“Suck for Luck.”
We have heard the phrase from the beginning of the NFL season. The widely accepted assumption is that no matter which team finishes with the league’s worst record, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck will be the first player off the board in April’s draft.
The dust has officially settled and it is the Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts with a firm hold over the top spot with a putrid 0-10 record. Losing by an average of seventeen points a game, the struggling Colts figure to be stuck at the bottom of the standings all season. Without Manning, the once proud franchise has lost their edge. They have struggled to move the football, both through the air and on the ground. The defense cannot seem to stop a nosebleed.
Right now, Andrew Luck figures to be Indianapolis’ savior. As an NFL prospect he possesses the remarkable cerebral ability and leadership qualities that scouts have not seen since Manning himself. Additionally, he is a tremendous athlete. He has the mobility and escapability of Aaron Rodgers. Through his three-year tenure as a college starter, he has shown both accuracy and the capability to make big-time throws. To many, Luck is the perfect quarterback prospect.
So isn’t it time to pencil in the Stanford product into the Indianapolis Colts’ 2012 depth chart? I would hold off on that. Though I agree it will probably be the Colts that hold the first pick in April, I am not entirely convinced Luck will be wearing blue in the future.
Enter the Cleveland Browns. After jumping out to a 2-1 start, Pat Shurmur’s team has stalled, slipping to a lowly 3-6 record. The offense, in particular, is a complete mess. Iconic running back Peyton Hillis has not played since week six. There is not a wide receiver on the roster that would crack the starting lineup for most teams in the league. At the heart of all their problems, Quarterback Colt McCoy has become a subject of heavy criticism.
Rewind to the 2011 NFL Draft. The Browns, sitting at sixth overall, traded away the chance to grab a premier receiver in Julio Jones. Of course, Jones has proven to be a dynamic down-field threat for the Atlanta Falcons while Cleveland continues to grasp at straws at the position.
That trade in April was far from one-sided, however, as the Browns netted a 2011 first round pick, second round pick, two fourth round picks including one in 2012, and a valuable 2012 first round pick. In terms of draft day trades, last year’s swap between Cleveland and Atlanta qualifies as a blockbuster. It is my belief that Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren could very well be on the verge of another.
Before you dismiss the notion of Andrew Luck moving on draft day, consider all the factors at work here. If Peyton Manning is healthy by the spring, quarterback instantly goes from the Colts’ weakest position to their strongest. The window is closing for Indianapolis. The days of Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, and Robert Mathis may be over.
I do not see the Indianapolis Colts as a franchise ready to step down or start rebuilding. If, and only if, Peyton Manning is healthy, this team has a shot at the Super Bowl in 2012-13. For that to happen, the team would also need to fill gaping holes in April’s draft. This raises the question: is it in the team’s best interest to use the first overall pick on Andrew Luck?
You can believe the Browns will put in a hefty offer for the first overall pick and unlike many other teams thinking to do the same, Cleveland has the ammunition to make things interesting. What you can expect they will put on the table: their two first round picks in the 2012 draft, one likely to be in the 4-7 range and the other likely to be in the 16-22 area.
Consider the possibilities for the Colts with a healthy Manning and two first round picks. Southern California offensive tackle Matt Kalil may be the best pro prospect at the position since Jake Long and would bring an anchor to Peyton’s blind-side. While Kalil appears to be a lock for the draft’s first five picks, a couple of Stanford linemen, OT Jonathan Martin and OG David DeCastro, also look like future Pro Bowlers. Indianapolis would also be free to target a defensive player in the first round to help that ailing unit.
So why do the Browns make this move? Because they are quite simply a franchise without a face, a rebuilding team without a true direction. Cleveland desperately needs an Andrew Luck and they have a president in Mike Holmgren and a general manager in Tom Heckert who will be more that willing to try to make it happen. After all, they made a strong push for the top pick in the 2010 draft in an attempt to nab Sam Bradford. In recent years, the Browns’ willingness to trade on draft weekend has been surpassed only by Andy Reid and Bill Belichick.
Andrew Luck will come into the league with incredible expectations and it would likely take an offer the Colts could not refuse. Two first round picks in 2012, including a top ten selection, is a considerable proposal. If need be, Heckert and Holmgren may also consider adding another pick or two to finish the deal. I do not believe Indianapolis will find three first round picks anywhere and the Browns’ offer may be too good to pass up.
You can believe this discussion will be held in April, perhaps earlier. As times become desperate in both Cleveland and Indianapolis, it makes sense for the two reeling franchises to help each other.