A case can be made that the most shocking event in sports history happened yesterday. At just 29-year-old, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has retired. Yes, the same Andrew Luck who was arguably the greatest quarterback prospect of all time coming out of Stanford, led Indianapolis to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, and survived a brutal shoulder injury in order to win the Comeback Player of the Year award just last season. Yet, after suffering a problematic lower-body injury this offseason, it appears that Luck simply couldn’t handle the mental aspect of the game anymore. The reasoning makes a lot of sense, but with Luck gone, not only is the outlook of the NFL changed this season, but for the next ten years as well.
Let’s start off by stating the obvious: the Colts are in trouble. This team was clearly on the rise, especially after a strong 2018 draft that netted them a pair of first-year All-Pro players in guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard. The additions of Nelson and tackle Braden Smith had finally given the team a top-notch offensive line, and with Luck at the helm, the offense was expected to be a potent unit. Furthermore, Leonard leads a defense that has been revitalized under defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, especially with all the young talent general manager Chris Ballard continues to add through the draft. Yet, the defense is still more of a mediocre unit that doesn’t excel in anything particular than elite, and a huge part of the offense’s potential came from how great of a player Luck is. Jacoby Brissett may be a capable backup, but that’s what he is- a backup. When he started in place for Luck in 2017, the 26-year-old had just a 62.4 passing grade, per Pro Football Focus. Yes, he was learning a new system on the fly after being traded there from New England, but it’s still a very lackluster output. Since the offense should now be amongst the league’s worst under Brissett, there’s no hope for this team to contend next season anymore. That’s a shame; they were the clear favorites to win their division and were also a good bet to win the Superbowl this season.
As far as the Colts’ future standing, it also takes a major hit. Having an elite quarterback locked up on a reasonable contract was a major luxury for Indianapolis, who have the most cap space out of any team in the NFL. Free agency probably won’t be an option for Indianapolis to find their franchise quarterback; no one figures to be available. Since they figure to win only four of five games, however, finding a quarterback through the draft looks to be their best answer. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert are the top quarterbacks in next year’s class, and it’s likely they’ll be in a position to draft one of them. From a schematic purpose in head coach Frank Reich’s scheme, Herbert’s upside is somewhat similar to Luck’s, though ownership will have to not be scared by some of the similar personality traits the Oregon quarterback also shares with Luck. They could wait for two seasons to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but they have so many great young players, including Nelson and Leonard on cheap contracts and in their prime, that drafting Herbert and using their cap space to add talent around him figures to be the ideal option. Still, they’ll be going from an established, MVP-level quarterback in Luck to a young, unknown prospect; there’s no way the Colts will be able to ever get back to where they were with Luck under center.
Luck’s retirement doesn’t just affect the Colts, it also completely changes several team’s position this season, and the years following. Now, the Texans and Titans go from flawed wildcard teams to good bets to win 10-11 games and take this division. Furthermore, each of those teams, and the Jaguars, no longer have to worry about competing with a future dynasty, thus prompting them to be even more aggressive in trying to win immediately. Meanwhile, the Steelers and Browns likely have better playoff odds now, as do the Bills. Plus, Kansas City and Cleveland, two teams with a lot of talent and young franchise quarterbacks, now are likely the class of the AFC in the future once the Patriots’ reign finally ends. Speaking of New England, a case can be made that Indianapolis was the best bet to end their dominance in the AFC. Now, their road to reaching yet another Super Bowl just got significantly easier. That’s NINE other teams in the AFC that are directly affected by Luck’s retirement; it’s safe to say that the future of the NFL has been altered significantly.
The Colts may have a lot of young talent and have a chance to make up for Andrew Luck’s retirement, but they’ll likely always be lost in the shadow of what they could’ve been. There’s a great chance they’ll be amongst the worst teams this season as a result, and now, there’s yet another competitor for one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. As a result, nine teams have seen their current and future outlooks changed for the better; we’ll look back at the day Andrew Luck retired as the day that adjusted the NFL forever.