When hearing that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck admitted he didn’t play well last year even when he was healthy, it would have been reasonable to say something like, “Don’t say things like that when you’re trying to land the biggest contract in league history.”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether he played well or not (not) or whether he admits it or not (did), Luck still has the leverage to get at least $25 million per year from Colts owner Jim Irsay.
He already has $16.155 million fully guaranteed coming to him in 2016, the option year of his rookie deal. If a new contract isn’t signed by February, the Colts will have to use the exclusive franchise tag to keep another team from gladly giving up a pair of first-round picks for the privilege of making Luck the highest-paid player in league history. The exclusive quarterback franchise tender could be in the neighborhood of $25 million next year.
Under the labor deal, that $25 million becomes, with a 20-percent raise, $30 million in 2017 and, with a 44-percent raise for a third tag, $43.2 million in 2018. That’s $98.2 million over three years of the tag. Factoring in the $16.155 million Luck is due to earn this year, that’s $114.35 million over four years.
That’s an average of $28.58 million per year.
Yes, to get that much money Luck would carry the year-to-year risk of injury and ineffectiveness. How often, however, does a quarterback suffer a truly career-ending injury? Likewise, how often does a successful starting quarterback suddenly lose his fastball?
It’s not impossible, but it’s a risk that Luck should be willing to assume if the Colts won’t give him the total dollars and, more importantly, the structure he wants. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco recently parlayed an exorbitant cap number into a new deal that paid out a $40 million signing bonus. Last year, Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh got $60 million fully guaranteed at signing in 2015. Those amounts should be the starting point for Luck, with a potential aspiration of $50 million to sign and $75 million fully-guaranteed at signing — or at the latest $75 million in fully-guaranteed money vested by March 2017.
As previously explained, Luck also should tie the later years of the contract to the growth in the cap, ensuring that the contract won’t become obsolete as the spending ceiling continues to climb.
If Luck wants those terms and if the Colts don’t want to give Luck those terms, he can go year-to-year under the tag unless and until the Colts decide to let someone else give Luck what he wants.