Perspective on the race for Andrew Luck

July 31st, 2011 | Written by Rob Staton

Andrew Luck: The face of a champion

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.

22 Responses to “Perspective on the race for Andrew Luck”

  1. Will says:

    Yep. I could, potentially, see them picking in the top 10-or even the top 5-if everything that can go wrong does, but I can’t see them picking #1 overall since Cincinnati is just so awful. I would say that Carolina has a shot as well, seeing as how Newton has a very high chance of being a bust and his backups are Clausen and now, reportedly, Derek Anderson. Of course, there are now a number of those teams that won’t be looking for a QB. Carolina, nor Cincy, nor Denver, nor San Fran would take Luck if they had the first pick which would make trading into range of grabbing Luck or Barkley much easier.

    • Rob says:

      Denver and San Francisco will both take Luck given the chance. John Elway is enamoured with the kid as a former Stanford player himself. Harbaugh won’t pass up the chance to draft him having coached Luck for the last few years. They would both love the chance to draft Andrew Luck, regardless of recent draft picks such as Tebow or Kaepernick.

      I’m also very sure that Cincinnati would take him. They are not tied to Dalton, the financial commitment is so minor and Luck is in a different league of quality.

      • Will says:

        You believe that even if Tebow shows some improvements this year (assuming he’s the starter here) that they’ll get rid of him? I know that they had a new coaching staff and Elway, etc. since Tebow was drafted, but it’s still too early for them to give up on him, right? I also wouldn’t be sure that Cincinnati would dump Dalton right away either, especially if Lewis and Gruden are retained (not out of the question with Brown as owner) because I know that Gruden absolutely loooooves Dalton. But then again, I don’t pay attention to these things and you do, so I’ll trust your opinion. : )

        • Rob says:

          I think Gruden would probably love Luck even more though, and that’s the point. I think pretty much anyone who drafts first overall is going to take Andrew Luck. Denver, Cincy, San Fran… if their current stable of quarterbacks make them the worst team in the NFL – they will 100% take Luck.

      • Don says:

        I agree completely. Any team in the NFL who does not make the palyoffs will pick Luck if given the chance, regardless of who they have at QB. He is that good.

        Elway already commented a few months ago that they don’t have a franchise QB, so he is getting rid of Orton, the only QB with experience and is playing Tebow. You know he has his sights on Luck. The owner, Pat Bowlen, knows first hand what a franchise QB can do for an average team. Elway took an average team to the superbowl 3 x in the 80’s.

  2. Erik says:

    Rob,

    Any thoughts on a team that could finish with the first pick and be willing to trade it ? And yes three #1’s would be worth it for Luck and the decade or more of elite QB play he would provide.

    • Don says:

      I don’t know if there is a price for a QB of that calliber. It would be like Seattle asking Greenbay what they want for Rodgers, or asking the Colts what they want for Manning. I don’t think Seattle has anything to offer, players or draft picks, that would be worth an elite franchise QB. There are some players that are untouchable.

      Turn it around, if Seattle had the #1 pick, what would it take for Seattle to give up the next Manning, Elway, etc.? I would say no to all offers.

      • Rob says:

        I think Don’s right.

        • Rugby Lock says:

          If they are in the 5-10 range in pick then I would say they still have a shot at Barkley or Jones and not have to give up a King’s ransom as they would to move to #1 for luck. This would preserve their draft stock to make the whole team better… More prudent use of resources in my book.

          • Rob says:

            If they’re in that range though, it’ll be because Tavaris Jackson struggled. Teams will know the Seahawks are in the market for a quarterback, and they’ll be competing with teams who may also be thinking of drafting Barkley/Jones themselves. It’s never cheap trading into the top five – we’ve not see it for years because of the salary cost. A team really needs that desire to move down to get a good deal.

          • Doctor Chim Richalds says:

            The salary stuff is a lot more under control with the rookie wage scale, though. I don’t think that’ll really be a factor.

          • Rugby Lock says:

            I was thinking more in terms of draft capital that it would take to get him versus the monetary cost. Besides, PA has plenty of scratch!! :)

  3. flyinmonky says:

    Nobody would pass on him, they’d just hold on to two QB’s for a while and trade the one they didn’t want to some suckers for an All-Pro CB and a second round pick.

  4. akki says:

    Good argument – a “Suck for Luck” strategy is futile, so there’s no reason or way to plan such.

    Any team that picks first has to have been extremely unfortunate the preceding season, and isn’t necessarily even one of the worst teams on paper entering the season. The teams you’ve had drafting first in the last 4 years have all had their intended QBs go down early (Trent Green, Jon Kitna, Marc Bulger, Matt Moore), and key skill positions get hurt too. Only St. Louis was truly a bottom 5 team on paper at the beginning. Carolina had to have both RBs Williams and Stewart get hurt, plus Steve Smith for good measure. It would be like if the Seahawks lost T Jackson, Lynch, Williams, and Rice for most of the season – yes, they’d have a good chance at worst record if that happened, but the incidence is really small.

  5. Mike in OC says:

    I would love to get Luck on the Seahawks, but the coaching and enthusiasm of Pete Carroll alone would never allow us to suck so bad we get the first pick. I’m pretty optimistic about our chances in the NFC West.

    So if not Luck, because no one would trade that pick, what about trading up to get Barkley?

    • Rob says:

      If I was doing a mock draft today (and of course that would be a bit ridiculous considering the college season hasn’t even begun) I would put Luck at #1 and Barkley at #2. I think trading up for either will be incredibly difficult and expensive. However, there are guys that can be had later (Landry Jones, Kirk Cousins, Austin Davis) that I believe are capable of starting in the NFL, perhaps just not as quickly as Luck and Barkley and without the same elite potential.

      • Rugby Lock says:

        With all the hype the price would be just too high IMO… Better off saving the draft capital and getting a real good starting NFL QB and quality starters throughout the roster.

  6. Don says:

    Rob,

    If Whitehurst were starting, I would think the Seahawks would have a good shot at a top 5 pick, and one of the top three QB. Since Jackson is starting, the record could be 8-8, which would be good considering the difficult schedule, but end up with a mid round pick.

    How likely then, would it be that jackson shows so much promise that he could be the next Cunningham, or Josh Freeman, and the Seahawks don’t draft a QB next year? Does Jackson have the potential to be the franchise QB?

    • Don says:

      Jackson could be similar to Dennis Dickson from Oregon. Good in college, but not great in the NFL. I don’t know that much about him. We will see.

    • Rob says:

      I doubt one season, however excellent, will be enough to detract from this single thought – if you don’t have a bona fide franchise quarterback for the long haul, you have to try and draft one. What Jackson succeeding would do is make you more comfortable using him a bridge for 1-2 more years. Even so, one great season among many mediocre ones in Minnesota should not make the Seahawks think this is a problem solved. If they make the playoffs again and pick later then obviously you aren’t in the market for the top guys, so that would impact your thinking as much as anything else I’d say.

      • Don says:

        Thanks Rob,

        Good points. The thought of using Jackson as a bridge for 1-2 years seems disscouraging, since there will be several quality QB coming out this year. Also, the Seahawks need to consider the timeline that the team will need for growth and experience. Preferably, a QB would be picked early enough in the rebuilding process to learn his trade along with the rest of the team.

        With each draft, hopefully the team will be picking further from the top each year, making it harder to select a franchise QB. So I hope the time to commit to a QB would be in next year’s draft, regardless of how successful the QB is. I would hate for the seahawks to keep postponing the QB position, and then when they finally pick one they have to wait a few more years for him to learn the position while the rest of the team is ready to go.

  7. LouieLouie says:

    Josh Freeman was drafted in the mid-twenties, if I’m not mistaken. He didn’t work out too bad. Tim Tebo was drafted later and now Denver has been trying to trade Orton. There were a couple of decent prospects available this year to the Hawks, but there were other pressing needs.

    Two drafts ago, Carroll had considered drafting Jimmy Clausen with one of the first round picks; Ouch! There will be a QB prospect available where ever the Hawks pick, if Jackson doesn’t work out.