The winless Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts are jockeying to land what one former National Football League executive says may be the most valuable top pick in modern draft history.
All they have to do is keep losing.
Andrew Luck, Stanford University’s quarterback, is regarded by scouts and NFL draft analysts such as Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN as the most highly regarded college passer since John Elway in 1983. They say he probably will be the No. 1 pick in 2012.
Luck’s ability, coupled with the NFL’s current rookie wage scale that limits the size of contracts, has made him potentially the most important top pick since 1970, when the NFL and American Football League merged drafts, said former Green Bay Packers Vice President Andrew Brandt, now an analyst for ESPN.
“Not only do you have this once-in-a-decade talent, but you have a drastically reduced financial obligation,” Brandt said. “It makes this pick extremely special. A team would normally have the value of a great pick, but have incredible financial risk.”
Under the wage scale, implemented as part of the league’s labor agreement four months ago, Luck would make about $24 million over four years as the top draft pick, Brandt said. In comparison, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, the top pick two years ago, landed a six-year, $78 million deal that included $50 million in guaranteed money.
The chance to select Luck, whose father, Oliver, was an NFL quarterback for Houston from 1983-86 and former president of NFL Europe, goes to the team with the worst record.
Entering Week 9 of the 17-week regular season, the Colts are 0-8 after losing quarterback Peyton Manning to a neck injury, while the Dolphins are 0-7. The Rams and Arizona Cardinals are 1-6 with nine regular-season games remaining.
Luck’s projected NFL success has given rise to a movement among some fans who want their struggling teams to lose. The campaign has a rallying cry that rhymes with Luck’s name, and the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida started a section to track the Luck sweepstakes.
“The ‘Suck for Luck,’ no team is approaching it that way, I promise you,” said Brian Billick, a Fox Sports NFL analyst who coached the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title. “It’s too early in the season. Now, at the end of the season, are they thinking it? Sure, but you’re not going to hear anybody talking about it.”
Dolphins owner Steve Ross, whose franchise had 14 starting quarterbacks since Hall of Famer Dan Marino retired in 2000, has said he doesn’t want to lose games to get the No. 1 pick.
The Colts host the 4-3 Atlanta Falcons this week as 7-point underdogs, while the Dolphins are 4-point underdogs in Kansas City against a team that’s won four straight games.
Neither Indianapolis nor Miami is favored by oddsmakers in any of its remaining games. The Colts have a 7.5-percent chance and the Dolphins have a 5.5-percent chance of going 0-16, according to RJ Bell, the founder of Las Vegas-based handicapping information website Pregame.com.
“There are many examples of teams with poor records winning late in the season,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail. “The jobs of players and coaches are on the line and they want to win.”
Even though the Colts say Manning, a four-time NFL Most Valuable Player, will be healthy next season, Brandt says there’s no question Indianapolis should draft Luck if given the opportunity. When Brandt was in Green Bay, the Packers drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers even though they had three-time MVP Brett Favre. Rodgers led the Packers to the Super Bowl championship last season.
“It’s a no-brainer, whether Peyton plays one, two, three or even four more years,” Brandt said. “Organizations have to evolve and this is the natural evolution, to have a player at the ready at the most important position.”
Luck, 22, returned to school after last season, saying he was committed to earning his degree in architectural design, and has led the Cardinal to an 8-0 start and a No. 4 ranking in the national polls. He is set to finish his courses by the spring quarter of 2012 and enter the draft.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who has worked with Luck the past two years at Manning’s passing academy, said in an interview that even if the Dolphins land the No. 1 pick, fans shouldn’t expect Luck alone to be a savior for a franchise that’s made one playoff appearance in the past 10 seasons.
The Detroit Lions drafted quarterback Matt Stafford No. 1 in 2009 after the only 0-16 season in NFL history and went 8-24 in his first two years before a 6-2 start this season.
“You still have to build a team around that kid,” Mayock said.