Two of Jim Irsay’s great passions converged over the weekend: Loving Andrew Luck and hating Dan Snyder. News emerged over the weekend that the Commanders had been in contact with the retired quarterback in 2022, seeing if he’d be willing to return to football.
Irsay saw these stories as well.
If any NFL Team,attempted to contact Andrew Luck (or any associate of him)… to play for their Franchise - it would be a clear Violation of the League’s Tampering Policy.— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) May 8, 2023
This might seem really weird on the surface. How could this be tampering when Andrew Luck retired years ago? Well, Irsay is 100% correct — and that isn’t a sentence anyone should throw around often.
Andrew Luck signed a five-year, $122 million extension before the start of the 2016 season. When he announced his retirement in 2019 the Colts had two choices: They could either try to get the remainder of the signing bonus back from Luck, or take the high road and continue to pay him. They elected to continue paying him, which was part a goodwill gesture — and part endless hope he might change his mind and return to football.
When a player retires in the middle of a contract and a team retains their rights, the contract freezes. Luck played three years into a five year deal, and if at any point in time he files for reinstatement the contract would spin back up, and he would be under contract with Indianapolis for two more years.
That’s why this nugget in an ESPN story about the Commanders being all-in on Sam Howell is the source of the controversy.
“Even so, they didn’t feel the same urgency they did last offseason, when they called every team that might have a quarterback available. They even phoned about retired Andrew Luck, just in case. They ultimately traded two third-round picks to Indianapolis for Carson Wentz and his $28 million cap hit.”
Little is known about what these calls entailed, but the Commanders could not have talked to Luck about playing under any circumstance. Even if they wanted to feign ignorance of the league’s frozen contract rules, they still would have been tampering with Luck. Washington traded for Carson Wentz on March 16, 2022 — the first day of the league year. Even if the Luck contract was still running, prior to 4 p.m. he would have been a Colt. If they spoke to Luck before trading for Wentz it would have been tampering anyway.
This might seem like the most benign tampering imaginable, because coaxing Luck out of retirement is a non-starter — but Irsay has an ax to grind with Dan Snyder. The Colts owner led the charge to get Snyder ousted as owner, a move that appears to have worked with the Commanders nearing a sale after months of angst.
Still, there are holdups. A group led by 76ers owner Josh Harris has hit some bumps, with concerns the group doesn’t have the funds to clear the NFL’s $1.1B debt threshold required to purchase the team outright. These issues could very well clear up, and signs point to the deal being finalized — but this tampering charge could very well be Irsay’s own Sword of Damocles, to hang over the head of Snyder if the team isn’t sold.
It’s up to the NFL to investigate, but it’s entirely possible that if the Commanders did have contact with Andrew Luck they could be heavily penalized. We’ve seen recently with the Dolphins that the league takes player tampering very seriously, as Miami lost their first round pick in 2023 due to improper contact with Tom Brady.
This is going to be interesting to watch, because Irsay would love nothing more than hitting Snyder with one final parting gift on his way out the door.