The picture for Stanford football in 2011 became a little clearer yesterday when two of its players announced their NFL intentions. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Andrew Luck, the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, announced his intention to return for his junior season, while redshirt junior linebacker Thomas Keiser declared that he will enter the NFL Draft this spring.
The big news of the day was Luck’s decision to pass up millions playing in the NFL to return to the Farm. Many expected Luck to forgo his final two seasons of eligibility–had he chosen to enter the draft, he would have been chosen first overall by the Carolina Panthers.
In a statement released to the media, Luck said, “I am committed to earning my degree in architectural design from Stanford University and am on track to accomplish this at the completion of the spring quarter of 2012.” He was not made available for interviews.
Because he redshirted his freshman year, Luck has two years of NCAA eligibility remaining, but is currently an academic junior.
The announcement intensified the speculation around the future of Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has spoken to at least two NFL teams since the Cardinal won the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3. According to the San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami, Stanford has offered Harbaugh an estimated $5 million to be its head coach next season, including bonuses. Luck’s return may bring Harbaugh back to the Farm as well, which would turn Stanford into an early contender for the Pac-12 title and help put it in the preseason top 10.
The Miami Dolphins met with Harbaugh yesterday in the Bay Area, but according to ESPN, the team has chosen to retain Tony Sparano as its head coach. The San Francisco 49ers have reportedly offered Harbaugh $6 million per year, including bonuses.
Impending labor action in the NFL could also keep Harbaugh from moving to the pros. With the league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players set to expire in March, the owners could lock out the players, effectively preventing the season from going forward.
Meanwhile, Keiser became the first Stanford underclassman to declare for the draft. His departure means that the Cardinal will have to replace four of its starters on the defensive front seven next season.
In an interview with The Daily, Keiser discussed his decision to leave Stanford early and declare for the draft.
“What it really came down to was what me and my family thought was best for me next season,” he said. “It was really where I pictured myself on the football field–it wasn’t playing for Stanford, it was playing in the NFL.
“When it was all said and done, it seemed like that was the path that was laid out for me,” he added.
Keiser also said that the NFL evaluated him–the league assesses the draft prospects of college players on request. The NFL told him that he would be drafted, but, according to Keiser, “they don’t really know where right now.”
The speculation surrounding Harbaugh’s return did not play a big role in Keiser’s decision, either.
“This was a decision based personally off of what I felt was best for next season,” he said. “It was sort of independent of [Harbaugh’s decision].”
Though Keiser will leave Stanford for winter quarter to prepare for the scouting combine, he plans to return to school for the spring quarter, and will need only one more quarter after that to complete his degree.