Colts Irsay's comments as much about Luck as Manning

October 17, 2013
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Many people think Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay's comments this week were a barb at Peyton Manning. But is it possible they were actually directed at a target that has more to do with the Colts' future than its past?

It occurred to me that Irsay's comments this week could have been directed more at the team’s current quarterback than its former one. After all, Irsay is still signing Andrew Luck’s pay checks. Not so with Manning, who now plays for Denver. And those comments could have more to do with a sticky situation Irsay faces with Luck in two to three short years than they did with the 14 years he had with Manning.

The “Star Wars” numbers referred to by Irsay could just as easily have referred to the number of zeros and placement of the decimal point on Manning’s pay check than the points he put up on the field.

Irsay was as clear as he was careful in his statements this week. It’s the same message he has not so subtly been sending for the last 18 months.

The Colts are not going back to a model where one player—not matter how good—is going to suck up vast amounts of money under the salary cap. That model, Irsay has theorized—rightly or wrongly—limited the number of Super Bowls the Colts won during the Manning era. Nothing against Manning. Mistake made by Irsay and then team president Bill Polian. Time to move on. Time to try something different.

All Colts fans love Manning. I get that. But you’d be blind not to see that Luck has the potential to be just as good. Yes, in time I believe Manning and Luck will go down as two of the 10 (maybe five) greatest quarterbacks of all time. Yes, it’s unthinkable to imagine the Colts could catch lightning in a bottle with consecutive quarterbacks. But unless Luck gets injured, it’s going to happen.

It would be equally crazy to think an NFL team could for 30 years have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time leading it and come away with two Super Bowl titles.

Irsay knows if he repeats the mistakes he and Polian made with Manning during the Luck era that’s the likely scenario. A change in the team’s business model is needed. That’s why Polian now gets paid by ESPN—not Irsay. I’m not sure how Irsay can be criticized for seeking an improved model. One Super Bowl title might be good enough for Broncos Coach John Fox. Hurray for Irsay for not settling.

So Irsay is greasing the skids with Luck—and his agent Will Wilson.

In less than three years time—when his rookie deal is set to expire, Luck and his agent could easily ask for a max contract making him one of the highest paid players in the NFL.

Irsay has never been shy about paying star players top dollar. But he’s said clearly he won’t buy the farm and not have enough money to put quality stock in the stable.

It didn’t work with Manning—at least not to the degree Irsay or any Colts supporters would have liked. And it won’t work with Luck.

Message sent. But Irsay wasn’t dialing it up for No. 18. His intended target: No. 12.

  • What bargaining power are the Colts going to have with Luck?
    The Colts aren't likely to have much bargaining power with Luck if he continues to impress. They aren't going to risk losing him to free agency. This is already a soft market for ticket demand loyalty and losing Luck in a few years could be devastating to attendance. Why would he and his agent take significantly less than market value for a player of his caliber? He hasn't made that much money yet and the next contract will be the beginning of his prime earning years. I'm sure he's noticed how quickly the Colts were willing to release Manning after one injury and has filed that away when he thinks about his own future financial security. Does that mean he's going to be the highest paid player in the NFL? Maybe not but he's not going to give the Colts a big enough discount vs. his market value to make much of a difference. The message from Irsay (if any was really intended) is much more likely to be that they are only going to put so much money into the offense and Luck shouldn't expect to have the same caliber of weapons on offense that Peyton had here. I believe it was stated that the Colts payroll was about 70% offense when Peyton was here. Maybe that goes to 60% under Luck to be able to afford a few more defensive players and not have quite as dynamic of an offense. It's important to note though that if you're going to have a QB like Luck on your team you've really already made a decision that you're going to be investing a tremendous amount of money at the QB position and will want to at least give the big investment at QB enough weapons to work with on offense. Otherwise it's a waste of money to invest that much money at the QB position. Now, I completely agree that the Colts went too far overboard with money on offense during the Manning era. However, if you are truly intent on becoming a balanced team you never draft Luck to begin with. You would have traded the pick for several draft picks and taken another QB vs. taking on the long-term financial obligation of paying the "best QB prospect since Elway." You've started your next Colts era with a player that is viewed to be very similar to Manning. It makes sense to look to see how you can alter the rest of the team a bit to have more postseason success during the Luck era but don't believe for a second that Luck won't be commanding a huge chunk of the salary cap during his prime as he should be. They will only have so much control over how much money is put into the offense. Otherwise, give Curtis Painter a call and start building the best defense in the league.

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