I wrote in January that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck made the wrong decision when he chose to stay in school for his junior season, rather than move on to the NFL. Finishing college (he’s expected to complete a degree in architectural design in Spring 2012) is a fine idea, if your plan is to get a real job.
Of course, Luck won’t be in the same boat as most college graduates these days, struggling to find work. Instead, Luck, when he does enter the league, likely will be one of 30 starting quarterbacks with a full-time job and a guaranteed salary.
With millions of dollars on the line, Luck chose to skip this year’s professional football draft, in which he almost certainly would’ve been the top pick. Luck opted to stay in school despite the fact that then Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh was planning his own jump to the NFL, which he eventually made to the 49ers.
Even for a quarterback like Luck, starting over with a new coach is risky business.
Time will tell if Luck made a smart football decision. Had he entered the NFL this year, Luck probably would be playing for the lowly Carolina Panthers, a team that won only two of 16 games last season. It’s hard to blame Luck for not wanting to waste his early pro years with that going-nowhere organization.
Still, had Luck left for the NFL, today he’d be earning millions of dollars and living a celebrity lifestyle rather than prepping for the upcoming college semester. It’s true, his cash position is weaker now than it would have been – on the other hand, maybe this was part of Luck’s strategy all along. What if his goal was to suit up for a different NFL team altogether – like, say, the San Francisco 49ers.
A Master Plan
Conspiracy theorists, chew on this: Maybe Luck always intended to play for the Niners, a team with a rich quarterback tradition, unlike the Panthers. Luck knew the Panthers would draft him, so he stayed in school. Harbaugh, with clandestine support from San Francisco 49er team management, decided to keep Alex Smith, knowing full well he’s going to be lousy again this year. (Is this even in doubt?)
To seal the deal on the team’s pitiful 2011 performance, and put themselves in optimal position to draft Luck in 2012, the 49ers plotted the signing of wide receiver Braylon Edwards, too, a notorious troublemaker and a frequent flouter of the law.
Having hinged its offense to the unreliable Smith and the erstwhile Edwards, the Niners are practically guaranteed to struggle; a 2-14 season isn’t out of the question. With its lowly record and high draft position intact, the 49ers could “luck” into Luck.
Does a conspiracy theory sound far-fetched? Consider:
Shortly after becoming the Niners coach earlier this year, Harbaugh announced that he hoped incumbent quarterback Alex Smith would re-sign with the team, an idea that seemed ludicrous when last season ended.
Harbaugh’s statement, one could argue, was calculated. He knew there’d be an a lockout in the NFL, which there was, and the Niners would have a hard time finding a decent, cost-effective starting quarterback in a dispute-shortened offseason.
So, figuring Smith would be the best he could do in year one, and recognizing that Smith’s failure wouldn’t be perceived as his own (since Harbaugh didn’t draft Smith), Harbaugh went public with the Smith Plan, and Alex eventually signed with the team.
Now, if Smith falters, Harbaugh can say, “He wasn’t my guy anyway,” and move on.
It’s a foregone conclusion that Smith will be awful, but to cement its plan, the Niners signed Edwards, too, a talented but completely off-the-reservation wide receiver.
Edwards caught 53 passes last year for 904 yards and seven touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl following the 2007 season, and at 28 he’s still young enough that his best years could be ahead of him.
But Edwards’ former team, the New York Jets, a Super Bowl contender, decided to let the receiver walk after last season. Make no mistake, this wasn’t a cost-cutting move. Last week, the Jets handed out over $50 million in contracts to two other receivers, Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress.
The decision also had little to do with character, since Holmes was run out of the Pittsburgh Steelers organization for bad behavior, and Burress just got out of prison.
The NFL is full of poor character guys, but most avoid run-ins with the law. The same can’t be said about Edwards. In arguably the most important offseason of his life, with his career at a crossroads and the majority of teams wanting nothing to do with him, Edwards caught a huge break when the 49ers came calling.
And how did Edwards reward his new employer? Last week in Birmingham, Michigan, Edwards was at the scene of a bar fight in which two of his cousins reportedly stabbed bouncers with a pocketknife and fork.
Tell me this wasn’t part of the 49ers grand plan to sabotage their 2012 season!
I’m not saying the 49ers can’t win this year – my father-in-law insists the team is capable of winning seven games. Vernon Davis, the team’s top receiver a year ago, should get better. The Niners defense should be strong again, particularly after they jettisoned has-been playmaker Nate Clements. And Frank Gore is still in the backfield, but he’s coming off the worst statistical season since his rookie year.
The simple fact is, unless Harbaugh comes out of retirement to play quarterback for the Niners, this season is probably lost before it begins. Sorry, 49er faithful.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Las Vegas, put your money on the 49ers losing a lot this season. To win in the NFL, you need offense and defense, and the team is sorely lacking in the former.
It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Smith struggles and Edwards gets suspended by the league. If that happens and Gore declines, a lot will be asked of the Niners defense and first year head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Whatever the result, it isn’t going to cost Harbaugh his job. And it might just lead the 49ers to a solution they wanted all along: the opportunity to draft Andrew Luck. The 49ers might then be relevant again, and conspiracy theorists will be hollering, “We told you so!”