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.
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.”
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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.”
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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:
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.