SI Vault
March 05, 2012
The combine kicked off two months of massive intrigue at football's most important position. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn—quarterbacks stand front and center as the draft and free agency seasons begin
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March 05, 2012

Luck, And A Whole Lot More

The combine kicked off two months of massive intrigue at football's most important position. Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn—quarterbacks stand front and center as the draft and free agency seasons begin

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• The Colts, picking first, seem locked on Luck. The quarterback told an SI reporter on Saturday night, "You've already got me going to Indianapolis." That's because the owner does. In an story last week, owner Jim Irsay was already referring to his future QB as "Andrew."

• The Rams, at No. 2, are open for business. Two years ago St. Louis drafted quarterback Sam Bradford first overall, so last Saturday, in a meeting of the new St. Louis brain trust, chief operating officer Kevin Demoff told coach Jeff Fisher and G.M. Les Snead that they didn't have to play the phony card of threatening to draft Griffin. St. Louis is ready to deal its pick, and one NFL source said on Saturday night that the team has already had several feelers—including one from a team "you would never expect." Most likely trade-up partners: Cleveland (picking fourth), Washington (sixth) and Miami (eighth). It's likely the Rams will get the highest compensation ever for a draft choice that wasn't the first overall: at least two picks in the first round plus another.

• Flynn has admirers. A seventh-round pick of the Packers in 2008, he has made only two starts in four seasons, but both were great. Against Detroit in the 2011 regular-season finale he threw for a franchise-record 480 yards and six touchdowns. There's interest from Seattle, Miami, Cleveland and likely elsewhere. The Packers could put the franchise tag on Flynn, which carries a guaranteed $14.4 million salary in 2012. But if they do, it would be in hopes of trading him for more value than the late third-round pick in 2013 they'd likely get as compensation if he left through free agency. And in the dicey game of musical chairs involving all the quarterbacks on the market, Green Bay G.M. Ted Thompson may decide it isn't worth the risk of being stuck with a backup who'd be making $6 million more than his starter, reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers. Thompson was mum on his plans in Indianapolis; a Packers source says he hasn't made up his mind whether to franchise Flynn. "Ted's too conservative to take that risk," one general manager who knows Thompson well said on Sunday. (A team that trades for Flynn could renegotiate his contract.)

• The Manning guessing game is heating up. The six-month anniversary of Manning's major neck surgery and the date by which the Colts must decide whether to exercise a $28 million option on his contract (March 8) are looming. The strong likelihood is that Indy will let Manning go. So what team takes the risk on a soon-to-be-36-year-old quarterback who has undergone four neck procedures over the last two years? The smart money says that Manning, if released, will end up with the Dolphins, Redskins, Seahawks, Cardinals or Jets. Though Miami may not be a good fit, with a rookie coach (Joe Philbin) trying to build for the long haul, put yourself in the shoes of Stephen Ross. One of the league's richest owners, he failed to lure Jim Harbaugh or Jeff Fisher to Miami to coach; it's all but certain that Ross will push his staff to make a big splash at quarterback, no matter the cost. Griffin would be big. Manning would be too.

So the fates of a host of quarterbacks are intertwined this year. But for two of them, Manning and Luck, the family connections go back much longer—three decades, in fact.

In September 1982 Archie Manning, playing out the string of his career, was traded from the Saints to the Oilers. Gifford Nielsen was the second quarterback in Houston, and the third was a rookie from West Virginia, Oliver Luck. That's right—Andrew's future father.

"I was the gofer," Oliver said on Sunday. "Archie didn't move his family, so he'd go back and forth once a week to New Orleans, and sometimes he'd bring his two boys back." Cooper Manning was eight at the time and Peyton, six.

"Archie would say, 'Hey, take 'em for ice cream, a hamburger,'" Luck said. "I'd put 'em in my Mazda RX-7 and take 'em out. Maybe play putt-putt golf with them. Good kids."

As a young quarterback Andrew had a direct connection with the Mannings. In eighth and ninth grades he attended the Manning Passing Academy, the summer quarterback camp the family hosts in Louisiana. And while he was at Stanford, Andrew twice served as a counselor at the camp, where he tried to glean kernels of advice from Peyton. "He was my football hero," Andrew said on Saturday night, in a downtown Indianapolis hotel room that looked out over the skyline and Lucas Oil Stadium, the House That Peyton Built. "But I was lucky. Because my dad played football and I was around the game growing up, I was never starstruck. And Peyton never made you feel that way. He was great to be around. It's the classiest family."

Few quarterbacks will enter the NFL as pro-ready as Luck—maybe none have since Manning was selected No. 1 overall by the Colts 14 years ago. Last season at Stanford, Luck consistently got to do something that quarterbacks rarely do in pro ball: He went to the line of scrimmage with three plays and, depending on the defensive scheme he saw, Luck picked which one to run. Imagine the speed needed to process and communicate that information. "It was an intellectual challenge," Luck said. "How could we make it so we don't have any negative plays? I'm fortunate they trusted me to do that."

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