Andrew Luck, the quarterback who replaced Peyton Manning in Indianapolis with the immense promise of being the NFL’s next big thing for a decade or two, abruptly walked away Saturday night at age 29, tearfully announcing his retirement from the Colts.
“This is not an easy decision,” Luck said at a news conference following the Colts’ preseason game in Indianapolis against the Chicago Bears. “Honestly, it’s the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me. For the last four years or so, I’ve been in this cycle — injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab — and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason. And I felt stuck in it. And the only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away.”
Luck said he had been mulling retirement for a week and a half to two weeks as he dealt with his latest physical setback, a leg injury that had kept him sidelined.
“I’ve been stuck in this process,” Luck said. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. It’s taken the joy out of this game. After 2016, where I played in pain and was unable to regularly practice, I made a vow to myself that I would not go down that path again. I find myself in a similar situation. And the only way forward for me is to remove myself from football and this cycle that I’ve been in. I’ve come to the proverbial fork in the road. And I made a vow to myself if I ever did again, I would choose me in a sense.”
Luck said he spoke to his teammates following the game Saturday night after previously consulting with owner Jim Irsay, General Manager Chris Ballard and Coach Frank Reich. He had planned to make his announcement Sunday, he said. But after news broke Saturday night, some Colts fans booed Luck as he left the field, and he met with reporters soon after.
“It hurt,” Luck said of being booed. “I’ll be honest.”
Jacoby Brissett will take over as the Colts’ starter at quarterback. Luck, the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft out of Stanford, retires after seven NFL seasons, one of which he missed entirely. He got the Colts as far as the AFC title game but never reached the Super Bowl.
He walks away from more than $31 million in annual salaries and $33 million in prospective roster bonuses over the next three seasons, under the terms of his contract. The Colts also could force him to return an additional $12.8 million in signing bonus money. If he does not play again, he could be passing up hundreds of millions of dollars in future income, given that the annual salaries of top NFL quarterbacks now are approaching $40 million.
Luck said he could not see the future, but Irsay suggested it’s possible Luck will reconsider at some point and return to the NFL.
“I don’t rule it out,” Irsay said at a news conference at which he cited comebacks from sporting greats such as basketball’s Michael Jordan and golf’s Tiger Woods.
Irsay once predicted the Colts would win multiple Super Bowls with Luck as their quarterback. They have fallen short of that if Luck indeed remains retired. Even so, Irsay said the Colts felt “nothing but gratitude and thankfulness” toward Luck.
“Part of our heart is broken tonight,” Irsay said. “But we know we must go forward.”
Ballard said he first had a sense that Luck might retire when Colts officials met with the quarterback Monday.
“It’s been an emotional week,” Ballard said.
Luck, the son of former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, entered the league to much fanfare. Andrew Luck was regarded as a once-in-a-generation quarterback prospect. The Colts said their farewells to Manning and welcomed Luck, who was taken one spot ahead of fellow quarterback Robert Griffin III in that supposedly quarterback-rich 2012 draft. But now Luck is retiring only three seasons after Manning, who finished his career in Denver, did. Manning won two Super Bowls in a 17-year career — one with the Colts and the other with the Broncos in his final NFL season.
Griffin, playing for the Washington Redskins, outshone Luck in their rookie season and was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year. Still, Luck seemed headed to all-time greatness when he was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first three NFL seasons. The Colts made the playoffs in each of those seasons and advanced a round further each time. They lost at New England in the AFC championship game in the 2014 season in the game that launched the infamous Deflategate saga.
But from there, Luck’s career increasingly became about injuries and frustration.
Luck described himself Saturday as “quite exhausted and quite tired.” He cited the lack of progress with his leg injury, which initially was described as a calf strain but later was said to be a high ankle injury.
“I feel tired and not just in a physical sense,” Luck said.
He played last season and led the Colts to the playoffs after missing all of the 2017 season following shoulder surgery. Luck was selected to his fourth career Pro Bowl and was named the league’s comeback player of the year. But as this season nears, he was dealing with another injury that had his playing status in doubt.
“It’s very difficult,” said Luck, who became emotional several times during his impromptu farewell news conference. “I love this team. I love my teammates, the folks in our building, the fans, the game of football. And as part of this team, as a member of this team and because of how I feel, I know that I am unable to pour my heart and soul into this position, which would not only sell myself short but the team in the end, as well. And it’s sad. But I also have a lot of clarity in this.”
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