By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Indianapolis Colts were so jazzed at the prospect of drafting Stanford’s Andrew Luck that they were willing to kick Peyton Manning to the curb. That’s Peyton Williams Manning, the man responsible for lifting to heights never before imagined a franchise that went 88-135 and won three total playoff games since moving in the dead of night from Baltimore to Indianapolis. The man who set countless NFL records and led the Colts to their first Super Bowl since Richard Nixon’s administration, and the man now given a massive statue outside the stadium commonly referred to as “The House That Peyton Built.”
Manning suffered an injury and the franchise handed him his walking papers.
That’s how high on Andrew Luck the Colts were.
But based on the way they’ve treated him, you’d never know it.
With the latest news that, after participating in practice for two weeks, the Colts would be shutting down Luck completely, it’s clear that we won’t be seeing Luck on a football field any time soon, if at all in 2017. This week’s divisional matchup against the Jaguars will be his 17th missed game in the Colts’ last 36 games. Prior to his string of injuries, Luck had just completed a 40-touchdown season with a trip to the AFC title game.
The Colts should have been on the rise. But because they never invested in a defense — Indy’s defense has ranked, on average, 24th in the NFL since Luck’s rookie year — they have since fallen in a tailspin.
The Colts also cared not to properly maintain an offensive line (they fired Ryan Grigson at least a year too late), leading to Luck taking 41 sacks in 2016. Forty-one sacks. In 15 games. Only Tyrod Taylor was sacked more. And that was coming off a season during which Luck played with broken ribs.
Here’s an idea of the condition Luck was in when the Colts allowed him to play in 2015:
“Luck sustained torn cartilage on two of his ribs and was still coping with significant pain after returning to the lineup for four games in late October and early November. The injury likely affected Luck’s performance after he returned from a two-game absence that the Colts attributed to a shoulder injury. Luck, according to the source, needed pain-killing injections to play and was quite limited by the injury.
“The information provided by the source is similar to a report from Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer, who said in November that Luck was dealing with fractured ribs and was playing through pain. Luck missed games against the Jaguars and Texans in October before returning to play a Nov. 18 game against the Patriots. The Colts attributed his absence to a shoulder injury but never mentioned his ribs. Luck was present at practice each day and fulfilled his duties.”
As an interesting aside, the Colts never listed those ribs on their injury reports and never faced punishment from the NFL. Here’s a nice note from Colts COO Pete Ward to the Indy Star saying the rib injuries weren’t a huge deal: “It never limited him in any way.”
But in the time that has since passed, you’d think the team might have learned to protect their franchise quarterback.
And, considering he has $140 million invested in the 28-year-old, you’d think owner Jim Irsay would hold Luck’s health with the utmost importance. Instead, Irsay has been the only member of the Colts who has been putting public pressure on Luck in the form of potential timelines on a return.
In January, just after Luck underwent shoulder surgery, Irsay tweeted, ” Will be ready for season!”
In mid-August, Irsay said that Luck “could start” the season opener; Luck could not.
Irsay suggested that even if Luck had to miss the opener, the quarterback would be ready to go early in the season; the quarterback was not.
In June, when Luck was still recovering from the surgery, Irsay set out his expectations for the franchise.
“We’re into plural Lombardis,” Irsay said. “That’s what our goal is. And I’ll be damned if we don’t go out and get them.”
On that same night, Irsay said that Luck’s surgery was a simple process and that the quarterback would be fine.
“This was, quite frankly, not that complicated of a surgery. It was a simple labrum repair,” Irsay said. “There are a lot of other things that could’ve gone into that type of surgery that weren’t involved at all.”
Turns out, it wasn’t that simple. It’s almost as if Irsay didn’t know what he was talking about — not in June, not in August, not in September.
Regardless, the bottom line is this: Luck will miss somewhere between half and all of the 2017 season. He’ll be 29 when the 2018 season kicks off. He was supposed to be the can’t miss, surefire, no-doubt-about-it franchise quarterback of the Colts for 15 years. Yet the team will have essentially burned the first half of his career. After three consecutive 11-5 seasons, they’re a combined 18-20 since 2015. They’re being described by local Indy columnists like this:
“The Indianapolis Colts are repellently hopeless. They’re quitting. They’re flopping. They’re embarrassing themselves.”
It just makes you wonder. Doesn’t Luck deserve better? This was a kid who was supposed to be the NFL’s best quarterback for multiple decades. That’s what the experts said. They said he was the best quarterback prospect not just in 2012 but perhaps of all time.
“He’s the best prospect I’ve studied, period,” Jon Gruden said before Luck even played his senior season at Stanford. “Look, I’m not the oldest guy, and I’m accused of liking everybody. I think this kid has it all. Provided he stays healthy, this guy has a rare upside. This guy has a photographic memory and has tremendous talent.”
In the middle of Luck’s first season as a starter at Stanford, somebody wrote this: “The present is bright but the future is blinding for Luck, who is looking like the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning.”
In October 2011: “Against Colorado, Luck displayed the traits that have scouts tabbing him as the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning.”
Over and over and over we heard the same thing: Luck was the real deal. There was no doubt. He was the next Peyton Manning.
And, with a 40-touchdown season in his third year, he may have been beginning to fulfill that promise. But the difference between Luck and Manning — well, one difference — is that Manning stayed on the field. From 1998-2010, Manning played 208 of a possible 208 football games for the Colts. He missed all of 2011 with a neck injury, but from 2012-15, he played in 58 of a possible 64 games, winning a second Super Bowl before retiring.
That’s 17 total missed games for Manning from 1998-2015. Luck has will miss his 17th game since 2015 this week.
Some of that has to do with the nature of football. Injuries are an unfortunate consequence. Yet between building a weak team around him, thus relying entirely on his arm; by allowing him to play through severe rib injuries; by publicly downplaying the severity of his injuries and surgery; and by placing unrealistic timelines on his recovery from what turned out to be a rather complicated recovery process from surgery, you’re left to wonder if the Colts aren’t responsible for derailing the career for who was supposed to be The Next Great Quarterback.
Week 7 Picks
Kansas City (-3) over OAKLAND
Jacksonville (-3) over INDIANAPOLIS
Carolina (-3) over CHICAGO
BUFFALO (-3) over Tampa Bay
Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) (London)
New York Jets (+3) over MIAMI
Tennessee (-6) over CLEVELAND
MINNESOTA (-5.5) over Baltimore
GREEN BAY (+4.5) over New Orleans
SAN FRANCISCO (+6) over Dallas
Cincinnati (+5) over PITTSBURGH
Denver (Pk) over LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
NEW YORK GIANTS (+5.5) over Seattle
Atlanta (+3.5) over NEW ENGLAND
PHILADELPHIA (-4.5) over Washington
Last week: 5-9