Could Andrew Luck be the first year-to-year franchise quarterback?
On one hand, Colts owner Jim Irsay wants to give quarterback Andrew Luck a “shocking” contract by July 4. (Irsay probably should wait until July 5, based on what happened last July 4.) On the other hand, Irsay has called out Luck for not adequately protecting himself on the field, in part by not sliding.
Assuming there’s a method to Irsay’s remarks (and, yes, that could be reach), Irsay could be trying to point out to Luck the value of trading in the injury risk for long-term financial security that would be less than what he can earn if he chooses to make the unconventional move of playing on a year-to-year basis.
For this year, the final season of his rookie contract, Luck will make $16.155 million. In 2017, the Colts would have to use the exclusive franchise tag to keep another team from trying to pilfer him in return for a pair of first-round picks.
This year, the exclusive franchise tender for quarterbacks would be $24.89 million (pending future developments before late April, like the reduction of Drew Brees’ $30 million cap number via a new deal). Let’s assume, for this demonstration, that it will be $25 million in 2017.
So by avoiding a career-ending injury or a significant regression in his play during the 2016 season, Luck will make $41.155 million over the next two years. Then, if he avoids a career-ending injury or a significant regression in his play during the 2017 season, Luck will make a 20-percent raise over $25 million (i.e., $30 million). That’s $71.155 million over three years.
Then, if he avoids a career-ending injury or a significant regression in his play during the 2018 season, he’ll make a 44-percent raise over $30 million in 2019 (i.e., $43.2 million). That’s $114.355 million over four years.
Then, Luck hits the open market in 2020. At the age of 30. With $114.355 million (after taxes and fees) in hand and an opportunity to become the first healthy franchise quarterback in his prime to become an unrestricted free agent in the history of the National Football League.
What would a team pay Luck at that point? Much of it depends on how high the salary cap climbs by 2020, but would a signing bonus after four more years of cap growth in the range of $60 million be out of the question? If the cap gets to $200 million by 2020, an annual rate of $33 million (more than 50 percent above the current high-water market) would make sense, given that the high-end rate for quarterbacks was $20 million when the cap was $120 million.
Luck, a quirky, non-smart-phone-owning quarterback, may be viewed by some as being too cautious and analytical to walk away from the large bird in the hand that Irsay undoubtedly is offering. But perhaps the more logical and pragmatic approach for a guy like Luck would be to recognize that hardly any quarterback suffers a truly career-ending injury, and that the long-term security that comes from a gigantic contract is overblown and illusory.
Perhaps Luck’s unique wiring makes him the one guy who will be willing to say to ownership, “Thanks but no thanks. I’m taking it a year at a time, until I get a chance to let the market set my value.”
For Luck, simply doing what he has done in four NFL seasons will cause him to earn more than $114 million until hits the real jackpot. That’s a win-win for Luck, who likewise use a chunk of his ongoing earnings to ensure that he’ll get his gigantic payday from an insurance company, if he ends up suffering a truly career-ending injury.