It’s been little more than a week and still it’s still somewhat difficult to understand what I saw when Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck walked to the podium last Saturday night in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium where he announced his retirement from the National Football League. Luck’s retirement came as a huge surprise being that he is only 29-years of age, while the 2019 NFL season is only days from getting under way. But this is no a late April Fool’s joke as the Colts will now look to Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, while the NFL lost one of its stars.
When the Colts drafted Luck first overall in 2012, he was supposed to be the guy that carried Indianapolis in the same fashion that his predecessor Peyton Manning did for nearly 15 years, but that was not the case. Just like it was for Manning, the Colts front office took Luck’s ability for granted as they failed to put a quality team around him. During the 2014 NFL season, Luck was able to lead the Colts to the AFC Championship Game in spite of the fact that he had a subpar offensive line blocking for him, or a quality defense to stop opponents.
And this lack of action would catch up to the Colts the following season as a shoulder injury limited Luck to just seven games, and Indy’s chances of being a playoff team went out of the window. After missing the entire 2017 NFL season as he recovered from shoulder surgery, Luck did rebound under new Colts head coach Frank Reich in 2018 to throw 39 touchdown passes en route to being named as the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, while also helping Indy reach the playoffs. However a calf injury in training camp this year was all she wrote for Luck who didn’t want to go through another lengthy rehab just to get beat up some more on the playing field. And as Luck walks away from the NFL on his own terms, the league should take his move very serious.
In an era where player safety is at the forefront of most discussions in regards to the NFL, the quarterback position is more protected than any other. And although that the going rate for most starting quarterbacks right now is $30-$40 million, Luck was willing to walk away from several more big paydays as the Colts failed to invest several years ago in protecting their franchise guy.
In today’s game where quarterbacks are supremely protected, we are seeing signal callers play into their 40’s which was once upon a time reserved for the likes of George Blanda. But if a star quarterback such as Luck is walking away in the prime of his career, how will the NFL respond?
This isn’t a Barry Sanders/Calvin Johnson move where they got tired of losing with the Detroit Lions, as Luck could no longer take the pounding that came from playing behind an inferior offensive line for the majority of his career. But this isn’t the first shocking departure of a former first-round pick at quarterback walking away from the NFL early on this decade as just in 2014 we saw Jake Locker surprisingly retire from the Tennessee Titans at the age of 26. And as there were those who thought that Locker would return to the National Football League, five years later he has never looked back.
Now in the present, Luck’s departure leaves a void for the NFL as he was in that tier of quarterbacks that was expected to be the elder statesmen of the fraternity when the likes of Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers eventually hang it up. But Luck beat them all in regards to clocking out as the head scratching process has begun.
To the NFL’s credit, they are attempting to make a violent game as safe as possible, but there isn’t much that can be done about an inept franchise such as the Colts. This is the same Colts franchise that left in the darkness of night from Baltimore in favor of Indianapolis in 1984, and when Manning was shelved for the entire 2011 season, they went from being a playoff contender to a squad that was barely able to win two games. And when you look at the Colts all-time roster, they’ve had Johnny Unitas, Manning, and Luck all play quarterback for them, but in the case of both Manning and Luck, they were asked to do so much with so little, which was not the case for Unitas who played on some of the greatest teams in NFL history.
There will be those who’ll want to label Luck as a bust, but let’s not forget that in each of his first three seasons in the NFL, he led the Colts to an 11-5 mark, and I cannot state it enough that he took a shellacking in the process which included being sacked 174 times.
Luck’s departure should serve notice to all team owners around the NFL as this is what could happen to them if they do not protect their beloved franchise quarterbacks which includes throwing them to the wolves on bad teams.
In 2012, NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. referred to Luck as the best pro prospect since John Elway as the two Stanford quarterbacks were 29 years apart in regards to taking the pro game by storm. And whereas that Elway had a tremendous NFL career which included winning a pair of Super Bowl Titles, we’ve been robbed from seeing similar productivity from Luck. Quarterbacks with the arm talent and savvy of both Elway and Luck don’t come down the pike that often as the Denver Broncos can attest to as a washed up Peyton Manning was the closest thing that the Broncos have gotten to replacing Elway who has been retired for 20 years. And as the spotlight will now be on Jacoby Brissett in regards to placing Luck in Indy, nothing short of a postseason berth will save him from the comparison game to Luck.
But for those Colts fans that’ll want to be critical of Brissett this season, they should save their heaviest critiquing for team owner Jim Irsay and former general manager Ryan Grigson as this is the brain trust that failed Luck in regards to putting a solid team around him which is why his NFL career has shockingly come to an end. And like to old adage goes, it isn’t great players or great teams that win titles as this category is set aside instead for great organizations which means that it starts from the top. And as Irsay has had his own personal run-ins with law enforcement which includes an arrest in 2014 for DUI and drug possession, his franchise is what’ll suffer the most for the sketchy way that he has operated.
And at the end of the day it should be kudos to Luck who walked away on his own terms as this was a man who was never hurting for a money as he came from a well-off family, while he also has his engineering degree from Stanford which showed the NFL that he doesn’t need you as much as you think as he has illustrated that fame and fortune are not as important as your health and well being.