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Thursday, January 6, 2011
UnLucky day in the NFC South

By Pat Yasinskas

Two pretty major pieces of news came out as I was making the drive to Tampa International Airport. Neither one of them is good news for either of the NFC South teams involved.

First, quarterback Andrew Luck is staying at Stanford and declining to enter the NFL draft. Second, the Seattle Seahawks said Matt Hasselbeck will start at quarterback in Saturday’s playoff game.

The Luck news is pretty close to devastating for the Carolina Panthers. They hold the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft and the team was fully intent on taking Luck if he chose to come out following his red-shirt sophomore season. Luck is viewed as most experts as a can’t-miss prospect and the Panthers didn’t disagree with that.

Without Luck, the draft lacks a quarterback that is clearly worthy of the No. 1 overall pick. So what do the Panthers do now?

Well, the easy answer is to try to trade the pick and add extra draft picks. But that’s much easier said than done. There is a possibility no labor agreement will be in place before the draft and teams might be hesitant as they wait to see if a new agreement might include a rookie wage scale.

The Panthers could be stuck with the No. 1 pick. They’ll have to use the Senior Bowl, scouting combine and personal workouts to come up with a guy to put in Luck’s place at the top of their wish list. Chances are, that won’t be a quarterback.

The Panthers still have hope that Jimmy Clausen can develop into a decent quarterback, but they’re not going to go into next season without a viable alternative to Clausen. They might have to use the top pick on a player at another position and look to free agency for quarterback help.

The Hasselbeck news directly impacts the New Orleans Saints, who play the Seahawks on Saturday. While you still can argue the Saints are fortunate they drew a 7-9 team in the wild-card round, a healthy Hasselbeck will make things a bit more difficult.

Charlie Whitehurst played for an injured Hasselbeck in the final regular-season game against St. Louis and helped the Seahawks get the win and the playoff berth. But Whitehurst is a career backup with very little starting experience. Hasselbeck is a proven veteran and probably provides the Seahawks with their best chance of staying with the Saints. Remember, Hasselbeck threw for 366 yards in a regular-season game against New Orleans.

Finally, we’ll close this post with a bit of good news. I got a copy of Jeff Duncan’s book “From Bags To Riches’’ about the Saints and plan to read that on the plane to Seattle. It’s a long flight, so I might get time to finish the entire book. Plus, I’ll have a return flight Sunday, so I’ll go ahead and promise you a book review by next week. And Duncan better have a pen ready to autograph my copy when I see him at Qwest Field on Saturday.