Nine weeks ago, when quarterback Andrew Luck announced he was passing on the NFL draft and remaining at Stanford, it was viewed by most fans as a head-scratcher – a likely No. 1 overall pick leaving millions of dollars on the table so he could continue, gulp, attending classes.
Today, Luck's decision looks like sheer genius.
What happened between then and now? Something called a lockout, or at least the possibility of one should the NFL and players association dig their heels further into the ground in search of a collective bargaining agreement.
Think of it this way: In the event of a work stoppage that stretches into summer, rookies will be prevented from attending mini-camps, meeting their coaches and absorbing reams of information in their new teams' playbooks. At the same time, Luck and his teammates will be preparing for Stanford's season opener Sept. 3 against San Jose State.
Summers are crucial to rookies. It's their first taste of the NFL, which has little similarity to the college game, at least in terms of practice and preparation. Rookies use mini-camps to learn how to become professional players – everything from eating right to staying in shape to watching game film. It's a necessary prelude to the rigors of two-a-days at training camp. It's also real work.
Losing all that time might mean the difference between starting as a rookie or, depending on how soon a work stoppage ends, watching the season from the sideline. Luck, meanwhile, won't have to worry about missing any time.
"The reality of it is, you're always better off going back to school, having your body develop and getting more comfortable with your game," said an NFL insider who has worked as a scout. "I think it was a good decision on his part. Quarterbacks should stay the whole time because they get more out of it."
There are drawbacks, of course. Luck, who will be a junior this season, was a virtual certainty to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers. In a league short on top-flight quarterbacks, he also would have been coveted by the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings, among others.
An injury or a subpar season could also affect Luck's future. Sam Bradford of Oklahoma suffered a shoulder injury in the first game of last season, leading to questions of his durability; he was still picked No. 1 by the St. Louis Rams. But Jake Locker of Washington has seen his draft stock plunge after he appeared to regress in his senior season. He would have been one of the top picks had he come out last year.
Those are risks, but Oliver Luck, Andrew's father and a former NFL quarterback, said his son was willing to take them.
"Given where medicine is today, there may not be any traditional injuries that aren't repairable," Oliver Luck told the New York Times recently. "Witness what happened to (Bradford) last year. There's risk in virtually everything you do. I tend to focus more on the reward channel."
He's not talking about money, although Luck obviously will be leaving plenty unclaimed, despite a rookie salary scale that will be a part of any new CBA. But Luck has said he intends to earn his degree in architectural design in the spring of 2012 and wants to finish his collegiate career with the Stanford teammates he started with.
Those are pretty admirable qualities. At the moment, they also look like smart reasons for coming back.
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