- With 20/20 hindsight, a look back at the events that led up to Thursday's announcement are horrifying. Here's what Luck battled through for two years before finally getting shut down.
The update seemed innocuous enough. On Sept. 30, 2015, just after noon, head coach Chuck Pagano told Colts reporters that Andrew Luck was limited at practice with a right shoulder issue.
This was three days after a win over the Titans in which Luck was 18-of-30 for 260 yards, a pair of touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. At the time, the predominant storyline was Luck limiting turnovers. The week leading up to the Titans game, Pagano said, “It’s not that hard—it’s not trigonometry.”
The months and years that followed this moment in Colts history did not involve trigonometry either, but it did require the assistance of medical science, trainers, surgeons, two different general managers, a hopeful owner and a bright young face of the league who, as of Thursday, has now lost an entire season in his prime. The Colts placed Luck on season-ending injured reserve, handing the remainder of a lost 2017 to Jacoby Brissett.
So, what happened from Sept. 30, 2015 to Nov. 2, 2017, and what happens next? How does minor discomfort become an all-encompassing injury that raises questions about Luck’s long-term future and, obviously, the future of the only NFL head coach Luck has known? Follow along...
With 20/20 hindsight, a scroll through Andrew Luck’s Rotoworld update history is horrifying. In early October, it was reported that the Colts were not “overly concerned” with the new shoulder issue.
He was made inactive for an Oct. 4 overtime win over the Jaguars and the Thursday night game four days later against Houston. At the time, Pagano said the Colts were going to “do the right thing” for their quarterback. By Monday, Oct. 12, Luck was a full participant in practice again.
Rather stunningly, Luck played the next four games straight, three losses to the Patriots, Saints and Panthers followed by a win over the Broncos. He was 97-for-177 (54.8 completion percentage), 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. He was sacked 10 times over that span. The week following the Denver win, it was reported that Luck had lacerated his kidney. The initial timeline was two to six weeks, but he did not take another snap in 2015 despite returning to practice in mid-December.
The spring and summer that followed carried the breezy pace of any regular offseason. The Colts declared Luck recovered from a lacerated kidney. He practiced in offseason training activities and signed a six-year, $140 million contract at the end of June, which made him the richest man in NFL history.
Four days before the Colts’ season-opener, Luck was listed as limited on the team’s injury report with a shoulder issue. An ESPN report, citing a source, said it was “nothing more than making sure he's fresh and ready.” Three days before the opener, then-general manager Ryan Grigson said on 1070 The Fan in Indianapolis: “The guy’s thrown a zillion balls (this offseason/preseason). The media’s seen it, in Anderson day in and day out throwing a ton of balls with a lot of velocity—even knocking some guys over. I guess you could sit there and look for something that’s not there, but I’m just saying he’s going to be ready for the game this weekend, and we have a plan that we think’s best for him, and one he feels good about, and that’s what we’re doing.
“People don’t have a league-wide perspective on how the league works a lot of times. It’s no different from other quarterbacks in the league that say they’re limited and they get rest just like Robert Mathis gets rest or other players. You just want guys fresh going into the season, and he’s in a new chapter, really, in this organization and on this team, and you just want the guy to be fresh for Sunday.”
Throughout the next two months, Luck would play in the Colts’ first 10 games. He went 236-of-375 for 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was sacked an astonishing 35 times. Rotoworld did 13 separate entries on Luck’s shoulder during that time, seven of which listed Luck as limited in practice and two which were in tandem with an ankle injury.
On Oct. 1, owner Jim Irsay said Luck had no serious shoulder issue.
On Nov. 21, Luck entered the league’s concussion protocol a day after a 24–17 win over the Titans. He missed one week, and finished out the season 3–2 as the Colts’ starter, completing 64.71% of his passes for 1,413 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. Over that stretch? Twelve more entries about Luck’s shoulder, shoulder and thumb or shoulder and elbow. He did not practice once, and was listed as limited four times. There was also a reported trip to an independent neurologist in early December.
On Jan. 19 at 7:11 a.m., Irsay tweets:
Andrew recovering from successful outpatient surgery to fix right shoulder injury that had lingered since 2015. Will be ready for season!— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) January 19, 2017
On Jan. 21, the Colts fired general manager Ryan Grigson.
On March 1, new general manager Chris Ballard said, via the Indianapolis Star: “[Luck] is rehabbing, he is doing everything the doctors tell him. We are going to go strictly on the doctor’s orders. He has been there every day that I have been in the building. Andrew has been sitting there working and rehabbing and doing everything that needs to be done. We are going to do the best thing for Andrew. We are going to follow the doctor’s orders and when he is ready to go he is ready to go.”
Less than a month later, here’s Irsay, speaking at the owners’ meetings: “I don’t think people realized how much he had to work to get ready to play each week,” Irsay said on Monday. “He really had to work hard last year and it was very mentally draining to get ready.
“Again, the surgery went great. The labrum, the bicep [were] pristine. There was no problem there. Things could not have gone better, up to this point, from a medical standpoint. But we are going to be depending on our medical people and the doctors in how we pace him into things.”
Three weeks after that, Luck admitted all of this started back in September 2015. He has still not played a down of professional football since 2016.
On Sept. 2, 2017, the Colts traded for Patriots backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has been the team’s starter since Sept. 17.
After Luck missed all of the preseason and all of training camp, it became fairly obvious that something was seriously wrong. Despite a brief return to practice in October, there were reports of soreness and any momentum toward a return seemed lost. Thursday’s news simply confirmed the inevitable. There is no reason for Luck to play for a 2–6 team.
The question now is obvious: When does Luck take the field again? And if he does, what will he look like? If he is the Colts’ opening day starter in 2018, it will be about 617 days between live NFL snaps. If the past two years have taught Colts faithful anything, it’s to always be guarded when it comes to their franchise quarterback. Brissett will have had a year under his belt as a starting quarterback with two more wonderfully affordable years left on his rookie contract. Is he a sight that Colts fans need to get used to?
Hopefully this is a red-flagged issue for owners, general managers, coaches and players in the future. It’s sad for a player who guts through something like this for so long. It’s sad for a fan base to be kept in the dark about their favorite player. It’s sad that a hopeful season for ticket holders has already come and gone with nothing to look forward to until free agency and the draft. It’s sad that we have to wonder if the one-time heir apparent to John Elway will ever make us believe that again.