Carolina Panthers: Un”Luck”y In Losing? Franchise QB Andrew Luck Might Stay In School

Posted: December 31, 2010 in NFL
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See this article with photos on Bleacher Report

Oh, pity the poor Carolina Panthers.  This season has been simply a nightmare.  Admittedly, it’s been a self-inflicted one, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow for their fans.  With one final whipping coming up at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina is heading toward a 2-14 season.  There are some possible bight sides.  One, the John Fox era is mercifully about to come to a close.  And, two, they did a little clinching of their own last week, locking down the number one overall pick in the draft.

The most obvious glaring hole on the team is a quarterback, namely, they don’t have one.  I know, be patient with Jimmy Clausen and all that, but realistically, no Notre Dame QB has translated to big NFL success since Joe Montana, and I’ve seen nothing in Clausen so far that makes him look like anything other than a career backup if he’s lucky.  So, with a new coaching regime coming in and the top pick in the draft, a new franchise QB must not be far behind, right?  Not so fast.

Stanford QB Andrew Luck is everyone’s favorite to be the top pick, and he has all the earmarks of a possible go-to guy for the next decade or so.  The only problem?  He’s making noise about staying in school for another year.  This could be yet another nightmare for the Panthers.  Where do you go with the top pick if there’s no superstar QB?  Sure, you could trade down, which is a very successful way to build a good overall team, but its not the sexy way to energize your fan base in need of such a bump.  You could reach for the next best franchise looking QB available in Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, but reaching for a QB at the top of the draft rarely turns out well.  How ya liking Alex Smith, 49er fans?

Then there’s this little possibility.  Say Luck does go back to school, and Auburn beats Oregon in the National Championship Game with Tigers’ QB Cam Newton having a great game.  Is it possible that the hype from that lets Newton slide up into the vacuum left by Luck and the Panthers end up snagging the Heisman winner at number 1?  Newton is certainly an athletic specimen, but he has the very type of game that simply doesn’t translate at the QB position in the pros.  And again, reaching for an athletically gifted but sometimes troubled SEC QB at number 1 hasn’t been the best of decisions, either.  Didn’t JaMarcus Russell play in the SEC at LSU?

In my opinion, Luck’s talk of going back to school is so much bluster.  And that’s especially so if the rumors of his college coach Jim Harbaugh and a handful of pro jobs are true.  Everyone knows Harbaugh is an NFL guy; he spent a solid career as a quality QB in the league, he installed a pro system at Stanford and is developing pro-style players.  It’s simply a matter of time before Harbaugh is a head man coaching on the big stage.

Another issue is the labor strife soon to be coming to an NFL city near you.  If Luck waits, he’ll miss out on the last chance to get the kind of payday fellow number one QB’s Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and even JaMarcus Russell have gotten.  An education is great and all, but leaving literally millions of dollars on the table to come back to Stanford and play another year, possibly without his head coach, suggests that maybe Stanford should add a couple critical decision making courses to their curriculum.

And then there’s the matter of Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson.  Richardson has been one of the most, if not the most vocal supporter of sticking it to the players in the upcoming labor deal.  What are the chances that Richardson will throw big, guaranteed money at Luck, then turn right around and advocate outlawing throwing big, guaranteed money to rookies?  No, I suspect the suggestions coming from Luck about staying in school are directed at Carolina in an Eli Manning-esque “I don’t want to play for you” type of message.

Either way, this can’t be what Panther fans want to see.  There could be a trade in the offing for the top pick, like the one San Diego and New York swung for Manning and Phillip Rivers a few years ago.  If Carolina fans are lucky, things will work out as that one did for the Chargers.  Certainly, Manning did win a Superbowl, but Rivers is clearly a much, much better QB.   And here’s one last possibility to ponder:  what if Harbaugh signs on to be the head coach in San Francisco.  The 49ers will be picking somewhere in the mid-to late top 10 likely.  If Luck really doesn’t want to play for the Panthers, is it possible that his college coach will get his new team, also in desperate need of a QB, to trade up, nab Luck at number 1 and Carolina gets Ryan Mallett in a reasonable draft slot plus a couple extra pics to boot?  Stranger things have happened.

Just, for Panther fans’ sake, hope they don’t take Newton instead, or we could be having this same discussion next year at this time.

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