AROUND THE NFL

ANDREW LUCK

It’s been less than 48 hours since ANDREW LUCK’s retirement was revealed by Adam Schefter – and the reaction has been immense.  We anticipate an extraordinarily long report here today, but first some DB thoughts –

 

1 – Not to doubt Luck’s sincerity, but this is not necessarily the final chapter.  Some have come back from early retirements, some have not.  Something snapped with his latest mysterious injury and we respect that.  But two years, four years from now, the equation may change.  Heck, if JACOBY BRISSETT leads the Colts to a 10-3 start and goes down, it could be this year.

 

2 – Speaking of JACOBY BRISSETT, we think he is being dismissed too quickly.  We’d take DESHAUN WATSON as the best QB in the AFC South, but nothing is proven there.  We think Brissett can perform for a talented Colts team on a NICK FOLES level which may be good enough.  We like him better than MARCUS MARIOTA.  The Colts are still in the hunt.

 

3 – We are struck by the near-unanimous understanding of Luck’s decision from those who have been in NFL battle.  The battle to win, the battle with personal expectations, the battle with injuries can only be understood up close.  That said, if his current injuries are playable, the timing on the cusp of the season, a season with such promise, is surprising and disappointing.  So maybe his injury isn’t playable this year, which makes whether he was on IR or retired moot.

 

Now, let’s see what everyone else thinks, starting with Greg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star with his report from the press conference:

 

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck announced Saturday night he was retiring, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. He was crying. He was catching his breath and apologizing.

 

Andrew Luck said he was retiring and his coach, Frank Reich, was watching with red eyes. He’d been crying.

 

Andrew Luck said he was retiring, and his general manager, Chris Ballard, was staring into the distance. He was listening. He was hurting. His eyes were red, too. When Luck thanked Ballard, the GM’s tears started to come again.

 

Andrew Luck said he was retiring, and his owner, Jim Irsay, squinted his eyes and nodded his head. He’s the one who seemed to see this coming. He’s the one who told us about “the 4-inch field between (Luck’s) ears” during that 2017 preseason when Luck’s shoulder injury wasn’t healing. The injury cost him the season and set him on the road he traveled Saturday night, tired of the pain, the injury now in his calf, his ankle, his head.

 

“For the last four years or so,” Luck said, “I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab – injury, pain, rehab – and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason. And I felt stuck in it, and the only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away.”

 

Luck was booed off the field Saturday night when the Colts played the Chicago Bears in the third preseason game, the news of his retirement breaking on Twitter during the second half. The fans who stuck around, they booed Luck off the field. And he heard it.

 

 “Yeah,” he said, “it hurt. I’ll be honest. It hurt.”

 

Even so, Luck sounded like a man at peace, a man who has stared into the abyss and turned away. Football, once his favorite hobby, the source of such childlike joy, had become his dark place. He said he had been thinking about retiring for about 10 days, calling it “a moment of clarity” when the idea finally started to take shape. He said he’d been tired.

 

“I feel exhausted,” he said, sounding very much that, “and quite tired.”

 

As Luck talked on, cracking a bad joke – the only kind he ever told, the big goofball – about disappointing his mom by wearing a ratty shirt to his retirement, Ballard’s chin dropped lower and lower. He was staring into the carpet, into the future, the past, into whatever thoughts the general manager of one of the most improved rosters in football has when he sees the centerpiece, the franchise quarterback, announce his retirement with perhaps a decade left to play.

 

When Luck talked on, saying he returned from that lost 2017 season “simply because I liked throwing the ball to my friends, and I loved throwing the ball to T.Y. Hilton,” Frank Reich was looking around the room, trying to make sense of this unfathomable time and place.

 

When Luck talked on, mentioning his dear friend Jacoby Brissett and admitting that he “was very resentful of this fun, happy dude” – and then saying how wrong he’d been to feel that way about his backup quarterback, and the Colts’ starter going forward – his wife was watching with tears in her eyes.

 

Luck, the most private of public superstars, was opening up in a way he never has, telling us just how hard these last four years have been.

 

“I’ve been stuck in this process,” he said. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game. After 2016 when I played in pain, and wasn’t regularly able to practice, I made a vow I wouldn’t go down that path again. The only way forward is to remove myself from this cycle. I came to the proverbial fork in the road, and made a vow if I ever did again I would choose me, in a sense.”

 

Luck threw us for one final curve a week ago, taking the field before the preseason game against the Browns and being caught on video running sideways, which he hadn’t been able to do, and throwing passes and smiling. He was laughing. And now we know why.

 

“I was thinking,” Luck said, “this is the last time I’ll throw the ball at Lucas Oil Stadium in a Colts uniform.”

 

He knew a week ago. As sudden as this decision was for the rest of us, Luck and his bosses – Reich, Ballard, Irsay – have known for almost a week. That’s bad news, because that makes this decision sound less rash, and more permanent.

 

This is the most shocking NFL retirement since all-time league rushing leader Jim Brown in 1966 at age 30, and perhaps the most shocking NFL retirement of all time.

 

“He’s leaving almost a half-billion on the table!” Irsay was saying, loudly, during his news conference, but also saying he understood. He knows Andrew. He knows this guy is different.

 

And it’s true: Andrew Luck is not like most people. He never played football for the money. He played it for the joy, and he’s telling us the joy is gone.

 

In the moment Saturday night, he was feeling relief. You could see it as Luck’s news conference rolled on and his answers began coming faster, the smiles growing, the memories of Hilton and Robert Mathis and Adam Vinatieri flowing.

 

Andrew Luck feels this shocker is the right decision. For his sake, please, let it be so.

 

Peter King:

 

I ask Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck: “Opening day’s five weeks from today. Any doubt you’ll play?”

 

“No,” Luck says. “No doubt. I certainly believe I will.”

 

Aug. 19, owner Jim Irsay’s office, Colts headquarters, Indianapolis — Luck has asked to meet with Irsay, GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich.

 

Luck says: “I’m tired, and I’m in pain. I’m gonna retire.”

 

The Lead: Luck Retires

 

Luck shocked the world Saturday night by retiring. Well, Adam Schefter shocked the world at 9:28 p.m. ET Saturday when he tweeted the news that Luck was retiring. It was such a surprise that one of Luck’s best friends, Matt Hasselbeck, told me Sunday, “I thought Adam Schefter got hacked. I was sitting there watching the college game Saturday night and saw it. It stopped me in my tracks. Stunned. I was in Indy on Friday, and I got no sense of this.”

 

Luck’s two statements, 15 days apart, say that this was a bolt out of the blue—either that or that he wasn’t being straight with me. Those two statements sound incongruous. How could such a great quarterback, coming off his best pro season at just 29 years old, make what appeared to be such an impulsive decision? Though I did not speak with Luck this weekend, I don’t think it was impulsive, I do think he was being straight with me, and I understand how Luck’s world could totally flip in two weeks. I think it began flipping a few days after we spoke.

 

The same day Luck told me there was no doubt he’d play in the opener, Reich told me Luck’s latest injury, to his left calf, was “like child’s play” compared to his return after all his shoulder issues. But in the days after Luck talked to me in training camp, he felt more pain in rehab. Further examination revealed a more extensive and slightly mysterious injury stretching from the calf to his ankle. There would be no quick fix. More rehab, and a good chance he’d either have to play hobbled, and in significant pain, if he played at the start of the season. And if he didn’t play to start the season, he’d be a question mark hovering over the franchise, as he’d been in 2015 (shoulder injury, fractured ribs, kidney laceration), 2016 (played through shoulder pain all year), 2017 (missed the year after labrum surgery) and the off-season and training camp of 2018 (shoulder soreness). Then four months of feeling good and playing great. Then, when he ramped up workouts for 2019, last March, this calf/ankle thing appeared and just wouldn’t go away.

 

Put it this way: For about 42 of the last 47 months, dating back to the original shoulder injury in September 2015, football meant pain to Andrew Luck. Not joy. Pain. As Luck described Saturday night: “It’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and off-season … Taken the joy out of the game. And after 2016, when I played in pain and was unable to regularly practice, I made a vow to myself that I will not go down that path again.”

 

Which led Luck to Irsay’s office last Monday. The meeting last a little more than two hours. Ballard and Reich soon realized this was not I think I’m going to retire. This was, It’s over.

 

There was a time in Monday’s meeting when options were suggested. One of them: Take his time healing the right way without hurrying, and go on IR with a return designation, meaning he could return for the last two months of the season if he got healthy. That seemed to make the most sense—he’d have nine weeks from now to see if the calf/ankle could be fixed, and the Colts would have been more than happy to take the risk of paying $21.25 million for Luck to try to play in 2019, with backup Jacoby Brissett taking some or all the snaps this season. But whatever alternatives got suggested, Luck, one of the smartest players in any sport, seemed immovable.

 

“My mind’s made up,” he said.

 

One other clue on the timeline: Luck said he didn’t imagine retiring till two weeks ago. But once he started thinking about it, one source said, it made more and more sense to him. He was tired. He felt like if it wasn’t one thing, it’d be another.

 

Reich and Ballard both spent time between Tuesday and Friday feeling out Luck about whether he’d reconsider—he never wavered—and then making sure Luck was sure he wanted to do it now. He did. Neither Reich nor Ballard would disclose the contents of their conversations with Luck. But late in the week, Reich said, he and Luck had a longer meeting in the coach’s office, an emotional meeting.

 

“It’s like we were saying goodbye,” Reich said from his office Sunday afternoon. “I knew, knew in my heart, he wasn’t going to change his mind. He seemed to have great clarity and peace.”

 

I’ve been trying to put in perspective where this ranks in terms of stunning NFL retirements. I can compare it to three others: running back Jim Brown, who quit at 30 after winning the 1965 NFL MVP; running back Barry Sanders, who retired at 31 in 1999; and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who left the Lions at 30 after nine NFL seasons. I think the Luck retirement is the biggest shocker of them all.

 

Brown made $60,000 in his last year with the Browns; three years later, he was paid $125,000 to star in a Hollywood film. He might have had two or three top years left as a back, and in Hollywood, he was a marquee name immediately. Sanders, too, could have been great for two or three more years, probably, but they don’t give guarantees on 31-year-old running backs. Johnson was at the top of his game too, a physical marvel. But he didn’t have the public cache of a quarterback, and he never played on a great team.

 

Luck, when healthy, was a top-five quarterback. With quarterbacks routinely playing till their late thirties (and older) now, it’s conceivable that Luck, who has made $103 million in his seven-plus NFL seasons, could have played 10 more years and made more than $300 million in the process. I doubt Spielberg’s paying Matt Damon money to Luck to make a movie—and I highly, highly doubt Luck would be interested in that life anyway. He’d love to hide from the spotlight, not embrace it. Plus: This is a quarterback, a highly rated one, coming off a season in which he had the third-best WAR (wins above replacement) of any quarterback in football, per PFF. Only Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees had a higher WAR than Luck—who the analytics site said was worth three wins more than his replacement to the Colts in 2018.

 

Add to that the surprise of a quarterback exiting by his own decision in mid-prime. “I was floored,” said Ballard, on his reaction when Luck told them last Monday. “Taken aback. Shocked.”

 

That plus the fact that Luck was over the moon working with Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady. In camp, Luck told me: “Last year was about as much fun as I could have playing football.”

 

There are players in the NFL—Brady and Brees come to mind—who will play till someone tears the uniform off them. Luck never gave the impression that he’d be a player who’d play that long, but he also never gave the impression he’d play as a broken-down guy. I’ll never forget interviewing him at the 2012 combine in Indianapolis, and asking him about his off-field habits. At Stanford, he didn’t have cable-TV for most of his time on campus, and he rode a bike through campus like every other student, and he had a passion for reading. “Now don’t go making me into a nerd!” he told me that night.

 

“School’s important,” Luck said that night, “but football’s always been more important. The more I play, the more I love it. I’ve gotten to the point where, the more you learn about the game, the less you know. I want to learn more about it all the time.”

– – –

The nerd was a pretty good player right away. He went 33-15 in his first three regular seasons, leading the post-Manning Colts to the playoffs in all three seasons—and to the AFC title game in year three. When Manning came back for his emotional return to Indy in 2013, Luck outdueled him 39-33. Playing with the bum shoulder, he beat Aaron Rodgers head to head in 2016. Healthy again after two straight shoulder-ravaged seasons, Luck and the Colts went 9-1 down the stretch to make the playoffs last year.

– – –

“My heart and soul go out to Andrew,” Reich told me Sunday. “I love him like crazy. He is an incredible generational player. This hurts, and it hurts deep. But at the same time, I can be equally excited about our season and for our team, and for Jacoby. Those emotions don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I can make those statements without being disrespectful to Andrew. And one of the thing I love about Andrew is he understands that.

 

“We actually had that conversation. I told Andrew before all this was decided, ‘You know, when I’m talking to the media, I’m gonna tell them, ‘Hey, if Andrew’s not there, we gotta go.’ So it was like, If you’re not there, we’re going with Jacoby, and we’re going forward.

 

“Andrew said, ‘Isn’t that what’s great about the game?’ “

 

Next man up.

 

Now for the rest of the story. It’s impossible to know for sure that Luck won’t play again. The Colts, by allowing him to keep the $24 million in bonuses they could legally have recouped (per ESPN), surely have laid out the welcome mat should he change his mind. But I know Ballard. He will protect the Colts first and last. There is no question that, at the end of this year, he’ll either try to extend Brissett if he plays well or he’ll enter the 2020 draft looking for a long-term passer. The Colts are well-positioned in 2020, with three picks in the first two rounds, including the extra second-rounder from Washington obtained in a draft-day trade this year. Reich said he’s sure he’s going to be asked about Luck’s future when he meets the press this week. “What I think I’m going to say,” Reich told me, “is, ‘Can we just honor Andrew’s decision to retire? Let’s respect his decision.’ I can tell you he’s not thinking he’s going to come back.”

– – –

Luck, who kept a very small circle about his decision, told Brissett on Friday that he was quitting. Brissett, I hear, was upset because he’s grown close to Luck, even though the decision meant the young quarterback would have his chance to pilot a playoff team with lots of young talent. But of all the things I heard in the Luck press conference, what he said about Brissett—the backup acquired in trade from New England two years ago—was the most real.

 

Brissett got to Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend 2017. Two weeks later, he was the Colts’ starter for the rest of the year, starting an inglorious 15 games, winning four … and engendering envy from the franchise guy he barely knew.

 

Luck opened a vein Saturday night about Brissett. “Coming back into the building early last year, I was very jealous of this fun, happy dude that was in my spot as the quarterback on this team. I obviously did not have any confidence in myself either. I could not have been more wrong—in so many ways. A lifelong friend, he means so, so much to me. He’s a big part of me, and a big part of me having one of the more rewarding years of my life last year. Cannot wait to support him and see him lead this team.”

 

Luck’s buddy Hasselbeck was struck by that too. “I got texts from QBs around the league, saying they got choked up about the relationship between Andrew and Jacoby,” Hasselbeck said. “That was beautiful.”

 

Brissett was a 59-percent passer in that lost season of 2017, a hold-the-fort guy learning the offense on the fly. Now he’s had a full year, without pressure, to learn under Reich and Sirianni (and from Luck, of course), and the pressure is ratcheted up. The Colts went 10-6 last year, and, aside from the quarterback position, seem to be markedly better across the board. Ballard has drafted well, and this draft class could yield four starters by the beginning of October.

 

And Indy’s first five Sundays are rough: at the Chargers, at Tennessee, Atlanta, Oakland, at Kansas City. The worst thing for Luck is the best thing for Brissett. Because Luck practiced only three times full-speed this spring and summer, Brissett has taken virtually all of the snaps with the Colts’ first-team offense. So when they begin prep for the Chargers next weekend, Brissett will be in a spot that he’s used to: with the first unit. Still, he’s got to play markedly better than he did in 2017.

 

“The outside world thinks we’re crumbling,” Ballard said. “But we’re pretty solid inside the building. Don’t worry about us. And don’t write the end of our story yet.”

 

There’s something else to note here. What do you think the remainder of the Colts players are thinking this morning as they report for the final week of preseason practice? (And I will not be surprised if Reich points this out early and often.) Andrew’s gone, and everyone’s throwing dirt on us. We’re really good. Jacoby’s really good. Let’s stick it to everyone calling us a 6-10 team.

 

It sounds corny, and it sounds trite. Does that stuff really work? I guarantee you that’s what a good chunk of the 2019 Colts will be thinking entering the strangest season they’ve had in a long time.

 

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com is suspicious of King’s timeline.

 

In the immediate aftermath of Saturday night’s stunning news that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had retired from football, mixed messages emerged regarding when the team knew it could happen. Rumors flew that they knew since March; the team privately insisted that they found out only this week.

 

Looking back at the information that emerged in the aftermath of the announcement, there’s reason to believe that the team had known, at least for a little while.

 

Asked whether he tried to talk Luck out of retiring, Irsay provided an explanation that strongly hints at this not being a bolt from the blue.

 

“I again tried to be the best sounding board I could for him,” Irsay told reporters. “As a father of children that are older than him, you know, life has its spiritual journey, people. I mean this is, you know, this stuff is kind of a ‘bigger than all of us’ sort of issue. And I would never try to talk someone out of something that their heart truly wasn’t into. And so I was there to aboslutely support him and counsel him. Big decisions, you hold off on it. As long as you can, hold off on them. And then when you have to make them, then you make them.” (Emphasis added.)

 

This clearly implies that Irsay initially told Luck to take some time. Which also implies that it didn’t first come up on a Monday, with a final decision made five days later.

 

Indeed, Irsay’s explanation meshes with the idea that Irsay, at a minimum, knew that Luck was wrestling with a decision that didn’t absolutely, positively have to be made until the team commenced full and final preparations for the regular-season opener.

 

Likewise, consider these August 14 quotes from coach Frank Reich, which were made when everyone believed that Luck’s calf/bone/high-ankle issue were the impediment and not angst regarding whether to continue to play at all: “By the end of the third preseason game, you have to know something. You have to be able to make a call and move from there in whether we’re full speed with Andrew after that third preseason game or if at that point we’re going with Jacoby. We’ll make that decision with that when the time comes.”

 

Maybe that’s when the Colts wanted Luck to provide his final decision. Regardless, that’s when he did.

 

Even if the Colts didn’t know before this week, former Colts assistant coach Clyde Christensen had an inkling.

 

“I stay in touch with him and kind of knew that he was contemplating it,” Christensen told Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.

 

If Christensen knew, others knew. And someone with the Colts surely knew.

 

But why make it known until Luck makes a final decision? In hindsight, it’s amazing no one blabbed while Luck was simply trying to make a decision. Regardless, it sure seems like this one was percolating for a while. The question will now be, for the next four or five years perhaps, whether a decision to return is percolating.

 

Former GM Ryan Grigson is an easy target for those looking for someone to blame for a career ended too soon.  Zak Keefer of The Athletic is among those taking a shot (although Grigson’s name does not appear):

 

A 25-year-old quarterback isn’t supposed to be wincing on the sideline when his teammate gently taps him on the chest, but quarterback Andrew Luck was. Third game, his fourth NFL season and he played the fourth quarter with torn cartilage in two of his ribs.

 

Colts were down 13 with a quarter to go. Colts won, 35-33, against the Titans.

 

He’s not supposed to be mumbling to himself – Thank God we scored, now I can get to the sideline and sit down – after being speared by a linebacker and flatted by a defensive tackle on the same play, his kidney gashed, his abs torn, but Luck was. Ninth game, same season, and he played the entire fourth quarter with injuries comparable to a high-speed car crash.

 

Colts were facing a bruising Denver defense that would hoist the Lombardi Trophy 10 weeks later. Colts won, 27-24.

 

Luck was peeing blood by night’s end.

 

A 26-year-old quarterback isn’t supposed to be spending half the next season in the training room, missing practice every week, slogging his way to Sundays, tearing the labrum in his throwing shoulder and making it worse with each passing start, but Luck was. He played hurt all of 2016. It left him a “sad, miserable human” – his words – and damn near cost him the game of football.

 

The darkness that he waded through to make it back – to throw for 39 touchdowns and lead the Colts to 10 wins and earn the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year award in 2018 – never really left him. “Emotional scars,” he came to call it, and those scars stuck, and they lingered, and they consumed him in recent weeks while his body refused to heal and the season inched closer and he began to mull the one option he’d never before considered: walking away for good.

 

“Somewhere along the way, this dark shadow emerged in the corridors of all our hallways,” a solemn Jim Irsay said Saturday night. “And we don’t like it. None of us like it.”

 

After he’d heard the boos on the field, after he’d told the team in the locker room, and while he fought back a flood of emotions – the likes of which we’d never seen from him before – Andrew Luck came out with it, raw and real and sad as it all was.

 

“I felt stuck in it,” he said of the constant pain, the relentless rehab and the emotional toll of the last four years. “And the only way out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy away.”

 

The joy – that’s what this was about. Somewhere along the way, he lost that. The pain took it from him.

 

The signs were always there: the agony he played through, an agony he desperately tried to conceal, even from his teammates. Most of the time, the Colts players didn’t have a clue what Luck was dealing with privately, and how bad it had gotten. I remember one particularly jarring scene, after an overtime loss in Carolina in 2015. Luck slumped on a seat in the locker room, trying … and trying … and trying … and eventually failing to lift his shoulder pads from his battered body.

 

He threw 47 passes that night. The Colts lost, 29-26.

 

Six days later, on a second and 9 against the Broncos, his kidney was ripped open.

 

The analytics will tell you this: Luck was pressured on 1,111 of his dropbacks across the first 70 games of his career, according to Pro Football Focus, and sacked a league-high 156 times over the same stretch.

 

If you watched, your eyes told you this: the kid was beaten to a pulp. It was as simple as that. You didn’t need the stats to tell you what everyone knew.

 

Gasps became common in the press box early in Luck’s career. He was brawny and bullish, even reckless. Here was a quarterback built like a linebacker who hit like a linebacker. “If I throw the interception,” he once told his first offensive coordinator in the league, the beautifully-blunt Bruce Arians, “then I make the tackle.”

 

“The hell you do,” Arians shot back.

 

But Luck, stubborn as he was, succumbed to so many ohhhhhh hits over the first few years of his career that you started to sense that one of these times, he wasn’t gonna pop right back up. Then came 2015: the ribs, then the kidney. Then in 2016, the shoulder, the concussion, the thumb, the ankle.

 

Finally, this spring, the calf. By summer, it was the ankle. Or the leg. Or something.

 

It was a once-promising career stumbling and staggering to an all-too abrupt end.

 

Who to blame? This isn’t just misfortune. This can’t be classified as a simple “injuries happen.” The Colts grossly mismanaged offensive line left the greatest quarterback talent to come along in a generation on the chopping block the first five seasons of a career that, stunningly, only lasted six.

 

It’s like being gifted a shiny new Lamborghini, then parking it outside in a hailstorm. Luck lined up behind 40 different offensive line combinations in the first 83 starts of his career – 40! – before the team found a nucleus that worked for the latter half of 2018, and one that figures to work for years to come.

 

He was on the run for what most figured would be the first half of his career.

 

Turned out to be almost all his career.

 

And he soldiered through. He never once threw teammates under the bus – Lord knows, he could have. Never blamed management. Never mailed it in. Played through battered ribs and torn organs and shredded shoulders and made no mention of it. He wasn’t just one of the most respected players inside the Colts’ 56th St. facility, he was among the most respected in the league.

 

“Shit, that quarterback is tough,” said Frank Gore, the NFL’s fourth all-time leading rusher, during Luck’s year away from football. “When he gets healthy, shit, that’s a tough motherfucker.”

 

He was. No doubt.

 

“I can completely understand where he’s coming from,” added Robert Griffin III, the QB drafted one spot behind Luck. “I know there’s a lot of guys in all of the locker rooms around the league who have had to deal with a lot of pain and some of them have contemplated retirement.

 

“I think the guys respect his decision to go out on his own terms and in his own way and to have the courage to do that, especially in today’s society with the way that we’re looked at. We’re looked at as superheroes and not human beings. For him to have that human element, to express it in the press conference after the game, go and talk to the media and answer questions, I thought that was big.”

 

All the while, as the injuries added up and the body began breaking down, the physical toll Luck was laboring through was privately chipping away at him. The passion was fading. Last season, stirring as it was, proved only a temporary salvation: What was supposed to be Luck’s first quiet offseason in five years turned out to be his last.

 

I asked Irsay late Saturday night if he was struggling to come to grips with all that: he’d hit the lottery again in 2012, just as he had in 1998 – No. 1 draft pick, generational quarterback, the football Gods smiling down on his franchise – only this time, he failed to cash in his winnings. From the minute Luck arrived in Indianapolis, the expectation was that Luck would do precisely what his predecessor Peyton Manning did: lead the Colts to a Super Bowl triumph.

 

Irsay talked every year of the parade he’d see in his dreams, Meridian St. awash in confetti, a Lombardi in his arms.

 

And yet here he was, 18 days before Luck’s 30th birthday, trying to reconcile with the fact that Luck wouldn’t see his career past Year 7.

 

“Look, we protect those guys – it’s not touch football,” Irsay said, before noting recent rule changes that have gone great lengths to protect the game’s most important position.

 

“The game has been led toward the most possible safe way to protect that position, because none of us are hiding around the fact that the quarterback position and getting high play out of that is paramount for franchise success. But that’s the reason the three of us (himself, GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich) feel we are ready to go to battle. We have tremendous, tremendous certainty that Jacoby is a guy that can change this narrative.”

 

Maybe Jacoby Brissett can. Maybe he does.

 

But the narrative the Colts couldn’t change was the tragedy that became Luck’s abbreviated career, the one that arrived drenched in promise, the one that was cut short because they couldn’t keep him out of the training room.

 

In the end, that joy robbed from him, he walked away.

 

And weighing all that he battled the last four years – the bruised ribs and the torn abdomen, the lacerated kidney and the ravaged shoulder, the bum ankle and the strained calf, all those long days and longer nights of fighting a body that was breaking down before he’d even see his 30th birthday – can you really blame him?

 

Radio host Doug Gottleib had a “hot take” and Troy Aikman was among many who poured ice cold water on it.  Jaclyn Hendricks in the New York Post:

 

Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement on Saturday shook the Twittersphere and prompted a flurry of reactions across the board, including a divisive comment from FS1 analyst Doug Gottlieb.

 

“Retiring cause rehabbing is ‘too hard’ is the most millennial thing ever #AndrewLuck,” Gottlieb tweeted Saturday evening.

 

While Gottlieb’s remark was met with a wave of criticism from a number of media personalities, including Britt McHenry and Mike Golic, Troy Aikman went scorched earth on his fellow Fox Sports colleague.

 

“That’s total bulls–t Doug. What qualifies you to decide how someone should live their life? So you’re now the authority on what motivates Andrew Luck? And if his decisions don’t fit into what you think is best for him then you rip him? Guess that keeps you employed on FS1. Nice,” Aikman responded Sunday night.

 

This about WR T.Y. HILTON and Luck:

 

Sunday night, one of Luck’s favorite targets took to social media to share what his quarterback meant to him.

 

“Every time i think about it, Tears start to flow,” T.Y. Hilton tweeted. “No one understands you like i do. Our bond is one of a kind. I’ve decided to dedicate my season to my BEST FRIEND. I Love You 12. #Luck2Hilton”

 

The pair undoubtedly had a special bond. In Luck’s retirement press conference, he spent several minutes speaking about the players in the Colts locker room. He saved his words about Hilton for last.

 

“I had more fun throwing the football to T.Y. than should be allowed, probably,” he said. “When I was away in 2017, I had to figure out why I wanted to come back and play football. I boiled it down simply that I like throwing the ball to my friends. I loved throwing the ball to T.Y. Hilton. He’s the best football player I’ve ever played with, and he’s a better teammate than he is a football player.”

 

More reaction, mostly positive, collected by Mike Sando of The Athletic:

 

As the Luck news reverberated, I checked in with decision makers around the league for perspectives born of their experiences inside the game. I’ve broken out four of the more interesting conversations below, focusing on Luck’s immediate legacy, the fickle nature of team ownership and what’s next for the Colts. I also reached into a decade of statistical data for a fifth item setting expectations for the 2018 Colts based on two key factors.

 

1. This was a team-first move

Luck could have dragged out his rehab longer, landed on injured reserve, collected a $6 million roster bonus next month and $9.1 million more in salary during the season. That would have been the smart business decision. Why walk away from all that money? It’s not simply because Luck, with nearly $100 million in career earnings, can afford to leave cash on the table.

 

“When you are a true team leader like he is, every day that the team practices and you rehab, you feel like you are letting the team down, OK?” a veteran coach said. “It is a catch-22. You get paid the most, you are the best leader, but when do you have to stop the cycle, which is everybody on the team wondering when you are going to play?”

 

Luck’s rehab was holding the team hostage as the season approached. His status was the leading story line through training camp. There was no clear timeline. The organization was in limbo.

 

“He has played the game, he has taken the shots on the field, he has extended every play to the maximum you can extend the play, and he has done it year after year for team,” this coach said. “So he knows what is necessary for him to come back from injuries others would have retired from earlier than this. The concept of booing this guy, that is blasphemy.”

 

2. ‘This is what defines him’

An exec contrasted Luck’s approach with the approach Brett Favre took toward the Green Bay Packers before the team traded him to the New York Jets.

 

“Completely healthy, Favre makes the Packers wait, he’s down in Mississippi, he’s taking private jets and has trouble deciding, and finally they trade him,” this exec said. “Luck was straining through rehab and probably going to all the meetings. He had to face the cameras and get booed instead of keeping it quiet and making the decision after the season if he has to sit out. This is much more courageous. This is what defines him.”

 

3. Always beware the owner

The Colts seem to have strong leadership with general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich. They also seemed to have strong leadership with former GM Bill Polian and former head coach Jim Caldwell after Peyton Manning became unavailable.

 

“Owners are wild cards,” an exec said. “Think about Polian getting let go for the most ridiculous reason, not having a good enough backup quarterback. There usually is no great plan for a backup quarterback.”

 

This exec was not predicting trouble for the current leadership in Indianapolis, but with expectations for the Colts surging this offseason, he thought the team’s internal evaluation of backup Jacoby Brissett was an important variable.

 

“The GM said publicly that Brissett is a good player, but I hope he hasn’t told the owner that too many times,” this exec said, “because we don’t really know.”

 

4. What’s next? Nothing, because the plan was already executed

Indy acquired Brissett from New England not quite two years ago. Then, as now, the Colts were preparing to play without their franchise quarterback. This time, Brissett enters the season with significant reps in the offensive system and some seasoning.

 

“The brilliant part of what they have going on was they actually traded for a guy in Jacoby Brissett who they liked,” an evaluator said. “So now you go about it and let him do his thing and you look at other possibilities in the draft if Jacoby can’t cut it. It’s not like they are going in there with some guy who hasn’t played before and they haven’t addressed the position.”

 

5. Defensive improvement is the Colts’ key

The 2017 Colts went 4-12 with a very green Brissett while ranking 32nd in defensive expected points added. That defensive ranking climbed to No. 10 last season, a big key in Indy finishing 10-6.

 

Over the past 10 seasons, a dozen teams that performed about as well as the 2018 Colts defensively experienced a range of outcomes in the absence of upper-tier quarterbacks. I’ve stacked those teams by won-lost records below. Pay particular attention to variation in starting quarterback quality for these teams, and try to imagine where Brissett might fit in:

 

11-5: 2015 Minnesota Vikings (Teddy Bridgewater)

10-6: 2018 Dallas Cowboys (Dak Prescott)

9-7: 2017 Tennessee Titans (Marcus Mariota, Matt Cassel)

9-7: 2016 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Jameis Winston)

7-9: 2017 Cincinnati Bengals (Andy Dalton)

7-9: 2014 Cleveland Browns (Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw)

7-9: 2011 Kansas City Chiefs (Cassel, Tyler Palko, Kyle Orton)

6-10: 2011 Miami Dolphins (Matt Moore, Chad Henne)

6-10: 2012 New York Jets (Mark Sanchez)

6-10: 2014 St. Louis Rams (Austin Davis, Shaun Hill)

5-11: 2010 Arizona Cardinals (Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall)

3-13: 2016 Jacksonville Jaguars (Blake Bortles)

 

The quality of those teams’ quarterbacks obviously influenced where those teams with relatively strong defenses finished. Brissett would seem to project somewhere in the middle, but with a very good offensive line in front of him and some promising skill players around him, it’s not a stretch to think Indy could finish 8-8 or better.

 

Reich has earned a reputation for his work with quarterbacks, but he’s mostly had great ones. Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Luck have been the starters for 125 of the 128 regular-season games in which Reich was a QB coach, offensive coodinator or head coach.

 

If Reich wins with Brissett, the Colts’ defense will probably have much to say about it.

 

 

How shocking was Luck’s retirement?  Lots of comparisons being made – Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Jordan.  Brad Cesmat on Twitter may have the best:

 

@bradcesmat

Pat Tillman walking away from NFL in 2002 more stunning to me than Luck. Watching reaction last night, this morning, no mention of PT.

 

Unlike the Lions with Calvin Johnson, the Colts have signaled to the great Adam Schefter that they will let Luck keep millions in bonus money.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Under NFL rules, the Colts could force Andrew Luck to pay them millions of dollars for abruptly retiring. But they won’t do that.

 

The Colts and Luck have already reached an agreement that the team will not go after any of that money, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

 

NFL players who receive a signing bonus and then choose to retire while still under contract can be forced to pay back a prorated portion of that signing bonus. In Luck’s case, that prorated portion of his signing bonus is $12.8 million. Luck’s contract also called for him to receive a $12 million roster bonus this year, and players can also be required to pay back roster bonuses if they retire after receiving the bonus but before playing.

 

Some star players who retired while under contract, including Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson, have been forced to pay back their money. The Colts have chosen not to.

 

Why not? It could be that Luck and Colts owner Jim Irsay reached an agreement not to make it messy, because Luck did have leverage: If he had wanted to, he could have simply told the team’s medical staff that he wanted to play but the leg injury that has kept him out of the preseason was too painful for him to play on, and that he needed to go on injured reserve, which would have allowed him to collect his full salary this year without playing. Luck did the honorable thing, and so the Colts aren’t going to fight him.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

Connor Orr of TheMMQB.com likes the way Pat Shurmur is negotiating ELI MANNING vs. DANIEL JONES:

 

Now that we’re almost through the dark and dismal sewer escape that is the NFL preseason, it’s time to confront a reality that may not be popular at the moment: Giants’ head coach Pat Shurmur is handling the situation with quarterbacks Eli Manning and Daniel Jones about as well as humanly possible.

 

After viewing last night’s Giants-Bengals tilt, I re-watched each of the Giants’ first two preseason games and broke down the total snaps, snap-to-pass ratio and some other less essential minutiae when both quarterbacks were playing with the starting unit (or something that mostly resembled the starting unit).

 

The final tally:

 

• Eli Manning was on the field for 28 snaps with the starting offensive line, receivers, tight ends, etc., with 15 passing attempts (I’m including everything, even those negated by penalties, because theoretically you can get something out of that as a quarterback).

 

• Daniel Jones was on the field for 31 snaps with the starters, with 17 passing attempts.

 

Let’s think for a moment. Coming into this season, the Giants organization is asking Shurmur to do a similar version of the tap dance that Ben McAdoo was unable to maintain when he was fired in the middle of his second season. That evident lack of finesse and salesmanship was costly.

 

To be the head coach of the Giants right now is to be a person tasked with continuing the organization’s full and unfleeting loyalty to Eli Manning, while simultaneously readying a rookie quarterback to take significant snaps should Manning’s decline continue. (Do you have any concept of how hard that is with limited repetitions?) Meanwhile, you do your best not to ignite any quarterback controversy, while simultaneously buoying Jones’s confidence in the largest media market in the country. While it probably wasn’t that explicit, I’m sure Shurmur saw the strange deference Manning got around these parts, and not only from the people at the top of the organizational structure, but from a fan base that acted horrified at the idea of sitting him when he wasn’t playing well each of the past few seasons.

 

That the Giants have arrived to this point without any major fires on the quarterback front—beyond the blowback they initially took for making the selection in the first place—is incredible. And, Jones looks fully capable of playing at some point this season if need be. One could argue that the plan had its faults, and that the Giants were lucky they did not lose any of their most important players during their extended working time with Jones (that usually meant going to the half). Luck aside, Manning could trot out as the starter at the beginning of the game and everything would appear status quo, while Jones got valuable reps that appeared commensurate with the pecking order.

 

It’s too late to untangle the web the Giants have knotted themselves into when it comes to Manning, but, to Shurmur’s credit, his preseason strategy finally has the team in a position to painlessly flip the switch if and when the Week 1 starter bottoms out.

 

Both the Giants’ owner and general manager are speaking a version of the same line—that they hope Jones doesn’t have to play for years—and that is no small task. Of course, if they really believed that, they would not have spent their most significant draft capital of the year on a player who happens to operate at the same position. They then left the logistics to the coach, who not only had a team to prepare, but a succession to expedite and organize if need be.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Washington will go with QB CASE KEENUM in the opener.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Washington has its starting quarterback.

 

Case Keenum will start Week One against the Eagles, coach Jay Gruden announced today.

 

That was to be expected. First-round draft pick Dwayne Haskins is viewed as the quarterback of the future, but in the preseason he hasn’t looked ready to take the job just yet. And Colt McCoy has been injured and unavailable in the preseason.

 

That leaves Keenum, who will now start for his fourth different team in the last four years, having started for the Broncos in 2018, the Vikings in 2017 and the Rams in 2016. (He also started 10 games for the Texans in 2013 and 2014.)

 

Keenum played very well in Minnesota two years ago, but not so well in Denver last year. Gruden will hope he can get out of Keenum what he showed with the Vikings, and that Washington’s offense can play well with Keenum on the field and Haskins learning from the sideline.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

QB CAM NEWTON suffered a foot sprain on Saturday night.  He’s possible, but not certain, to return for the opener with the Rams.  Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic tweets:

 

@JourdanRodrigue

From Carolina Panthers GM Marty Hurney: “Cam Newton has a mid-foot sprain in his left foot, and we are cautiously optimistic he will be ready for week one.”

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

Peter King on Rams Coach Sean McVay – and how the coach keeps thinking about one innocuous play in the Super Bowl loss:

 

“Best I’ve ever felt going into a season,” coach Sean McVay said, odd considering this was his shortest off-season of 12 as a professional coach, seeing the Rams had played into February. Odd, too, because McVay’s offense was downright lousy in the 13-3 Super Bowl loss. But the McVay I encountered was classic McVay, not chastened McVay. He spent time this off-season decompressing in a big way, getting engaged, and going to Cannes and Italy’s Amalfi Coast. “I slept better,” he said. “I was able to kinda just unplug. I think that created a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm.”

 

McVay’s always been good at being honest with himself and his team. You might hear the relentless Vermeil-like optimism, but he is good at self-scouting the bad stuff too. And when McVay looks back at the three-point nightmare of the Super Bowl, he knows that to ensure his team plays deep into January consistently he needs to continue to emphasize—in play-calling and player-molding—who the Rams are. And that’s an aggressive, attacking, fast team—not a conservative one parrying with a respected foe.

 

I had heard McVay be critical of himself for his approach to the Super Bowl, pointing to the Rams’ sixth play as a metaphorical reason. It’s an innocent-enough play, an incompletion in the left flat from a pressured Jared Goff to Robert Woods. And no one play cost the Rams here. But the sixth play is an interesting one. It’s easy to see, looking back, how the Rams could have and should have tried to expose the Patriots’ quarters coverage—four defensive backs fanned across the field in coverage, between eight and 19 yards off the ball at the snap—using the speed of Brandin Cooks and the deep accuracy of Goff as weapons.

 

But the weird thing about this play, and about the Rams’ effort in the Super Bowl, is how uncharacteristic it was. L.A. had taken shots all season. And 10 minutes into a scoreless game against the Patriots, the Rams could have taken a shot and sprung to a 7-0 lead. On first and 10 from the Pats’ 49-yard line, McVay had three receivers from a triple-bunch formation tight to the formation to the right; Cooks was split left, alone on the left side. Cooks split the area between cornerback Stephon Gilmore and the near safety, Devin McCourty. Goff had 3.75 seconds from the snap of the ball to release it before Patriot pressure got to him. At about 3.1 seconds, Cooks was past McCourty and had a couple of steps on Gilmore, and he began to streak to the post. Goff didn’t pull the trigger. At 3.75 seconds, pressured, Goff threw it away, short left, to avoid the sack.

 

McVay’s the kind of coach who’s not going to be critical of his players publicly. And you get the feeling that, though he wishes Goff had laid the ball way out there for Cooks to run for, McVay is more angry with himself for being so buried in the minutiae of planning for the big test versus Belichick, he didn’t stress enough with Goff to attack, attack, attack.

 

“We got to a certain play that did have answers versus quarters coverage,” McVay said, pointing to the sixth Rams play, “but I think the biggest thing that you look at is, are you putting your players in a position to really understand and own the intent of what we’re trying to get done? And that’s where I feel like I fell short because whatever we’ve asked of our guys … What could I have done leading up to that game to have a better contingency plan and better communication specific to the ownership that we want to be able to have from coaches and players … Where I felt like I didn’t do nearly a good enough job is putting us in a position to really have an answer based on whatever they activate coverage-wise.”

 

In other words: Because the Patriots had been almost exclusively a single-high-safety defense for the season, and because here they were with two safeties deep, in a rare four-across cover scheme, it was up to McVay to not only call the right play (which he did) but then to emphasize to Goff exactly what he was seeing, and what deep shot might be there to be made. And he didn’t stress that enough either in preparation for the game or in the coach-to-QB communication as he called the play.

 

AFC WEST

 

THE RAIDERS

With his old helmet finally banished, WR ANTONIO BROWN has put his choice on a new helmet up for sale.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Raiders receiver Antonio Brown has lost again. And he has won. Again.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the “neutral, independent arbitrator” has found that Brown must find a new helmet model, and that he can not wear the Schutt AiR Advantage. It’s the second time Brown has lost a helmet grievance in less than two weeks.

 

Brown will accept the decision and move forward in a new helmet. He has narrowed his options, after hearing from multiple companies that wanted to customize a helmet, and that want to pay him to wear it. Thus, on top of the $30 million he’ll make over the next two seasons with the Raiders, he’ll get something more from a helmet manufacturer.

 

So stay tuned. Brown has every intention of playing in 15 days on the first Monday night of the season, and he’ll be wearing something other than the Schutt AiR Advantage. Though the new manufacturer may not get as much bang for the buck that Schutt has enjoyed over the past 16 days, at least the next helmet model attached to Brown’s name won’t be one that has been discontinued.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CINCINNATI

With WR A.J. GREEN out, the Bengals are turning to an undrafted rookie from Troy named DAMION WILLIS.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Bengals won’t have wide receiver A.J. Green in the lineup for the first week of the regular season and they named the player who will be taking his place in the lineup on Sunday.

 

Rookie head coach Zac Taylor tabbed undrafted rookie Damion Willis will take Green’s spot in the starting lineup against the Seahawks on September 8. Green is out with an ankle injury suffered at the start of training camp.

 

“I’m just finding out,” Willis said, via the team’s website. “I’m going to wait to Saturday to celebrate.”

 

Saturday is the day the Bengals and the other 31 teams in the league will get down to 53 players, although Willis has less to worry about than most undrafted players. Willis had 98 catches for 1,496 yards and 13 touchdowns at Troy over the last two seasons and he’s caught nine passes for 118 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

 

Taylor also announced that Trey Hopkins will start at center and fourth-round pick Michael Jordan will start at left guard. That means 2018 first-round pick Billy Price will open his second season on the bench after starting all 10 games he played as a rookie.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Even as the rival Colts were taking a big personnel loss, the Texans also lost a key player for the season.

 

The Houston Texans suffered a big blow on Saturday night, when running back Lamar Miller tore his ACL and MCL in his first preseason appearance of the 2019 season, per Aaron Wilson. You can see on the video of the play right here, that Miller’s knee bends in the wrong direction as it’s struck by Maliek Collins’ shoulder.

 

The 28-year-old was coming off of a season in which he rushed for 973 yards and five touchdowns. As for who will replace him, right now that role is given to Duke Johnson.

 

The Texans traded a fourth-round pick which can become a third-round pick earlier this month for the former Cleveland Browns running back, who was not excited with his role in what was to be a loaded backfield. With that being said, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Texans will want to sign another running back who can come in and make an immediate impact.

 

Ultimately, this is a big loss for the Texans’ offense, and one that could make life a little harder on quarterback Deshaun Watson.

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com tells us don’t write the Colts off yet.  They have a plan:

 

The Colts like Jacoby Brissett. And like him more than most people do, in the same sort of way the Seahawks quickly took to Wilson once they got him in their building. That’s not to say that Brissett is Wilson, but just that it’s easier to move forward with a player in which you have confidence. Ballard told me he saw Brissett a starting-caliber player when he dealt Philip Dorsett to New England to get him in 2017.

 

“We saw a big, strong-armed young quarterback, who was a good athlete, who’d started some games and won one when [Tom] Brady was suspended for the four games,” Ballard says. “He won a big Thursday night game against Houston, when they adjusted the offense to him. And he played with poise. We thought late in the [2017] preseason, he’d played pretty well. We liked him coming out of college, we’d done him in Kansas City, liked the leadership traits that he had.

 

“So we knew there was upside with him. And he still had three years left on his deal. Worst-case scenario, when Andrew got back [from his injury layoff], we were going to have two really good players at the position.”

 

Brissett wound up starting 15 games for the Colts in fall of 2017, with Luck on the shelf, and that only bolstered Ballard’s initial evaluation.

 

“We weren’t very good either,” Ballard says. “But that kid played with poise all year. He had some rough games in terms of taking hits. … But he kept us in games.”

 

The Colts won’t ask Brissett to be Luck. Wilson had fewer than 25 pass attempts per game as a rookie in 2012, and just slightly more during the 2013 title season. Meanwhile, coordinator Darrell Bevell used his mobility to juice a run game spearheaded by Marshawn Lynch. That worked, and the Colts think an offense adjusted to what Brissett does well can too.

 

“Frank and the offensive staff are really good at playing to the strengths of whoever is playing—not only at running back or wideout or on the offensive line, but also at quarterback,” Ballard says. “And I think you just look at Frank’s history. He’s been able to do that,and adjust and change and make it work for other players and that’s what he’ll do with Jacoby.”

 

Want proof? In 2017, when Reich was the Eagles offensive coordinator, Philadelphia won the Super Bowl with backup Nick Foles guiding the team through the playoffs at the controls of an offense tweaked to his strengths.

 

The Colts don’t need Brissett to be Luck. Again, Indy’s got reason to feel good about the team it’s put together. Guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard were the first rookies to make first-team All-Pro as teammates since Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus did it in the 1960s. There are other starters in their class (Tyquan Lewis, Braden Smith). There’s optimism the 2019 class could be almost as good.

 

As Ballard sees it—and as was the case with Wilson in Seattle—the youthful makeup of the team’s core should alleviate some of the mountainous pressure that just got thrust on to his new, 26-year-old starting quarterback, while giving him the chance to grow up with the group.

 

“The roster’s young, I’ll say that,” Ballard says. “I wouldn’t say we’re peaking all of a sudden. … Look, I think every year you’re working on the roster. Now, are we excited about our team? Yes, we are. We do think we’ve upgraded the talent here the last two years. We’ve got a very good football team. You’re talking about a 10-6 team that went on the road and won a playoff game.

 

“We’re excited. We’re still excited about the future. That has not changed.”

 

The team has flexibility. And the Seahawks did back then too, but there is a difference. Whereas Seattle had Wilson at a cut rate for the first three years of his career, then signed him to a blockbuster extension, Brissett already has three years in the rear-view mirror, and one left on his rookie contract. Third-stringer Philip Walker is the only quarterback Indy has under contract for 2020.

 

“It’s just something we’re going to have to deal with,” Ballard says. “I think you can look throughout the league over the last few years, with teams that have the same type of issue. So it’s just something we’ll deal with and work out. I’ve got a great group. We’ll figure it out. This is a problem-solving league. Problems are presented to your team every day. And it’s our job to figure out, scouting, coaching, organizationally, how to solve those problems.”

 

Along those lines, Ballard wouldn’t characterize this as a 16-game audition for Brissett. But for those on the outside of the organization, it’s hard not to see it that way.

 

There is, indeed, legitimate reason to remain bullish on what Ballard and Reich are building here.

 

Here are some Brissett scouting reports collected by Breer:

 

Given the sudden importance of Brissett, I figured it’d make sense to round up a few assessments of who the fourth-year pro is as a quarterback. Here, then, is how four veteran execs, all of whom have studied him closely, assessed his game …

 

Exec 1: “Good arm. When he played in 2017, he played well under tough circumstances—late trade, no training camp and the state of the OL. Held the ball too long, but that was under a different OC and approach at that point. Frank helped Andrew immensely in this area last year. Good command and accuracy when they keep him clean. Moves effectively.”

 

Exec 2: “Big arm, can push the ball down the field, accuracy is up and down at the intermediate level, slow to process at times, will hold the ball and take sacks. Strong and mobile to extend plays.”

 

Exec 3: “He’s a quality 2. Good arm, can keep plays alive with his legs. If the starter goes down, he can play and start and give you a chance. But I’m not sold on him being the 16-game guy. But he doesn’t have to be the guy like Luck was. Just be the ball distributor. They can run the ball because they have a tier 1 OL, and they’ve got weapons at at receiver and tight end. Just be the facilitator.”

 

Exec 4: “Good size, physically tough, sufficient mobility inside and outside of the pocket, good arm strength/velocity.  But has one pitch too often, lacks pace/changeup/touch, which causes ball placement issues. Which restricts his WRs from being able to run after the catch.  Plays a little too sped up sometimes too, which causes some risky throws. Ceiling of a low-level starter with high end intangibles, just think the lack of touch/consistent ball placement will cap his ceiling.”

 

 

TENNESSEE

Both of the 2015 top QBs, JAMEIS WINSTON and MARCUS MARIOTA were under siege in Week 3.  Titans coach Mike Vrabel got his QB out of there.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

It wasn’t an ideal way to end the preseason for Tennessee Titans starting quarterback Marcus Mariota, who played just five snaps in Sunday night’s tilt versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

Mariota went 0-for-3 passing (including a drop) and took a sack for a safety on the second series of the game. The sack made coach Mike Vrabel reconsider the plan to play the quarterback more in the team’s third preseason game.

 

“We want to make sure that we can protect our quarterback — that’s important,” Vrabel said, via the team’s official website. “It’s imperative that we do that as a staff and we do that as an offensive group. … I wanted to see how the game was going, and at that point in time I thought it was in the team’s best interest and in everybody’s best interest that we get him out of the game at that point in time.”

 

Entering a pivotal 2019 campaign, Mariota’s play didn’t inspire a lot heading into the season.

 

“Not the way we wanted to come out to play,” Mariota said. “A lot to learn from, but at the same time you have to continue to build. You can’t hang your head, you just have to learn from it and move on.”

 

Appearing briefly in three preseason contests, Mariota completed 10 of 20 passes for 87 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. After inspiring a ray of hope last game with a drive for a touchdown to tight end Delanie Walker, Sunday’s performance put Mariota right back behind the eight-ball heading into the season. The Titans’ starter isn’t expected to play in the team’s fourth preseason tilt.

 

Question marks surround Mariota’s future under center in Tennessee. Those difficulties will be underscored in bold if the Titans offensive line — a supposed strength before the suspension to Taylor Lewan — can’t block.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

We wonder why police had a “call for service” to a home that had a lot of cocaine?  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com on S PATRICK CHUNG’s legal status:

 

The Associated Press reports that Chung waived a court appearance on the charge by pleading not guilty through a lawyer. Another court appearance has been set for November 8.

 

Police responded to a “call for service” at Chung’s residence on June 25 and found the evidence that led to the indictment. Chung was not arrested at the time.

 

Chung is subject to discipline under the league’s substance abuse policy if he’s convicted pleads guilty or no contest or enters a diversionary program to resolve the charges. With the next court date not until November, it seems unlikely that resolution will come during the 2019 season.

 

– – –

Do you draft WR JOSH GORDON in your fantasy draft?  He’s eligible for Week 1.  Charlotte Carroll of SI.com:

 

Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon was removed from the non-football injury list, practicing in full pads for the first time Sunday, reports NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

 

He’s eligible for the Patriots’ preseason finale against the Giants on Thursday. New England opens its regular season Sept. 8 at home against the Steelers.

 

Gordon was conditionally reinstated by the NFL on Aug. 16. The former Browns receiver was suspended indefinitely by the NFL in December 2018 for multiple violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Gordon was traded from Cleveland to New England in September 2018.

 

Last season, Gordon caught 40 passes in 11 games with the Patriots.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

RIP LUKE LAUFENBERG

Condolences to former QB Babe Laufenberg, now a Dallas media icon, on the loss of his son Luke to a bout with cancer. This from The Eagle:

 

Former Texas A&M walk-on tight end Luke Laufenberg died Thursday morning after a two-year battle with Burkitt’s lymphoma. He was 21.

 

Laufenberg was the son of the former Dallas Cowboy quarterback and TV personality Babe Laufenberg.

 

“We lost a son, a brother, a friend and a warrior,” Babe Laufenberg said in a statement. “We have never seen a person battle like Luke, but he lost his fight with cancer. He was truly inspirational. The hole in our hearts will never be filled. You are my hero. RIP my sweet Luke. See you on the other side.”

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Laufenberg, who graduated from Argyle Liberty Christian High School, transferred from A&M to Mesa, where he learned of his cancer in December 2017. He was declared cancer free on May 3, 2018, then earned a football scholarship at Texas-El Paso under head coach Dana Dimel in January, after taking a year away from school and the football field. He was expected to start at tight end for the Miners this fall.

 

“Luke touched my heart and soul forever,” Dimel said in a statement. “His spirit and fight are a reminder to me of what it means to play and coach the game of football. As long as I am coaching, I will relay all the lessons that Luke taught me to the individual lives I will affect. He is forever a Miner.”

 

Laufenberg received a new cancer diagnosis on April 5, then on July 12, doctors told him that his condition was terminal. Days prior, the tight end was still running routes at home and watching UTEP practice film, Dimel told KTSM’s Andy Morgan.

 

“He never wanted to talk about what happened, because he felt like talking about what was going on would put us down,” UTEP fullback and Laufenberg’s roommate Forest McKee told KTSM. “The toughness he displayed, it just brought us all up.”

 

Laufenberg’s battle with cancer touched all levels of football, including the NFL. An emotional Dallas Cowboy head coach Jason Garrett took a moment of his press conference Thursday to pay tribute to Luke and the Laufenberg family.

 

“Luke was an amazing young man,” Garrett said. “You guys have heard me talk about fight a lot. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a better example of that in my life.”

 

 

CARLI LLOYD

Peter King wonders if she really could be an NFL kicker:

 

Carli Lloyd, 37, is a two-time FIFA women’s world player of the year and a two-time World Cup champion with the U.S. women’s national team. She went to Eagles camp in Philadelphia—near her south Jersey home—to watch a joint practice with the Ravens and Eagles. While there, she was invited to kick with the Ravens special teams, aiming for the narrow goal posts NFL kickers practice with during the week and off-season. With regular holder Sam Koch taking the snap and holding, Lloyd booted a 55-yard field goal cleanly through. I spoke with her the next day.

 

FMIA: How did this come about?

 

Lloyd: “I love the Eagles. I’ve been an Eagles fan my whole life. I had an off-day and I figured I’d come out. Randy Brown, the former mayor of a town near me in New Jersey, is a [assistant special-teams] coach with the Ravens, has been bugging me for years to go to a practice. I brought my boots. I could kick all day long. I could kick field goals all day long. I absolutely love it. There’s a lot the same with kicking a soccer ball and kicking a football. I love kicking long balls in soccer, and it carries over the football. The technique is the same, and I think I’m very accurate. So I started at 25, and they kept moving me back. I hit one short, I think. There were a couple with the wind that went wide. I got to 55, and that was it. One take. It was good. I had no idea anyone was videotaping it or putting it on cell-phone video. I tried from 57, but it was wide; distance was good. I would have kept going—my competitive nature. But I felt like I was holding them up out there.”

 

FMIA: What was the reaction, and did teams reach out?

 

Lloyd: “When we got in the car, it was unbelievable. The texts, the videos, everything going viral. I had no idea. It was insane. It still is insane. I could not believe the attention on social media. I just had a conversation with Randy, actually. The coaches and his GM, they all saw the video. They were like, What is she doing next week? I’m laughing about it, but the more I think about it, this has the chance to be sort of a pioneering moment for women.”

 

FMIA: Do you think a woman could be a successful kicker in the NFL? There’d be a lot of pressure.

 

Lloyd: “I know that I could actually probably do it. Put on the helmet, strap on the pads, go for it. The mindset I have, I think with practice, I know I have to work on my steps and my technique, but I think I could do it and do it well. It could be a huge pivotal moment. There is no reason why a woman could not do this. And I actually invite the pressure. I love the pressure. When I have to nail something—shooting hoops, ax-throwing, kicking a field goal—that is the moment I live for and want. It comes down to the mind, training the mind. It’s worth having some conversations about it. With practice and someone showing me, I know I can do it. I have one of the most accurate shots in our game. Big thing would be getting used to the big boys out there. But nothing scares me. You hold yourself back if you’re afraid. What’s the worst that can happen? I don’t make the team? Let’s just say I did try. Maybe I change the landscape a lot.”

 

FMIA: What do you an 8-year-old girl somewhere in America would think, watching you try out for an NFL team?

 

Lloyd: “Oh, that would be massive. Pretty massive. If I was a little girl watching and I saw an NFL kicker that was a female, that would be cool.”

 

It sounds like she’s thinking about it.  And we wouldn’t bet against her.

 

It could be the most interesting thing about the 2020 preseason.  Or the XFL season.