course. Even so, there’s enough talent elsewhere to at least avoid being the NFL’s 32nd best team.
So if the Seahawks are going to have a shot at Andrew Luck next April, they’re going to have to be willing to pay two or three first round picks to get to that #1 spot. The Seahawks might not be great in 2011, but they’re not going to be bad enough to get Andrew Luck.