Could NFL be Stuck without Luck -- Again?

Len Pasquarelli ponders the preposterous (right?): Redshirt junior Andrew Luck might just have the makeup to go contrarian again and bypass the NFL draft once more for a fourth season at Stanford.

There has been plenty of discussion the past few weeks, much of it summarily dismissed in the locker rooms of the franchises most often mentioned, about whether a team might purposely sabotage its season in order to gain the first overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft, and, thus, the rights to Stanford quarterback and likely Heisman Trophy winner Andrew Luck.

For the most part, players and coaches, who fret a lot more over cashing their next paychecks than about their team's next presumptive savior, have denied even the potential for any such plot.

But let's forget about the stuff that makes for good copy for a moment, and the sinister suggestions that one of the league's bottom-feeders might actually scuttle its season for the dubious distinction of gaining the top pick. For the heck of it, and maybe because the notion hasn't been nearly as discussed as the sexier conspiracy theories, how about this different monkey wrench tossed into the mix:

What if Luck, widely regarded as the top quarterback prospect in the last 10 or 20 years, doesn't even make himself available for the 2012 draft? What if it's Luck who, somewhat ironically, actually tanks the plans of the clubs who covet him?

Sure, such a possibility is considered anathema, no doubt.

It seems unthinkable, certainly to the NFL scouts to whom The Sports Xchange has spoken over the past few days, and several of whom are drooling over having Luck in the lottery, that the star quarterback would remain at Stanford for his final season of college eligibility. But it should be noted that, at the same time a year ago, several of the same scouts were all but assuring that Luck would be in the 2011 draft.

So, um, how'd that work out?

Seemingly overshadowed in all the rhetoric about franchises possibly losing for the presumed top prospect is the potential that, in doing so, they could be left Luck-less.

How so?

Well, equally camouflaged by all the Luck internet rumors is the reality that the quarterback -- who has completed nearly two-thirds of his career attempts, has rung up a 28-5 record as a starter, and will take his team to another Bowl game -- actually has another season of eligibility at Stanford beyond this one, and that he could actually stay on campus in 2012. Luck redshirted in 2008 and, while that made him eligible for the 2011 draft, it also means he could stick around for another year in Palo Alto, if he so desired.

It's definitely an angle that hasn't been much considered.

Last time we checked, Luck hadn't publically conceded that he will be in the '12 draft, and he can't formally submit the requisite paperwork to league officials until this season concludes. Fact is, there is some question as to whether Luck even has to declare himself to the NFL for the 2012 draft, since he is technically eligible anyway. From talking to agents, and a few people with solid insights into Luck's plans, he hasn't even started considering player reps yet.

Admittedly, it is borderline preposterous to consider that Luck might ignore the NFL's siren song for a second consecutive year, and not be in the draft. Stranger things, though, have happened.

Consider, for the sake of argument, a few factors:

--Whether Luck is the top pick in the 2012 or '13 draft, the money probably isn't going to be considerably different, thanks in part to the new collective bargaining agreement and its 10-year term. The era of $50 million guarantees is gone now, with St. Louis' Sam Bradford the last top pick to cash in, and it's not coming back.

--If Luck was purely motivated by money, he could have made himself available in the 2011 draft, and started cashing his NFL paychecks that much quicker. There is a suspicion, and nothing more, that the seemingly erudite Luck isn't a money-first kind of guy. The guess is that his father, West Virginia athletic director and former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, probably banked a few bucks from his tenure in the league. The Luck family might not be independently wealthy, but we're not dealing, either, with a hardship situation.

--Luck last year counseled, at least a little, with Peyton Manning, about his future. Manning, as did brother Eli, rebuffed the NFL until his college eligibility expired. In fact, Eli Manning is the last quarterback chosen No. 1 in a draft who did not leave college early. Maybe there is the possibility, remote as it is, that Luck really enjoys the college experience just as much as the Manning brothers did. Yeah, if he hung around for another college season, Luck would enter the NFL as a 23-year-old rookie. The last five quarterbacks chosen first overall were all 22 or younger, but 23 isn't exactly rocking-chair time, especially at the quarterback position. The younger Manning was 23 when he debuted in the league.

--If Luck isn't enamored of playing for any of the teams currently in contention for his rights, he could wait another year and see if the landscape changes. Other than money, addressed earlier, there is nothing to be lost in such a scenario.

None of this is to suggest, of course, that Luck will remain at Stanford for the 2012 season, and won't be available until the 2013 draft. Admittedly, it is a contrarian view, and one that doesn't have much chance of likelihood. But how delicious would it be if a franchise actually deep-sixed its season for the rights to the top selection next April, as some have broadly hinted, and that team discovered that is was out of Luck, both literally and figuratively?

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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