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The Early Lead
Posted at 09:49 AM ET, 12/23/2011

Colts beat Texans, clouding 2012 NFL draft picture, Andrew Luck’s landing spot


The Colts still hold the No. 1 overall pick and the right to draft Andrew Luck, but their grasp on that spot is slipping. (Paul Sakuma - AP)
Two weeks ago, all the early 2012 NFL draft chatter centered around one massive decision facing the Indianapolis Colts that could decide the future of the franshise: Would they select star Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick to groom him behind Peyton Manning, or would they trade one guy or the other?

But after the Colts beat the AFC South champion Houston Texans 19-16 on Thursday night for their second win in five days, that question is becoming increasingly hypothetical.

At 2-13, the Colts are now tied in the win column with the Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams. They still hold the edge for the top spot should all three teams lose out, but if the Colts can beat the Titans and Texans, shouldn’t they be able to knock off the reeling Jaguars in Week 16? And if they do, what happens then? Who ends up drafting Luck?

USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley announced his decision to return for his senior season on Thursday, kicking off a busy day of draft developments that saw the pool of top-tier quarterback prospects shrink and their possible NFL destinations shuffle.

At the moment, the Colts still hold the cards when it comes to Luck based on having the weakest strength of schedule among the three two-win teams, but that could change if they beat the Jaguars.

In a pre-game interview, Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay told the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen that the team’s primary concern at the moment is Manning’s health. But the prospect of shelling out for Manning’s $28 million option, due in January, and locking up Luck would result in a massive amount of the team’s salary cap going toward a single position.

“I don’t see that being the issue,” Irsay said. “I paid (Manning) $26 million this year — he didn’t play. I knew it was an iffy situation going in. In terms of if he’s healthy and if he’s ready to play, I see him back with us. The draft will be what the draft is; there are a lot of situations that can unfold from here. If there is a great young quarterback there, we wouldn’t hesitate to take him.”


Robert Griffin III’s stock is soaring after Matt Barkley’s announcement that he’ll return to USC and forego the NFL draft. (Jeff Zelevansky - Getty Images)
Several other teams likely share a similar outlook — although it’s unclear if the Vikings and Rams, who used their first round picks on the QB position in 2010 and 2011 respectively, fall into that category.

The other teams desperate for a franchise quarterback and likely to end up in the top 10 on draft day are the Redskins and Dolphins (Cleveland and Jacksonville could also be in the mix if they decide Colt McCoy and Blaine Gabbert are not their long term solutions). But with Barkley pulling his name off draft boards, the only quarterbacks many believe are worth a top-10 selection are Luck and Baylor’s Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III — who is suddenly the most popular guy in the room. That means teams will be scrambling to trade up to land Griffin to avoid reaching on a less proven guy like Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill or Arizona’s Nick Foles.

All the Colts need to do to give themselves the opportunity to draft Luck is lose next week. Then they can entertain wild trade offers from the rest of the league and watch everyone else fight to grab Griffin. But, somebody better tell Dan Orlovsky and the Colts’ defense the plan. Because right now they look like a formidable foe while the Jaguars — who could be preparing to draft their first-round quarterback in as many years — look spent.

And while Colts fans may be pulling their hair out, the team’s players would rather go out on a high note — which could, unintentionally, save the Peyton Manning era in Indy. All of this is creating quite the conundrum, as Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz wrote:

How are you supposed to feel about this? There’s the joy the fans felt, the good feelings in that locker room, the thrill of knocking off a good team with playoff seeding and a bye on the line. And there was the realization that maybe, just maybe, the Colts are going to lose the chance to draft the most NFL-ready quarterback to come along in years.
“That’s not for the players to worry about,” Joseph Addai said. ‘We just keep playing ball.”
Two years ago ago, they laid down on a perfect season.
Now, they’re the 1985 Bears of meaningless, late-season football.
Go figure.

More from Washington Post Sports:

Matt Barkley’s declines to enter NFL draft, will return for senior year

Early Lead: Peyton Manning is throwing again as rehab continues

Early Lead: Archie Manning doubts Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck want to be teammates

The League: Colts should keep Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck

By  |  09:49 AM ET, 12/23/2011

 
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