The Indianapolis Colts, their fans and the rest of the NFL continued to come to grips Sunday with quarterback Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement announcement.

That task was neither simple nor straightforward. Luck’s decision borders on the unthinkable for many of those in and around football. To them, this simply isn’t supposed to happen — not with a star quarterback and particularly not in today’s NFL, which is all about safeguarding those star quarterbacks and using their talents to make the on-field product more appealing.

“This has been my personal journey in football,” Luck said Saturday night in Indianapolis. “Everybody’s journey is different.”

But no one’s NFL journey has been quite like Luck’s, particularly if he remains in retirement. He is 29, and he’s an extremely prominent player at the most celebrated position in sports. He was picked by the Colts with the top selection of the 2012 draft to replace a quarterbacking legend, Peyton Manning. He is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the reigning comeback player of the year.

And now, suddenly, he’s a former NFL player, describing himself as too weary of dealing with injuries to continue playing. Luck is not the first standout NFL player to walk away in his prime. Most notably, running backs Jim Brown and Barry Sanders and wide receiver Calvin Johnson were all-time greats who retired with plenty of productive on-field days seemingly still ahead of them.

But Luck’s retirement, if it holds, is different because he’s a quarterback and because it comes when the NFL, more than ever, is all about his position. The league’s once-sagging TV ratings were on the mend last fall as Luck and other quarterbacks thrived in an offensive season for the ages. In a passing-first era in which defensive players regularly complain that quarterbacks are coddled, the NFL’s leaders know the key to having a game that’s aesthetically pleasing is to keep the standout quarterbacks healthy, on the field and doing their thing.

“I very much feel for him,” New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “I know what he went through with the shoulder. I don’t know the circumstances around this, other than I know he’s been battling another injury this offseason and into this training camp. … I think he’s just a well-respected guy who everyone feels has a lot of great football left in him if he chooses to want to do that. We all love watching him play. I love watching his film. I like being around him.”

Brees, speaking to reporters Saturday night following the Saints’ preseason game at the New York Jets, said he learned about Luck’s retirement while on the sideline and was stunned.

“This game is a grind,” Brees said. “It takes a physical toll, and it takes a mental toll and an emotional one. You have to truly dedicate yourself and sacrifice a lot. I don’t think any of us take that lightly. None of us take that for granted. We understand that that’s part of what we sign up for. It still doesn’t take away from the fact that it can absolutely be a grind at times.”

But even if Brees and others could empathize with what led to Luck’s decision, he is unique among star quarterbacks in choosing to quit. It speaks to his unusual circumstances. He is walking away from approximately $60 million in potential salary and bonuses under his current contract, plus perhaps hundreds of millions in prospective future earnings. But he already has made about $97 million in his career.

He has been sidelined recently by a leg injury. Luck described the injury Saturday as a “myriad of issues” including a calf strain, a posterior ankle impingement and a high ankle sprain. He played every game last year after missing the entire 2017 season following shoulder surgery.

His list of career injuries also includes torn rib cartilage, a partially torn abdominal muscle, a lacerated kidney and at least one concussion. Early in Luck’s NFL career, the previous Colts regime was criticized for failing to fortify Luck’s offensive line to keep him from being hit so often. Luck was assigned some of the blame for stubbornly holding the ball in the pocket as pass rushers closed in on him, wanting to give his receivers that extra split second to get open.

Fans in Indianapolis became aware of Andrew Luck's retirement decision during Saturday night's preseason game. (AJ Mast/AP)

Much of that seemed to change when Colts owner Jim Irsay turned to Chris Ballard as his general manager and Ballard, after being rebuffed by New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, hired Frank Reich as the team’s coach in February 2018. Luck thrived again last season and got the Colts back into the playoffs, but he was back to dealing with another injury this summer.

“I don’t know if there was a final straw per se,” Luck said. “The lack of progress [with the leg injury], I think, just built up. … I can’t remember if there was one tipping point or final straw. [But] I feel so much clarity.”

Luck exits with the respect of NFL peers.

Houston Texans defensive star J.J. Watt called Luck an “incredible competitor and a truly great person” as he wrote on Twitter, “I’ll miss competing against a guy who always played the game extremely hard, with an immense amount of respect.”

Said Brees: “I’ve always thought so highly of Andrew. Still do. He’s obviously a great football player, but I think anyone that’s been around him would say he’s a great guy, too. Man, you hate to see something like that. I don’t know if that’s permanent or something short term or what. Listen, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league, in my opinion, and he still has a ton of upside and a ton of QB life left if he chooses to want to come back and do that.”

The Colts move forward with Jacoby Brissett as their quarterback. And Luck, as he deals with the sting of being booed by some Colts fans as he left the field Saturday, moves on.

“I understand the suddenness and maybe the surprise behind it. I really do,” Luck said. “But I also know I have so much clarity about my next steps moving forward.”

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