The Andrew Luck Sweepstakes is now a one-horse (or, Colt) race, and the question isn’t whether Indianapolis will draft Luck first overall in April — it’s whether he’ll be the Colts’ Week 1 starter next September.
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Colts fans who witnessed the show that 2011 first overall pick Cam Newton put on in Indianapolis in Sunday’s 27-19 Panthers win at Lucas Oil may be having second thoughts about the whole “Let Luck sit a year and learn from Manning” theory. I don’t even think it’s a realistic scenario.
With quarterbacks as talented as Newton and Luck, you start them right away. Why delay the inevitable? Get them in action, let them feel their way through early-season struggles, and establish them as the leaders in the locker room made of veterans. Even the thought of Manning and Luck co-existing in some easy, breezy teacher-student relationship is one of fantasy.
For as good a guy as Peyton Manning might be, he’s also a fierce competitor. If he’s healthy and ready to go next year (and that’s a big if), that’s asking a lot of him to go out of his way to groom Luck while the rookie is hot on his heels on the depth chart. After Manning loses one game or throws one interception, you’ll hear fans calling for Luck’s name.
How’s Manning, the longtime face of the Colts, going to handle that situation? The Colts rewarded Manning with a handsome contract extension in the spring — a show of good faith, perhaps — so do they really “owe” him much more? Are they obligated to give him another season under center because of the 12 he’s already given them?
Football’s a cold, hard business. And in this business, I don’t see a Manning/Luck scenario ever playing out. The Colts let Edgerrin James go when he thought he had some football left in him. They did the same with Marvin Harrison a few years later. Bob Sanders, too. Peyton Manning might be next.
Then there’s Luck. The media’s painted him as some sort of team-first quarterback angel sent from the football gods, but he actually holds some of the cards in this situation, too. If Manning’s set to stay in Indianapolis for the foreseeable future and the team’s convinced that this dream-like scenario in which the two can co-exist is their path moving forward, Luck could just do what Peyton’s little brother Eli did in ’04 and force a trade.
It wouldn’t be looked upon favorably and it’d make Luck a villain in Indianapolis forever, but guess what? John Elway did it with Baltimore and Eli did it with San Diego. Both have had mighty fine careers in this league since their forced trades. Luck’s career will go on just fine, whether it’s in Indianapolis or one of the other 31 NFL cities.
Luck should play next season. There’s no reason he shouldn’t get that opportunity. Newton spoke to that on Sunday in the winners’ locker room, telling reporters, "One thing I must say is, each and every rep is helping me. I feel much more comfortable now than I did the first game, but there’s still a learning curve."
Financially, it’s certainly possible to keep both Manning and Luck on the roster. It’s a lot of money locked up at one position, but it’s do-able. In theory, it’s fine. In reality, there’s too many emotions and egos involved to ever really work.
The Colts have a decision to make. Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck.
And as shocking as it is to consider it, I’m not quite sure how they go with the former.
Let’s dig into this week’s “Suck for Luck” Outlook:
1. Indianapolis Colts: 0-11
Week 12 performance: Lost 27-19 to Carolina. The Colts had multiple opportunities to score a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss, but failed to reach the end zone. Curtis Painter played better than he did in previous efforts, but there’s still a long way to go before the Colts win a game this season. They’ll start Dan Orlovsky on Sunday.
The Guy: Dan Orlovsky
On the Shelf: Peyton Manning (injured), Kerry Collins (injured), Curtis Painter
Would they take Luck? Yes, they’d take Luck. As detailed above, the issue will be what to do with Manning. And that isn’t an issue of football. It’s an issue of loyalty, finances and transition. As I’ve said for weeks, it’s the most fascinating player personnel decision, arguably ever.
2. St. Louis Rams: 2-9
Week 12 performance: Lost to Arizona 23-20. After taking early 7-0 and 10-3 leads, the Rams let Patrick Peterson beat them for the second time this year. They’ve now lost both games to the Cardinals and are 0-3 in NFC West games.
The Guy: Sam Bradford
On the Shelf: A.J. Feeley, Tom Brandstater
Would they take Luck? No. Bradford’s their guy. Recent first-round draft picks like Bradford, Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Matt Ryan — guys who signed mega-contracts prior to the new CBA rookie wage scale was put in this summer — are all pretty much unmovable assets until their contracts expire. If the Rams were to end up with a top-three pick, they’d have to consider Oklahoma State’s dazzling star receiver Justin Blackmon or an elite left tackle like USC’s Matt Kalil.
3. Minnesota Vikings: 2-9
Week 12 performance: Lost 24-14 to Atlanta: The Vikings fell behind 14-0 early, cut the lead to 17-14 late, and couldn’t pull out a road win in the end.
The Guy: Christian Ponder
On the Shelf: Joe Webb
Would they take Luck? No. Like the Panthers with Newton, the Vikings appear to be set at quarterback with their 2011 first-round selection. Though he’s struggled behind a shaky offensive line, he’s shown enough flashes to prove he’s the guy. If anything, Minnesota needs a big left tackle — Matt Kalil of USC, most likely — to protect their investment at QB.
4. Miami Dolphins: 3-8
Week 12 performance: Lost 20-19 to Dallas: The Dolphins gave the Cowboys a good fight on Thanksgiving Day but fell a point short in JerryWorld. The defense, as it had in its previous three games, held the opponent under 20 points.
The Guy: Matt Moore
On the Shelf: Chad Henne (injured), J.P. Losman
Would they take Luck? Yes, the Dolphins would take Luck. If they can’t get Luck — which will likely be the case — they’ll “settle” for another quarterback in the first round. Matt Moore’s been a solid replacement for Chad Henne, but he’s not the long-term answer. Alternatives to consider are USC’s Matt Barkley (if he opts to leave school), Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, and the real wild card, Baylor do-everything quarterback, Robert Griffin III.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars, 3-8
Week 12 performance: Lost 20-13 to Houston: The Jaguars had several chances to pull off an upset but failed to beat the T.J. Yates-led Texans. Josh McCown replaced an ineffective Blaine Gabbert late in the game, rallying the Jags to within a score, but threw an incomplete pass with a minute remaining on the team’s final drive.
The Guy: Blaine Gabbert
On the Shelf: Josh McCown
Would they take Luck? They’re not going to get the opportunity to draft Luck, but they may be able to land a Barkley or a Landry Jones. A month ago, I would have said drafting a quarterback exactly one year after trading multiple picks to select another quarterback would have been ludicrous. But Gabbert’s been awful this season, and after being benched for the second time in three weeks on Sunday there’s certainly some question in Jacksonville over whether he’s what they signed up for. I’d say he’s the guy for the future, but with the new CBA paying rookie quarterbacks from 2011 far less than they made in previous years, it’s not crazy to think a new coach might want a different guy to groom.
Also in the running:
6. Carolina Panthers: 3-8
7. Washington Redskins: 4-7
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 4-7
The other guys:
The quarterbacks ranked second through fifth on my “Big Board”: