The question has hovered over the Colts’ season: When will Luck come back? He watched from the sideline Monday night, wearing a Colts cap and a “Property of Colts” T-shirt as Indianapolis lost, 36-22, to the Tennessee Titans. Luck underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right throwing shoulder in January, and ever since the Colts have been either stingy or unreliable in hinting when he’d return.
As the Colts’ latest loss wore on, another question continued to gain, if not surpass, that one: What would even be the point?
A healthy Luck would give the Colts the best chance to contend. That ship has already sailed. The 2-4 Colts are only a game out of first place in the AFC South, but any sign that they’re a playoff team is a mirage. They have been outscored by 76 points, the worst margin in the NFL. Their defense got embarrassed in the second half Monday night. They are, as expected, not good.
Something is clearly screwy with Luck’s rehab. Colts owner Jim Irsay is not exactly a reliable narrator, but over the past two years, he has said Luck wouldn’t need surgery and that he would return for the start of this season. Nobody with Colts has provided anything resembling a timetable about Luck, who returned to practice on Oct. 4. Whatever it is, Luck’s future can only be made more secure by letting his labrum heal and not playing behind a subpar offensive line on a team doomed to miss the playoffs for a third straight season.
“Maybe I’m old, but I’m trying to do the timeline, it’s just hard to figure out,” Hasselbeck told the Indianapolis Star’s Zak Keefer last week. “He had surgery in January. What’s going on? I saw the film [of Luck throwing light passes during practice last week]. That’s not real. That’s not him. Yeah, you’re out there on the field, but that’s not you. I’m just surprised it’s mid-October and he’s not out there.”
Luck remains sidelined midway through the 2017 season, in the big picture, because the Colts have badly mismanaged his injury and could be in the middle of botching the greatest gift a franchise can receive. Luck’s situation has reached such an odd place, it’s worth looking back over how the Colts got here.
The Colts benefited from the biggest stroke of fortune a franchise can get. The one year everything fell apart and they landed the first pick, a no-doubt potential franchise quarterback was available. They took advantage by winning 11 games in each of Luck’s first three seasons. When he took them to AFC championship game after the 2014 season, it seemed like another step in a Super Bowl progression. Luck was not only the future of the Colts, but the future of the league.
Luck first hurt his shoulder in the third week of the 2015 season. He missed two games and returned, playing until a lacerated kidney knocked him out for the final seven games of what became a lost season for the Colts. Luck had done enough, though, to sign the richest contract in NFL history that offseason.
In Week 2 of 2016, Luck reinjured his shoulder making a tackle on an interception return. At the time, Irsay vowed Luck wouldn’t need surgery. The Colts either misdiagnosed the injury, misunderstood the severity or needlessly lied to the public and cast uncertainty over the entire franchise.
Evidence suggests they botched the diagnosis and/or plan for treatment, because the Colts continued to play Luck behind a horrendous offensive line, even as they slipped out of playoff contention before the final week of the season. Luck still threw for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdown passes, completing a career-high 63.5 percent of his attempts.
When Irsay announced Luck would need surgery, he insisted Luck would be ready to start the first game of this season. Again, either the Colts botched the medical assessment of their franchise quarterback, or their owner lied to no end other than casting unnecessary pressure on Luck and eventual doubt on the franchise’s quarterback position.
Luck didn’t say it explicitly, but his words suggest he believes the Colts blew the diagnosis. In his first comments after the surgery, Luck told reporters he decided to have the surgery. Rehab — the plan the Colts had laid out and publicly espoused — no longer worked, in his mind.
Luck may be practicing now, but he remains too good for their roster, so much so it would be pointless playing him the rest of the season. He should heal fully. The Colts could develop Jacoby Brissett, who has been promising, either to showcase him for a trade or as a reliable backup for Luck next year. Without Luck, they’re certain to fall into another high draft pick.
It’s not clear when Luck will be ready. But if the Colts want to salvage a situation they have botched, they’ll make sure he doesn’t play all season.
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