Andrew Luck: Will Colts’ big bet pay off?

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images   Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images /

A season ago, Andrew Luck was ranked seventh in the NFL’s Top 100 players of 2015. Everything appeared aligned for a potential Super Bowl 50 and MVP run.

Then the 2015 season began.

Luck’s hard-nosed and intense style of play caught up to him. Injuries to his shoulder and kidneys forced him to miss nine games. Even when he played, Luck had a tough campaign with 14 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.

One season later, Luck has returned, armed with the richest contract in NFL history.

Despite both injuries and poor play, the Colts inked Luck to a five-year contract extension worth $123 million through 2022, with a whopping $87 million in guarantees. The contract signaled that Indianapolis believes Luck is their leading man for the now and future, but was the gamble worth it?

The pressure on the entire Colts organization has risen to levels that haven’t been seen since the Peyton Manning era. From owner Jim Irsay to general manager Ryan Grigson, and from head coach Chuck Pagano to Luck. The stakes are high and the pitfalls our obvious for a team that needs to capitalize on its franchise quarterback.

There are legitimate questions from pundits and fans alike, asking why the Colts would shell out so much cash after an abysmal campaign. Why not wait until Luck plays in 2016? If he’s bad again, maybe a long-term deal isn’t the right move. If he’s great, lock him up. At the rate he was paid, the price tag wouldn’t have gone up all that much.

In Irsay’s mind, the record-breaking contract is based off the body of work Luck has put together since entering the league in 2012. Since being taken with the first-overall pick in 2012, Luck has thrown for 101 touchdowns and is on pace to reach 15,000 yards passing early on this season.

Luck can thrust himself back into the conversation of the league’s best quarterbacks with a solid season. Yet it will be on the Colts to help make Luck great again.

It is no secret that Grigson has made questionable moves in his time at the helm. He had totally neglected the offensive line until drafting center Ryan Kelly in the first round this spring, and has allowed the defense to erode in major ways. Still, Luck is armed with ample weapons on the outside.

In Luck’s absence, we saw the growth of players like T.Y. Hilton who reached his second Pro Bowl and third straight 1,000-yard receiving season. Along with Hilton there is Donte Moncrief and Philip Dorsett, both who began to break out despite having Matthew Hasselbeck under center for the majority of last season.  

The main concern still revolves around the protection up front. Since Luck’s rookie season of 2012, no members of the colts offensive line have made the Pro Bowl or All-Pro roster.

In the midst of last season’s struggles, a loss to the Carolina Panthers resulted in the firing of Luck’s longtime offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton. Hamilton had been with Luck since their days at Stanford, perhaps causing another problem in the organization. However, Luck and new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski have now had time to come together in the present scheme. If nothing else, Luck should be more comfortable.

Luck is a physical specimen, but last year showed he’s human. Too many hits resulted in a broken man, and a broken team. Indianapolis needs him to stay in the pocket and deliver the ball, while also understanding the value of a pass thrown into the stands. Luck does bring value with his running – he has ran for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career – but he has much more worth staying healthy.

During the length of Luck’s record-breaking deal in Indy, he instantly makes them divisional and playoff contenders. For the longest time, the Colts were the most stable and consistent franchise in the AFC South and continue to be despite all the hubbub over this offseason. The Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars are better, but have been in rebuild mode for almost a decade. The Houston Texans have put all their trust (and most of their money) in quarterback Brock Osweiler, who earned a four-year deal worth $72 million. Houston also has the best defensive player on this planet in J.J. Watt, but he can’t win a title by himself.

This is Luck’s time.

There have been a bevy of injuries, playoff disappointments and constant shuffling of lineups. Yet the Colts clearly understand that without the talents of Luck, they have no shot of going anywhere. The current roster is rife with holes, and yet so many believe Indianapolis could make a run deep into January. Those strong predictions are because of one man and his right arm.

The ghost of Peyton Manning may still roam the halls of Lucas Oil Stadium but with the faith Irsay is putting in Luck, the Colts have made an investment that’s going to pay off. It’’s now just a matter of where and when.

Maybe it will be Houston, come February?