Colts’ risk with Andrew Luck, NFL power rankings and more

NFL


The first week of the NFL preseason is upon us, and Andrew Luck is slated to play plenty throughout August. It’s not a good idea.

Frank Reich believes in knocking the rust off of Andrew Luck’s right arm. It’s understandable if not without gigantic, permanent risks.

Reich, a first-time head coach given the gift of a franchise quarterback and the curse of a balky throwing arm, is trying to get his team ready for Week 1 when it sees the Cincinnati Bengals. If his own true star isn’t prepared, what chance do the Colts stand?

As for Luck, he is finally healthy enough to see action. Indianapolis plays the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday in the Emerald City, drawing a solid defensive line with a quality edge rusher in Frank Clark. While Seattle will likely play its starters for a series — at most — before yanking them, Reich apparently plans on playing Luck for a full quarter before stretching him out as the month goes on.

This, despite the hamstring injury to left tackle Anthony Castonzo, which will keep him out of the tilt with Seattle and perhaps through the exhibition slate. Luck can’t be enthused about having a second-string tackle on his blind side, but that’s reality for a quarterback thrust into the lineup in Indianapolis.

Luck hasn’t played since Week 17 of the 2016 season, since dealing with a right shoulder injury that has kept him in hat instead of helmet. With him out of the lineup, the Colts stumbled to a woeful 4-12 mark, saw head coach Chuck Pagano get fired and Reich get hired, only after Josh McDaniels pulled the 11th hour switcharoo.

Despite the losing, the firing, the near-hiring and the eventual hire, not much has changed in Indianapolis. The offensive line is still offensive, the weapons are T.Y. Hilton and a bunch of extras, and the defense reads like a MAC First-Team. In short, the Colts have one of the worst rosters in the NFL, and general manager Chris Ballard did little to address it this offseason.

All of this begs the question, can Luck survive this situation? Are the Colts giving him any avenue to stay healthy and produce, or are they better off by shelving him through most if not all of the preseason, playing him with max protection in the regular season, and then going from there?

Luck remains in the prime of his career at 28 years old, which brings up another scenario worth considering. Say the former No. 1 overall pick plays in 16 games and showcases that he’s back to 100 percent, but Indianapolis still finishes with double-digit defeats. Should Ballard start making and fielding calls on Luck’s availability?

If Luck hit the block, teams would line up willing to pay out the remainder of a three-year, $77 million deal with only $19.2 million in guarantees. His value would start with multiple first-round selections, and coupled with the extra second-round choice Ballard got from the New York Jets this winter, Indianapolis would be down a franchise quarterback but up serious ammunition to fix the roster, plus still have the intriguing upside of Jacoby Brissett.

In the end, though, it’s about the here and now for the Colts. On Thursday, Luck will take the field, with Reich gambling on action instead of inactivity in meaningless games.

If the three-time Pro Bowler can rediscover his old form, Indianapolis becomes interesting. If not, only more questions are created in Naptown.

Power rankings

Top 10 underrated players in today’s game

1. Ryan Kerrigan, OLB, Washington Redskins
2. Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears
3. Chris Harris Jr., CB, Denver Broncos
4. Chandler Jones, OLB, Arizona Cardinals
5. Mike Daniels, DT, Green Bay Packers
6. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
7. Cameron Heyward, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers
8. Cameron Jordan, DE, New Orleans Saints
9. Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Houston Texans
10. Kyle Williams, DT, Buffalo Bills

Quotable

“He had a few hiccups today, but that’s a part of the process. When you’re young you need those hiccups because they become valuable lessons. … Would we like for him to be perfect? Yes. We’d like for him to have the highest quarterback rating ever. … He just needs to be poised under pressure.”

– Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Patrick Mahomes’ interceptions

We’re talkin’ about practice.

Mahomes is a first-year starter entering his second NFL season, which means for every great play, there’s going to be a maddening red-zone interception, especially early on. The Chiefs have an incredible talent under center, but mistakes are part of the deal for a 22-year-old kid with a rifle for an arm.

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill produce a new episode of Stacking The Box each Monday. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes! Also, there will be a Stacking The Box show every Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. ET, with Verderame, Hill, Michelle Burton and Mark Carman on the FanSided Facebook page. Tune in!

Random stat

How much have times changed in the NFL?

Bob Griese is a Hall of Fame quarterback who played 173 career games for the Miami Dolphins between 1967-80. He threw for more than 300 yards only three times.

Last year, Carson Wentz eclipsed that plateau four times in 13 games for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Info learned this week

1. Injuries piling up as training camps continue

It’s early August, which means the NFL is already seeing its first wave of injuries.

The secondaries around the league should probably protect themselves with bubble wrap from here on out, with Jason Verrett of the Los Angeles Chargers, Johnathan Cyprien of the Tennessee Titans and Ross Cockrell fo the Carolina Panthers already done for the season. Verrett tore his Achilles during the team’s conditioning test, while Cyprien (torn ACL) and Cockrell (broken leg) were injuries during team periods.

In addition, Richard Sherman is dealing with a balky hamstring, something that has to be a concern to the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners brought Sherman in to be their top corner, despite the 30-year-old coming off a torn Achilles tendon. While the two injuries are seemingly unrelated, one wonders if the body is compensating.

Finally, the New England Patriots released receiver Jordan Matthews after he injured his hamstring. Matthews came over on a one-year deal, hoping to fill the void left by Danny Amendola. Instead, that job will be left to veteran Eric Decker, who signed with the club for 2018.

2. Rams, Donald don’t agree on value

The Los Angeles Rams and their superstar defensive tackle, Aaron Donald, have been locked ina sort of contract gridlock for over a year. It doesn’t appear there will be a breakthrough any time soon. Rams COO Kevin Demoff spoke on the matter, stating Donald’s camp believes he has a certain value that the team doesn’t agree with.

Frankly, it’s hard to see how the sides don’t see the same picture. By any realistic measure, Donald is the most dominant defensive player in the league. He’s the current Defensive Player of the Year and has reached the Pro Bowl each of his four NFL seasons while being a three-time First-Team All-Pro.

Los Angeles is either going to make him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, or Donald won’t be signing long-term.

3. Giants, Beckham talking deal

The New York Giants and Odell Bcekham Jr. are in good standing with each other, and the momentum appears on the way for a contract extension. Beckham, who is playing out the final year of his rookie deal, has his representation talking with the Giants about a contract that likely would reset the market for wide receivers.

Despite injury woes throughout his first four seasons, Beckham has racked up 4,424 yards and 38 touchdowns in his career. The 25-year-old watched Stefon Diggs and the Minnesota Vikings agree on five years and $72 million, while the Rams locked up Brandin Cooks for the same term and $80 million. When Beckham signs on the dotted line, look for him to notch all-time highs in guarantees and overall value for a receiver, keeping him in Gotham for the long haul.

4. Jackson predictably struggles in Hall Of Fame Game

On Thursday night, Lamar Jackson stepped onto the field in Canton, hoping to start a journey that will eventually end there. However, for the first-round rookie, it was anything but a smooth beginning. The youngster showed flashes of ability but mostly rawness, ending the night by completing 4-of-10 passes for 33 yards with a touchdown and interception.

Of course, this is the preseason. Stats mean little, something Deshaun Watson showed after having a poor exhibition season a year ago, only to dazzle when it counted. So what is the takeaway? Jackson looked like a kid who needs seasoning, but we already knew that. For him, the best thing in 2018 is to sit behind Joe Flacco, learn the playbook, and read himself for the future.

5. Nike won’t renew sponsorship of Winston

Jameis Winston is losing what is likely his most lucrative sponsor, with Nike deciding not to renew the expiring contract between the two. Winston, who has been suspended by the league for the first three games of the regular season due to allegations of groping an Uber driver, has gone from sought after to toxic for brands.

Should the Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggle mightily this season and see a housecleaning, it’s fair to wonder whether Winston will be back in pewter come 2019. His turnover struggles have been well-documented, and while the talent is evident, so is the penchant for making the same errors.

The guess here? Winston will play in Tampa over the next two campaigns, but if there isn’t significant improvement on and off the field, he’ll be on the unemployment line after that.

History lesson

The Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns were both shaped by the same man, Paul Brown. Brown was fired by Cleveland prior to the 1963 season and was out of pro football until he founded the Bengals in the American Football League, with assurances they would become an NFL team by 1970 via the AFL-NFL merger.

Also, if you have ever wondered why the color schemes are so similar between the two Ohio teams, now you know.

Parting shot

The Seattle Seahawks need to move on from Earl Thomas.

Yes, he’s a Hall of Fame safety and a Super Bowl champ. He’s going to be coming back to Seattle for annual honors, part of the forever-famed Legion of Boom. All of that is true. It’s also true that his time as a player for the Seahawks has come to a close.

Thomas wants to be dealt or be given a lucrative extension, and it’s in Seattle’s best interest to go with the first option. General manager John Schneider allowed his championship roster to crumble over recent years, a combination of free-agent departures, medical retirements and bad drafting. All that is left is Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Bobby Wagner, Frank Clark and spare parts. It’s nowhere near enough to win anything significant.

Moving on from the veteran would provide Seattle with draft picks and remove a headache. The Seahawks have a long list of suitors of Thomas, presumably including the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders, both of whom are in desperate need of safety help. Schneider must do his damnedest to get a second-round pick and wipe his hands of the situation.

With one year left on his deal, Seattle is likely going to lose Thomas after 2018 anyway, for nothing more than a third-round compensatory pick. Instead of going through the motions, it’s time for Schneider to be proactive, secure draft capital, and finally hit on some of it.

 



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