Up to this point, the Indianapolis Colts were in the midst of a quiet offseason. But now, after signing Andrew Luck to the largest contract in history, they've managed to shape the financial landscape of the NFL for years to come.
The Colts inked Luck to a six-year, $140 million deal Wednesday with $87 million guaranteed, setting the new standard at the quarterback position. Luck will now earn more per season than Aaron Rodgers, which didn't go unnoticed by the Green Bay Packers QB, considering he shared a tweet from NFL Media's Ian Rapoport about Luck's record-setting deal.
It seemed as if the Colts would extend Luck last year, following his league leading 40-touchdown campaign. But they opted to milk one more year out of him on his rookie contract, which was set to balloon this season anyway. Luck's fifth-year option was worth $16.2 million –– roughly $13 million more than his base salary in 2015.
Despite missing nine games with a lacerated kidney and only completing 55.3 percent of his passes last year, Indianapolis decided it was best to sign Luck now rather than wait until he reaches free agency next spring. The 2012 No. 1 overall pick was knocked down more than any other quarterback in the league over the previous three seasons, which may help explain his disappointing campaign. But now that the 26-year-old Luck is the highest-paid player in the NFL, excuses have run out for both him and the Colts.
$140 Million over 6 Years... Biggest Contract in NFL History... Congrats to #12!!!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) June 29, 2016
What does this deal mean for Luck?
Big responsibilities come with a contract of this magnitude. Prior to 2015, Luck's development was right on schedule. The Colts advanced further in the playoffs every season from 2012-2014, and he had already established himself as one of the most prolific passers in the game. But Luck took a major step back last season and now must prove that his disappointing year was a fluke.
The biggest area for improvement in Luck's game is his accuracy. His career completion rate is a paltry 58.1, which would've placed him 28th among quarterbacks with at least 300 passing attempts in 2015. Though it's possible to succeed without being a precise passer – Cam Newton only completed 59.8 percent of his throws last season –– it's a necessity if Luck is going to spend more time in the pocket as he ages. Given the beating he's taken over the first four years of his career, the Colts would probably like to see him play it safe.
With T.Y. Hilton, Dwayne Allen, 2015 first-round pick Phillip Dorsett and Frank Gore locked up around Luck, the Colts are geared to improve upon their underwhelming 8-8 finish last season. But in order for them to be consistent Super Bowl contenders, Luck must improve on his playoff numbers. His career QB rating in six postseason games is 70.8, and he's been outscored by the New England Patriots 88-29 in two January meetings.
What does this mean for the Colts?
When Luck was signed to his rookie contract, the Colts enjoyed the luxury of having an elite quarterback who wasn't taking up a significant amount of salary cap space. But unfortunately for them, a blizzard of failed free agent signings and lackluster drafts prevented them from maximizing their financial flexibility during that time.
Instead of spending wisely, general manager Ryan Grigson decided to throw money at middling and/or declining veterans such as Andre Johnson, Trent Cole, Ricky Jean Francois, Todd Herremans, Donald Thomas and Gore. His draft classes haven't been much better, with the Colts releasing their 2013 first-round pick Bjoern Werner and only getting 18 catches out of Dorsett in his rookie season. Indianapolis' 2014 first-round selection was inexplicably traded for Trent Richardson, who averaged 3.1 yards per carry in 29 games with the Colts.
The Colts haven't had a running back rush for 100 yards in a game since 2012 and feature perhaps the worst offensive line in football. No club has given up more pressure (sacks, hits and hurries) than the Colts over the last four seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. After spending half of their draft picks on offensive linemen this April, the pressure is on the Colts to finally give Luck some protection.
Grigson has failed to surround Luck with a championship-caliber team over the last four seasons. He must do that now, even though Luck's mammoth salary makes his job a lot harder.
What does this mean for QBs across the league?
To state the obvious, every quarterback in football was probably beaming when they found out about Luck's extension. The market rate for elite QB play has been raised yet again.
Contract talks between Brees and the New Orleans Saints have stalled, but it remains likely a new deal will get done. Brees, 37, is entering the final year of his five-year, $100 million contract. In the past, Brees has said he wants to sign a deal that keeps him in New Orleans for the rest of his career. It's unlikely he'll receive as much money overall as Luck, but it's possible that his demands for a yearly salary could reach $25 million.
Rodgers, who was the highest-paid QB in the league before Joe Flacco signed an extension this offseason, may soon restructure his deal as well. He's signed through 2019, when he's set to earn $20 million.
But the biggest beneficiaries from Luck's contract are the young quarterbacks nearing their first big pay day, such as Derek Carr, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Carr's situation is the most pertinent, since he'll be a free agent after 2017. If his numbers keep improving –– he threw 32 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign and posted a 91.1 QB rating –– he could seek an extravagant deal.
The Buccaneers and Titans have at least three years to make decisions on Winston and Mariota, but it could be prudent to get those two locked up before the market explodes even further. If history tells us anything, Luck won't be the highest-paid quarterback in the game for long.