The near-unanimous assumption is that Stanford QB Andrew Luck will be the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. But is it really a set-in-stone certainty?
Indianapolis currently leads the race for that top selection -- the 0-7 Colts have the edge over the 0-6 Dolphins and Rams. The Colts appear to be a perfect fit for Luck, too. Right now, they're stuck with Curtis Painter as quarterback with Peyton Manning on injured reserve.
However, ex-NFL quarterback and current TV analyst Phil Simms said Wednesday on Showtime's "Inside the NFL" that the Colts might have to think twice before taking Luck.
"There is no way if Peyton Manning is given a clean bill of health -- I'm going to go on that assumption -- that he is going to let them draft Andrew Luck."
Whether or not Manning will be cleared and able to return in 2012 is unknown -- not to mention the fact that he could simply choose retirement, given that he'll be 36 by the time next season begins.
Let's work off Simms' assumption, though, that Manning gets back on the field. Could he really talk the Colts out of taking Luck? It seems unlikely.
Colts president Bill Polian, who devotes a ton of time each year to talent evaluation, already scouted Luck earlier this season against Duke. That doesn't mean Polian is 100-percent sold on taking Luck No. 1 overall, should the opportunity arise, but it may be hard to pass -- assuming Manning doesn't go off the rails over the possibility.
Manning signed a five-year, $90 million contract this summer, so it's hard to believe he would walk away entirely. Still, if Simms is right at all about how Manning would react to the possibility of Luck being behind him on the depth chart, the Colts might have to do some damage control. Would Manning retire? Would he request a trade?
Polian might at least discuss the team's future with his franchise QB before pulling the trigger in the draft.
Simms' comments also again raise the possibility that there could chaos at the top of the draft. Take St. Louis, for example. The Rams just used the 2010 No. 1 overall pick to take QB Sam Bradford.
Should the Rams wind up with the league's worst record and the top spot in 2012, what would they do? St. Louis' obvious choices: Take someone else or trade down, allowing a team in more desperate need of a quarterback to grab Luck.
A third possibility exists: The Rams could explore a trade of Bradford, then take Luck for themselves.
Both financially and from a roster standpoint, having both Bradford and Luck on the roster would be ridiculous. ESPN's Mike Sando reminds us that Bradford's contract (six years, $78 million) will be far more than Luck commands, due to the new CBA restrictions on rookie deals. If St. Louis could somehow unload Bradford and take Luck, it would have millions of leftover dollars to plug other roster spots.
Of course, that plan would rely on: 1. A team enamored enough with Bradford to take on his contract; and 2. Finding a team willing to trade for Bradford, when the No. 1 pick is more highly coveted.
We still have a lot of season to go, so all the speculation is just that for now -- Miami, Minnesota, Arizona and others could still drop all the way down to the NFL's basement and swipe the top pick. The team that grabs that coveted selection just might not be as quick to take Andrew Luck as everyone assumes.