“With the first pick of the 2011 NFL draft, the Buffalo Bills pick . . . “
I hope and pray that the next words out of commissioner Roger Goodell’s mouth are “Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford University.”
And, if you are a Bills fan, you should hope and pray this, too.
Of the big three college quarterbacks who will be eligible for next year’s draft – Luck, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and Washington’s Jake Locker – this Cardinal soars the highest. He passes the eye test and the scout’s test. Long-time followers of Stanford football are calling him the best QB ever to play in Palo Alto, and that’s pretty high praise, considering that school also produced John Elway and Jim Plunkett. (Yes, I know it also produced Trent Edwards, but I’m trying to accentuate the positive here, folks.)
A respected former scout who does work for The Sporting News calls Luck the best quarterback prospect he has ever seen, better than even Peyton Manning.
If you went to central casting in Hollywood looking for a quarterback, Luck would be your guy.
He is 6-foot-4, 235-pounds with a laser-beam arm capable of making all the throws.
He reportedly has a photographic memory and a mind that’s able to process information incredibly fast.
He has great bloodlines – his father, Oliver Luck, played quarterback at West Virginia University and in the NFL for several years.
His coach, Jim Harbaugh, played QB at a fairly high level for 15 NFL seasons.
He has won 13 of his 18 starts and, if he continues at his current pace, will finish with 32 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions this season.
On top of all of that, he’s an honor student and a humble young man who is quick to accept blame when things go wrong and quick to heap praise on teammates when things go right.
So, you can see why I think he is the ideal guy to lead the Bills out of the abyss and attempt to save the franchise the way Jim Kelly did a generation ago.
The fly-in-the-ointment here is whether Luck – a red-shirt sophomore – will declare himself eligible for the draft by Jan. 15 or opt to stay in school for another season.
He said over the summer that he planned to play college football in 2011, but there are some mitigating factors that might change his mind.
Although it is not the most pressing issue in the upcoming negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players’ union, the two parties will discuss a future cap on guaranteed money paid to high draft picks. The St. Louis Rams doled out $50 million in guaranteed cash to No. 1 pick Sam Bradford. And the top 15 picks also received huge guaranteed moola. Several owners believe it is ridiculous to pay this kind of money for players who have never played a down of pro football. I tend to agree, and I can see why this system angers veteran players who have already proven themselves.
If a rookie cap were to go into effect, it wouldn’t happen until 2012, meaning a potential No. 1 pick like Luck would be risking tens of millions of dollars by not coming out following this season.
There also have been rumors that Harbaugh, a Michigan alum, still hankers to return to his alma mater as head coach. Were he to leave, that certainly would factor into Luck’s plans. These rumors, though, have subsided somewhat, now that the Wolverines have gotten off to a 5-1 start under embattled coach Rich Rodriquez. But they might percolate to the top again should Michigan falter in the second half of the season.
Luck also must weigh the risks of playing another season of college football when he’s already considered NFL-ready. Locker was projected as the No. 1 or 2 pick in last April’s draft, but he opted to return to the Huskies and has seen his stock plummet faster than Enron’s. Though he should still be a first-rounder, few are projecting him to be the No. 1 selection, so his decision likely will cost him several million dollars.
The other factor, of course, is whether Luck would even want to play for a franchise that not only has a putrid record but also a reputation for dysfunction. Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey – if he’s still the coach – will have to do a masterly sales job to convince Luck he can be the guy to revive the Bills. And let’s hope that Edwards isn’t close to Luck and starts bad-mouthing the Bills.
By all accounts, he’s THE guy Buffalo has to get.
After so many abysmal decisions over the past decade, let’s hope the Bills finally get some Luck.
Award-winning columnist and author Scott Pitoniak has covered the Bills since 1985 and has written five books about the team, including the recently published, Buffalo Bills Football Vault: The First 50 Seasons, which is available at any book store, the Bills team stores and Amazon.com. You can read more by Scott at www.scottpitoniak.com .