INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 2, 2016) – Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has quarterbacks on his mind.
That would be Peyton Manning, who led Irsay’s franchise to a world championship in 2006 and nearly a second in ’09, and hopes to do likewise with Denver in Super Bowl 50 Sunday. It might be the final game in Manning’s illustrious 18-year career.
And that would be Andrew Luck, who might well become one of the highest-paid players in NFL history in the next few months if he and Irsay can find common ground on a multi-year contract.
Irsay’s eyes glistened when he considered watching Manning, once again on the NFL’s grandest stage, this time in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
How appropriate it would be, he noted, if Manning could close his decorated career with a second world championship in the 50th anniversary game.
“That would be a story,’’ Irsay said Tuesday with a reflective smile.
Closer to home, the story centers on Manning’s successor in Indianapolis – that would be Andrew Luck – and whether he has regained his health after missing the final seven games of the season with a lacerated kidney and is about to become a very rich individual.
Irsay revealed Luck has fully recovered from the kidney injury suffered Nov. 8 against Denver.
“He’s good to go. He’s healed,’’ Irsay said. “He’s really looking forward to a great offseason and getting ready (for 2016).
“If we were playing in the Super Bowl, he’d be ready, let’s put it that way.’’
And since we’re on the topic of moving forward, Irsay is optimistic he’ll be able to lock up Luck with a long-term deal. The Colts picked up the fifth-year option on Luck’s rookie contract that carries a ’16 base salary of $16.155 million.
“I think there’s a good chance we would get something done this offseason,’’ Irsay said. “Being this early, there’s no reason to think we have had major negotiations yet, but that’s going to be happening as this month gets later and March comes in.
“I don’t think there’s a debate on what he means to our franchise. I really see Andrew here, God willing, for a really long time.’’
Irsay never has shied away from investing heavily in a transcendent player. At various times, he’s had individuals who were among the highest-paid, if not the highest-paid, at their position: Manning, defensive end Dwight Freeney, safety Bob Sanders, tight end Dallas Clark, wide receiver Marvin Harrison.
Irsay conceded Luck’s new deal is “going to be ringing the bell in terms of nine figures and those sort of things.
“You know you’re talking about that top-five group and the elite quarterbacks and the guys that have had the most success. You guys know their names and the numbers. Whether it’s going to be (BEGIN ITALICS) the (END ITALICS) and those sort of things, we’ll see how that goes.’’
Not surprisingly, the NFL’s 10 highest-paid players are quarterbacks and all have contracts paying them an average of at least $19.25 million per season.
At the top of the list is Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, whose five-year contract maxes out at $110 million, averages $22 million per year and has $54 million in guarantees. Seattle’s Russell Wilson signed a four-year, $87.6 million extension ($21.9 million average) that included $61.54 million in guarantees, while Carolina’s Cam Newton has a five-year, $103.8 million deal ($20.76 million average) with $41 million in guarantees.
While Luck should anticipate a monster contract, Irsay stressed it must be properly structured.
“To me it’s not a matter of what the number’s going to be, but making sure we have room to surround him with a championship football team and that it’s as cap-friendly as it can be as we go through the end of this decade and past there,’’ he said. “The structure’s important. You want to have the ability to possibly alter it as time goes on to help the cap.’’
Irsay also indicated the Colts will be more selective in their approach to the veteran free-agent market, which opens March 9. Luck’s looming deal, coupled with extensions given last offseason to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (five years, $65 million) and offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo (four years, $43.8 million) will tightened things up from a cap standpoint.
Further impacting the team’s attempt at addressing the roster with new talent will be whether it’s able to retain some of their own players whose contracts are due to expire. Foremost on that list are placekicker Adam Vinatieri, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, linebacker Jerrell Freeman and safety Dwight Lowery.
“The first priority is keeping our own, the ones that we identify as being really important to the team,’’ Irsay said. “I’ve always felt that keeping your own guys is even more important than who you get in free agency.
“We’d like to retain Adam. He is still kicking at a high level. He really takes care of himself. Him and Pat McAfee really complement each other. Obviously that’s been one of the strengths of our football team.
“We’d like to retain Adam and I think we’re hopeful we’ll be able to.’’