Fair or Foolish? The Andrew Luck Contract Extension

Andrew Luck's struggles in 2015 only serve to highlight how much he means to the Indianapolis Colts. And if that wasn't enough, there's his new five-year extension worth $122.97 million.

by Andrea Hangst
Jun 30 2016, 9:55pm

Photo by Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the NFL offseason, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay made it very clear that quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft, was on track to earn a very lucrative contract extension. The word Irsay used to describe the payday he had in mind, in fact, was "shocking." The rumors swirled that the amount would be an all-time record-breaker, perhaps averaging as much as $25 million per year in value.

The goal was to get it done before July 4th, and the bombastic Irsay made good on his promise: on June 29th, the Colts inked a five-year extension with Luck worth $122.97 million; including the 2016 season, for which the quarterback was already under contract, the total money balloons to $140 million. He has $87 million in guaranteed money coming his way, and the deal gets close to that $25 million per-year average that had been predicted, coming in at $24.594 million.

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There was no doubt that a deal would get done at some point, if not this summer then practically without fail following the 2016 season. Without a new deal, Luck would hit the free agent market, something the Colts were right to prevent. It would be a crippling blow to an Indianapolis offense that, outside of Luck, is still trying to find its footing, and this new contract means the Colts are locked in with their QB for as long as they want him. But a perceived disconnect between Luck's performance and his very lucrative payday might still raise some eyebrows.

Luck's 2015 season did not go as planned. After not missing a single game in his first three years with the Colts, he missed nine in 2015—two in October for an injured shoulder; a month later, a torn abdominal muscle and lacerated kidney ultimately ended his season. Of the seven games that Luck did play, the Colts won just two, with Luck throwing 15 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and completing just 55.3 percent of his passes. But those stats, and his career stats—101 touchdowns to 55 interceptions thrown, a completion percentage of 58.1, a cumulative quarterback rating of 85.0—don't tell the whole story. In fact, Luck's struggles in 2015 only serve to highlight how much he means to his team and how much they must support him in his pursuit of success.

Luck spent much of the 2015 season watching from the sideline. Photo by Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts' offensive line has done a poor job of protecting Luck, who has taken 115 sacks in 55 regular-season games. His receiving corps also leaves much to be desired, and has lacked the kind of top-notch talent teams would typically surround a potential franchise quarterback. As a rookie, Luck's most explosive target was Reggie Wayne, whose career was already waning. Wayne was eventually swapped out in 2015 for Andre Johnson, also in the twilight of his playing days. T.Y. Hilton, who was also drafted in 2012, has possessed the only reliable hands Luck has known in Indianapolis. The run game, too, failed to bail out Luck, and its struggles continued whether or not he was on the field last year. It finished 29th in yards earned and 28th in touchdowns scored.

Luck's value cannot be viewed in a vacuum, because so many setbacks in his performance over the past four years have been outside of his control. His contract, too, is influenced by larger trends in the NFL. Luck is a franchise-caliber quarterback in a league where that is an increasingly scarce commodity—fewer such players are coming in via the draft and fewer are becoming available in free agency. Heightened demand alone would boost Luck's earning potential, but with the league's salary cap rising by $10 million a year (it will be $155.27 million in 2016), what used to be an unthinkable contract in the NFL is quickly becoming the new normal. If Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox could recently receive a six-year deal with a maximum value of $102.5 million, then of course quarterbacks, typically the highest-paid player on the field, will see their contracts go even higher.

Given all that, then, maybe Luck's payday wasn't so "shocking" after all. For the Colts, the deal is both football-smart and financially sound, especially if they begin to upgrade the pieces around Luck to help him—and thus their investment in him—succeed.

Luck's contract is also good news for his fellow NFL quarterbacks. Washington's Kirk Cousins, currently playing on the franchise tag, will be quite interested in this new market value. So will Tyrod Taylor, the Buffalo Bills quarterback whose $3.1 million 2016 salary is the lowest for any starter (and lower than many backups); he will be a free agent after this season. The Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford, another former No. 1 overall draft pick, will be only 30 years old when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2018, and he will certainly eye the bar Luck set this summer.

A caveat: NFL contracts aren't what they seem on the surface; there are fail-safes trigger dates to guarantee yearly salaries and for things like roster bonuses. Luck's contract is no different; for example, his 2017 base salary of $7 million is fully guaranteed on the fifth day of the league year. But there's no doubt that the deal is a very lucrative one. For the Colts, as well as other teams around the league, there's no going back.

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