As the NCAA football season wound down, it became obvious that Jim Harbaugh was at least considering leaving his comfy Stanford confines for either the University of Michigan or an NFL gig. After rebuffing Michigan and some dalliances with other NFL teams, Harbaugh eventually signed a five-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers. Unfortunately for the former NFL quarterback, he’ll have to start his professional head coaching career without the star QB who helped him turn around the Cardinal football program. Or will he?
When Andrew Luck, who has two years of eligibility remaining, announced a couple of days before Harbaugh’s decision that he was staying at Stanford for another year, conventional thinking about the situation was turned on its ear. The thought had been that Luck would be the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft, snatched up by the Carolina Panthers. His return to school, though, was read by many pundits as an indication that Harbaugh, too, had decided to stay at Stanford. When Harbaugh later bolted for the 49ers, the gears of conspiracy began to turn again. One current theory has Harbaugh and Luck orchestrating a series of moves that would see them both on the sidelines for the 49ers (who pick seventh in the draft) next fall.
This scenario plays out as follows:
– Luck returns to school and removes himself from the draft, thus causing Carolina and all of the other teams to adjust their picks.
– Other players declare their eligibility, based in part on Luck’s decision. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett may fit this description.
– Harbaugh accepts the 49ers’ job, which many assume he has long coveted, and begins planning the future of that team.
– The NFL draft is held on April 28. Teams fill their needs through the draft, including the 49ers’ choosing of a cornerback, one of their weak positions.
– Luck hires an agent, making him ineligible for the 2011 college season. He thus becomes eligible for the supplemental draft.
– The 49ers outbid other teams by pledging their next first-round bid for Luck, thus winning his rights and reuniting the quarterback with Harbaugh.
There is some risk involved in this plan. In particular, if a team with a worse record than San Francisco also bids a first pick for Luck, then the 49ers would lose the rights to him. Still, the way this situation has played out is at least coincidental, and the 49ers could always negotiate with any team that won the rights to Luck (see Eli Manning and the New York Giants).
So, is there some great football conspiracy going on in the Bay Area? It’s probably not all that likely, but it could certainly be a possibility. It has happened at least once before, with Bernie Kosar and the Cleveland Browns. The Kosar mess prompted draft rule changes, but there seem to be viable workarounds. Whatever the case, it should be interesting to watch the events in San Francisco between now and next summer.