Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck Retires At 29

Indianapolis Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck surprised the sports world last night by announcing an early retirement.

In a surprising move at the end of last night’s final preseason game for the Indianapolis Colts, the team’s starting Quarterback announced he was retiring from football at the incredibly young age of 29:

Andrew Luck, a Pro Bowl quarterback and the face of the Indianapolis Colts, has decided to retire at 29 after a career defined by wins and injuries.

Luck sustained severe injuries throughout his career. He missed nine games in 2015 and the entire 2017 season. He was working his way back from a persistent ankle injury and had not appeared in any of the team’s preseason games, including one in progress on Saturday night when the news of his retirement first broke with reports by ESPN and the NFL Network.

Luck confirmed the reports at a postgame news conference. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live,” Luck said as he fought off tears. “It’s taken the joy out of this game. The only way forward for me is to remove myself from football and this cycle I’ve been in.”

Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, was an instant star for the Colts, helping offset the loss of Peyton Manning, another franchise icon, who was cut by the team after he had dealt with serious injuries of his own.

In just 86 career regular-season games, Luck produced a 53-33 record, and his 171 touchdown passes trailed only Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre for the most in the first 100 starts of a quarterback’s career.

Luck led the Colts in his third season to the A.F.C. championship game, where they lost, 45-7, to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. At the time it seemed like a matchup destined to be repeated for years, but Luck, thanks largely to injuries, never got his team that far again.

Luck, who was selected to play in the Pro Bowl four times, listed a host of injuries that he has battled, including a calf strain, a high ankle sprain and a shoulder injury that forced him to miss 26 games.

“I’m in pain, I’m still in pain, I’ve been in this cycle for four years,” Luck said. “Shoulder, ankle, and this and this and this. I don’t feel like I can live the life I want moving forward” by playing football.

Luck, who has three years remaining on his contract worth more than $64 million, said he decided to retire about a week and a half ago. He said there was no single moment, but rather a dawning reality that his injured ankle was not improving, and that he wanted to break the cycle of injuries and rehabilitation.

“The lack of progress just builds up and you turn the corner and run into another stumbling block,” he said.

Luck said he understood that people may be shocked by his decision to suddenly leave the game. But he said he felt relief.

“It felt like a weight has lifted,” he said. “Part of my journey going forward is to figure out how to get out of pain.”

More from the Indianapolis Star:

INDIANAPOLIS — Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is retiring from the NFL.

“I’m going to retire, this is not an easy decision,” Luck said after the Colts’ preseason loss to the Bears on Saturday. “This is the hardest decision of my life. But it is the right decision for me.”

Luck fought back tears as he explained his decision. “(The injuries have) taken my joy of this game away. I’ve been stuck in this process haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. After 2016, I played in pain and was unable to practice, I said I wouldn’t go through that again.

“It’s sad but I also have a lot of clarity in this. Difficult process. My wife, family, friends, Chris Ballard, Mr. Irsay, Frank Reich have been incredibly supportive. Thankful for them.”

“Part of our heart is broken,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said following Luck’s announcement.

Luck was at Saturday night’s preseason game against the Bears, on the field in the pregame and talking to tight end Jack Doyle. He was booed as he walked off the Lucas Oil Stadium field for the final time.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hear the reaction. It hurt,” he said.

Colts general manager Chris Ballard joined Irsay and Frank Reich after Luck’s announcement and addressed the fans’ reaction:

“For those people that booed tonight, it’s an emotional time, I understand this,” Ballard said. “But this young man has done a lot for the city of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Colts. No one died and we’ll keep moving forward. We’ll make this city proud.”

The Washington Post’s Jerry Brewer, meanwhile, notes that a long history of injuries over the course of a short career had largely taken the joy of the game away and that his abrupt departure should be a warning for the N.F.L.:

We’ve seen legends leave too soon: Jim Brown, Barry Sanders. We’ve seen injuries and ailments cut brilliant careers short: Gale Sayers, Kenny Easley. Recently, we’ve seen a concerning cluster of great ones bow out shockingly: Luck joins linebacker Patrick Willis and receiver Calvin Johnson on a growing list. But despite advancements in brain research and the anecdotal evidence of football’s many debilitating effects, there are still 100 NFL players who plan on playing “until the wheels fall off” for every one athlete who seriously worries about the game shortening his career. And if you’re a quarterback — in a league that keeps adjusting the rules seemingly to keep quarterbacks healthy — you’re far more likely to fantasize about Tom Brady-esque longevity than to anticipate a premature ending.

Does Luck’s retirement represent a watershed moment for NFL players to be even more thoughtful about the dangers of the game? No, not necessarily. It will take about a dozen players on the level of Luck, Willis and Johnson to quit around the same time to spark a dramatic shift. Right now, we’re inching toward a moment, and perhaps Luck’s decision moves the conversation an entire foot. But currently there is no urgent desire from players to escape.

It’s a slow process to change the mentality. Nevertheless, teams would be wise to consider the situation dire. The NFL should feel desperate to improve the way it trains and cares for athletes and how it manages their workload. It should also increase the resources to help the players recover mentally from injuries. In their reactions to Luck, current and former players transition quickly from shock to understanding the physical and mental toll of grinding out a football career.

In the middle of a tweet about Luck on Saturday night, Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette said ” … man y’all don’t know much we put in for this sport.”

They put in so much that one of the game’s brightest young quarterbacks walked away from perhaps $250 million in future earnings when you factor in the remaining three years of his contract and at least one more mega-extension that likely would’ve been worth more than $40 million per season.

“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 when I played in pain and wasn’t regularly able to practice, I made a vow I wouldn’t go down that path again. The only way forward is to remove myself from this cycle. I came to the proverbial fork in the road and made a vow if I ever did again, I would choose me, in a sense.”

That’s not a selfish choice. After all Luck has been through, it’s understandable. And wise.

Brewer is correct, of course. Given the near-constant cycle of injury and rehabilitation that Luck has seen in recent years, and the fact that each of those injuries has apparently left behind some chronic pain that Luck is likely to be dealing with for the rest of his life, it’s entirely understandable that he decided to step off the field now rather than risk even further injury for the chance at a few more years. Yes, if he had stayed in the league he likely would have been able to renew his contract and get millions of dollars more. There’s also a chance that, a better than even one, that he could have been injured even more severely than he already has been. That’s why it was classless for those Colts fans to jeer him last night as he walked off the field for the last time. They either had no idea what he’d been through, or they didn’t care as long as the team kept winning.

Luck’s retirement is likely to expand the debate about the extent to which injuries and long-term medical problems are impacting players. As Brewer notes, the league has seen a spate of medical issues in recent years that it is consistently failing to address adequately. Perhaps those issues will be addressed as part of the next round of contract negotiations between the league and the player’s union. They certainly should be. Yes, these players are paid a lot of money and they have advantages many of us will never have, but that doesn’t mean they need to put their lives and their ability to enjoy those lives on the line in exchange for what for many is only a few short years in the limelight.

Don’t worry about Andrew Luck. He’ll be fine. He’s already earned untold millions and will get at least some portion of the remainder of his contract along with a pretty generous pension. He’ll probably also end up as an analyst on one of the networks that broadcast the games we all watch on Sundays in the fall. Or maybe he’ll end up on a coaching staff somewhere. I’m sure he’ll miss the limelight, and the cheers of the crowd, but he’ll probably be glad to be rid of the pain that came with it. In the end, the saddest thing is the fact that the game that he obviously enjoyed ended up being the source of such pain and agony that he felt it necessary to end it so early.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Shocking. But he’s made enough money to have a very happy life. Good luck to him…excuse the pun.
    I feel bad for the front office and the fans.

  2. @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Except for the fans in Indy who were booing him last night. He didn’t deserve that.

  3. Mister Bluster says:

    Except for the fans in Indy who were booing him last night.

    That’s why they call them Hoosiers. No class.

  4. Robert C says:

    Good for him. The league is dying. Good to see his Stanford education was not wasted.

  5. @Robert C:

    Cases like this are one reason why the next round of contract negotiations between the league and the NFLPA will be interesting.

  6. Alex Hamilton says:

    First Megatron, now Luck. Shocking indeed. No love for the game or amount of money is worth risking your long term health and happiness. Good for Luck leaving on his own terms.

  7. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    No. you’re right, he didn’t.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    A very intelligent decision. Foot and ankle injuries will hang around. I’m sure Mr. Luck will live up to his name and re-create his career along not-so-physically-risky lines.

  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    If Luck had any doubts about whether he was making the right choice, that booing probably dispelled them.

  10. Teve says:

    I saw a tweet earlier and I just looked back through my feed and I can’t find it, but the guy said “Luck made a hundred million dollars, he got banged up over and over and over, he’s seen what NFL damage can do to a family up close and personal, and he wants to spend his thirties touring the world with his wife, instead of getting repeated brain damage by 300-pound men. If you don’t understand why he’s retiring, you should get checked for head trauma.”

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “I’m in pain, I’m still in pain, I’ve been in this cycle for four years,” Luck said. “Shoulder, ankle, and this and this and this. I don’t feel like I can live the life I want moving forward” by playing football.
    …………………….
    “The lack of progress just builds up and you turn the corner and run into another stumbling block,” he said.
    ………………………………..
    “It felt like a weight has lifted,” he said. “Part of my journey going forward is to figure out how to get out of pain.”

    As one who lives in constant pain I can testify to how it wears one out and down. I hope he has better luck finding relief than I have had.

    It’s a slow process to change the mentality. Nevertheless, teams would be wise to consider the situation dire. The NFL should feel desperate to improve the way it trains and cares for athletes and how it manages their workload. It should also increase the resources to help the players recover mentally from injuries.

    Brewer is delusional if he thinks that will ever happen. Instead they will seek to shift their profit taking into overdrive in an effort to milk as many billions as they can out of their athletes before the whole thing collapses. They don’t care anymore about their players than oil and coal companies care about the future of the human race or big tobacco does about the condition of the lungs of their customers.

    In my 35 years as a carpenter the tools and techniques that were invented that could have made our lives easier and extended our working years didn’t. Instead we were expected to produce more, more and even more. No matter how much we did, they always wanted more. And if you got hurt on the job? Dawg forbid you report it or… shock…. take a day or 2 to heal.

  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    If a baseball team expected one of their pitchers to pitch for the entire game, every game, they’d be considered insane people destroying their most valuable player. Perhaps football needs to go to a “bullpen” style rotation of starting quarterbacks.

  13. Teve says:

    Since I first read about CTE years ago in the New Yorker I’ve been expecting some slow process of evidence leading to lawsuits leading to insurance premiums high schools wouldn’t pay, gradually destroying the sport. But I really don’t follow football at all so I have no idea if that’s materializing or not.

    I mean, why follow football when the NBA exists? 😀

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Exactly. As to the risks, sorry, but they are inherent in a game where people who weigh 300+ pounds collide with you at high speed and great force. The league probably should do better, but there may be limits to what can be done unless the fans want to watch flag or touch football.

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    They don’t care anymore about their players than oil and coal companies care about the future of the human race or big tobacco does about the condition of the lungs of their customers.

    Again, exactly! There’s a reason that 1) even sports franchises have “human resources” departments and 2) why those departments are called “human resources” instead of “personnel” now. (And it isn’t because the “scope of our understanding” has broadened, either!)

  16. Mister Bluster says:

    Perhaps football needs to go to a “bullpen” style rotation of starting quarterbacks.

    Why stop there?

    College of Coaches
    The Cubs officially rolled out the College of Coaches during 1961 spring training. The original “faculty” included Tappe, Charlie Grimm, Goldie Holt, Bobby Adams, Harry Craft, Verlon Walker, Ripper Collins and Vedie Himsl. Each coach would serve as “head coach” for part of the season. The original concept called for the eight coaches to rotate through the entire organization from the low minors all the way to the Cubs, ensuring a standard system of play. Additionally, Wrigley argued that it would be better for the players to be exposed to the wisdom and experience of eight men rather than just one.
    In announcing the experiment, Wrigley argued, “Managers are expendable. I believe there should be relief managers just like relief pitchers.” He also contended that the manager system was nepotistic and led to constant turnover.

    It was another 50 years after this fiasco before the Cubs finally won the World Series.

  17. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Perhaps football needs to go to a “bullpen” style rotation of starting quarterbacks.

    Closest thing to that, was the 70s when Tom Landry alternated Craig Morton and Roger Staubach. It didn’t work well, and to this day people mock Landry for it, but there was no system or principle behind it.

    The next closest thin was the Wildcat offence Miami popularized for one season. In any given play, just about any player in the backfield could be the QB. This was seen as a gimmick. And once defenses grew used to it, the Wildcat lost effectiveness. You still see some teams running Wildcat plays now and then, but these are used like other trick plays.

    @Teve:

    There’s no easy answer to the CTE crisis, or the overall injury levels we see.

    There are some suggestions:

    Limit the weight of players to under 240 lbs, this in order to reduce the sheer kinetic energy available. The average today is around 240 lbs, meaning there are some pretty large players out there.

    Eliminate the “down by contact” rule. Meaning in order to stop a ball carrier inside the field, the other team has to physically wrestle him to the ground. This would eliminate a lot of high-speed hits, and possibly add yardage to many plays.

    Forbid hitting a receiver to keep them from catching the ball. This might require easing up on pass interference, but it would also reduce some of the hardest hits.

    Overall, football will have to become a different game. But it has done that over time. Never mind in its earliest days there was no forward pass. Think back to the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and the game was not waht it is today.

  18. Michael Cain says:

    I look forward to the first lawsuit where a college player argues that “four years, tuition and fees” is not sufficient remuneration for a permanent injury, given that the NCAA, conferences, and schools have billions of dollars of income from football. As an aside, at many schools if the player suffers that injury during his junior year, the fourth year of tuition and fees is probably not forthcoming.

  19. EddieInCA says:

    Every year, dozens of NFL players make this choice. I’m working with one now, initials SP, who walked away from the NFL at 29 two years ago, after 7 years in the NFL. 7 full seasons in the NFL gives you a sweet pension, health insurance for life, and that’s in addition to the 10Million+ he made playing. He says, simply, “I have had zero serious injuries, my head is on right, and I don’t need it anymore.” Last year, at this very time, he was still getting calls from NFL teams, asking him to come out of retirement because X Team had a need at linebacker. He kept saying no, even to the team based in So. Florida that offered him a guaranteed $4Million for the. rest of the season.

    I asked him about Luck today. He said, “Back in the day you had to keep playing for the money. Nowadays, one good contract is all you need plus your five years of service. Luck is set. No need to keep it up. He’s a smart MFer. He will end up owning a team.” Turns out other players get it, even if fans don’t.

    You get the pension after four seasons, and every year after increases it exponentially.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    As an aside, at many schools if the player suffers that injury during his junior year, the fourth year of tuition and fees is probably not forthcoming.

    That goes without saying. The scholarships are for players and playing. They are not grants.

  21. Tyrell says:

    @Stormy Dragon: That is a good idea. Starting pitchers have a pitch count limit. Quarterbacks could have a downs limit, or time played. Most teams have two backups, so maybe adding two more would make a good rotation.

  22. Tyrell says:

    @Stormy Dragon: That is a good idea. Starting pitchers have a pitch count limit. Quarterbacks could have a downs limit, or time played. Most teams have two backups, so maybe adding two more would make a good rotation.