With one final game remaining, the Indianapolis Colts still control their own destiny in the Andrew Luck Derby.
Problem is, this team is peaking at absolutely the wrong time.
Is Indy losing by winning?
You could understand Blue Horseshoe going out and winning one game, as they did versus Tennessee to avoid the stigma of a historic 0-16 season. Even two wins would still give Indy the #1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
But running into the Division Champion but also free-falling Houston Texans Thursday night was an unexpected road block, as a back-breaking three-game winning streak is suddenly very attainable.
I get a team wanting to finish strong and Indy getting two nice wins to close out the home schedule. But in the process they have made life very difficult for themselves in the ‘Suck For Luck’ sweepstakes.
Everyone knows the Jacksonville Jaguars – Indy’s Week 17 opponent – are capable of sinking down to the occasion – not to mention their fan base, which will step down and stay away from the season finale in droves. And if the Jaguars can “run the table” and finish 4-12, they could even get a high enough draft pick to put them in the conversation to trade up for Andrew Luck.
But it’s always more difficult to win, actually more easy to lose, on the road – even if asking Dan Orlovsky to perform worse than Blaine Gabbert is daunting.
Impact of Barkley’s return to USC
Up until about 24 hours ago, the #2 overall draft pick was not such a bad thing for a team that will eventually be in need of a new quarterback. That was until Matt Barkley announced that he will stay for a senior season at the University of Southern California.
From Barkley’s perspective that is not a bad move (barring injury). Tommy Trojan is off probation next year and Barkley will enter the 2012 season as the Heisman front-runner. Of course being the most well-known candidate pre-season in the Heisman race frequently proves not to pan out, as the ’12 versions of Robert Griffin III will no doubt emerge with a groundswell of support.
But Barkley staying at SC suddenly makes the QB pool for the 2012 Draft much more shallow. RGIII is projected as a top-five pick (and has to come out this year, in my opinion, while iron is still hot), but unlike Andrew Luck not as NFL-ready. If Peyton Manning is healthy, Griffin would be perfect to stash away and develop for 1-2 years.
After that, there are no “can’t miss” types. Oklahoma’s Landry Jones currently projects middle first-round, but comes across similar to Christian Ponder or Landry’s predecessor at OU, Sam Bradford. After Jones, there are no others whose skill set pops out, unless someone off-the-radar really progresses in the pre-draft workout process.
New entrants in “Suck for Luck” Sweepstakes
If Indianapolis does lose New Year’s Day, there will be a messy situation. If Archie Manning comes out and says that his son might not be crazy about starting while looking over his shoulder at his eventual replacement, it will not be the first time the Manning clan had sent a strong hint towards an NFL organization (see Eli Manning/San Diego Chargers/2004).
But again, there’s that $28 million roster bonus albatross, an awful lot for a 36-year old fresh off a couple of neck surgeries and now on a rebuilding team.
Should Indy complete their collapse and finish 3-13, the Minnesota Vikings could get the #1 pick by losing out, but I see the Vikes winning at least one game – if not Saturday in DC, then definitely against a Chicago Bears team with who knows how many ‘customers’, I mean players, potentially nervous about the next shoe dropping in the Sam Hurd saga.
The St. Louis Rams would be interesting, and stand a real chance of going 2-14 with the Steelers/49ers left on the schedule. Sam Bradford regressed this year, but then again so did everything around them. Would STL pull the plug on that investment, with the smart money having Luck being the better product in time? Or do they trade down, where they can get an impressive haul (i.e. multiple draft picks) which could be the better route for a franchise that simply needs more productive bodies everywhere?
An intriguing free agent QB
For the record, Drew Brees indicated on a radio interview with Westwood One Thursday night that he has zero intention of leaving the New Orleans Saints, and that the contract situation will be hammered out when appropriate.
But there’s the cautionary tale of Albert Pujols. Yes different sport, but similar story line. Brees seems to remain a perfect fit for the NOLA Saints – but a contract is a contract, and a contract expiring is a contract expiring.
What if Drew gets an offer too good to pass up??
There’s a franchise that has had a fantastic turnaround this season, but still, with hindsight being 20-20, laments selecting Alex Smith over what would had been the second incarnation of Joe Montana with the first pick of the 2005 Draft.
Aaron Rodgers will now never come through that door in Frisco, but Drew Brees, still in his prime, would be the next best thing – and the Niners’ missing link.
And I can think a few other landing spots for Drew – the Houston Texans now have the playoff monkey off their backs and Matt Schaub (when healthy) is decent, but Brees would be an upgrade. And can a New York Jets fan look anyone square in the eye and say they’re happy with Mark Sanchez?
So expect teams to play to win in Week 17, as it should be. If his health checks out, Peyton Manning should still be good for three more years while Indy develops Griffin, or someone else. And there are too many examples of QB’s being thrown into the fire and being ruined on bad teams (see Archie Manning, and now potentially Sam Bradford) or players who simply didn’t live up to their college exploits (see Matt Leinart/Vince Young).
When it comes to finding a special quarterback either by way of the NFL Draft or free agency, the process often comes down to – what else…