Indianapolis Colts

Luck’s epic contract still leaves Colts plenty room to upgrade roster

October 9, 2016: Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) during the NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)
Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

Most Indianapolis Colts fans have become immensely agitated with the recent comments from general manager Ryan Grigson about how difficult it is to build a complete team while Andrew Luck receives the benefits of a much-deserved contract worth a total of $139.13 million.

However, the big numbers seen on Luck’s contract over the next few years still have some fans convinced that despite Grigson’s inability to mold a solid roster while the franchise quarterback was still on a rookie contract, this contract will indeed hamper the future process of finding Luck some help.

Granted, Luck is getting paid especially in the third, fourth and fifth years of his new deal. But, when viewed in the right context you can see that; not only is Luck not hampering the construction of future rosters in Indianapolis, but there are other rosters in the league succeeding just fine with their quarterbacks’ having an even larger impact on the salary cap than Luck is.

First, let’s look at the recent history of the salary cap and what we may be able to expect from it in the future. Since 2003, the cap has had some pretty consistent increases along the way as well as some drastic inconsistencies sprinkled in there too. In fact, in 2010, the league even had an uncapped season due to the failure of the NFL (owners) and the NFLPA to agree on a collective bargaining agreement.

Overall, though, the salary cap has more than doubled since ’03 from $75M to more than $155M and has had periods of increase that were higher than others, but largely has remained somewhere in between a 6 percent and 8.4 percent hike over the years.

Here is a quick breakdown of the areas of increase and how they differ.

Between 2003 and 2009 the cap increased an average of 7.65 percent per year, however, there was an inordinate increase of over 19 percent between the 2005 and 2006 seasons which without it would have dropped the average to 6.54 percent per year, give or take.  Between the 2011 and 2016 seasons there was an average increase of 4.04 percent, but, again, there were a couple of atypical changes in the cap.

Due to the 2010 uncapped season and what ensued between the teams and how they approached that year, the 2011 season saw a 2.4 percent decrease from the cap of the 2009 season, and in 2012 there was a minimal increase of .05 percent. Both of these seasons could be seen as a measure of posturing by the league attempting to punish the whole bunch due to the actions of a few bad apples. From 2013 to 2016, though, the average increase in salary cap was 8.05 percent — a much more typical rise similar to other years without an oddity involved in the process.

Now, for this exercise of finding the weight of Luck’s contract on the organization, we’re going to take the average of the averages. In other words, we’ll find the medium increases between the past 13 years combined — which posed oddities in both directions — the past six years, and the past three season to remain current with the direction of the league. Doing this, we’ve come to an average cap increase of 6.12 percent which is modest according to the most recent of trends but is necessary in order to get an objective view on the situation.

Currently, Luck’s cap hit this season is $18.4M, or 12.22 percent of the Colts cap space. This may seem like a fairly high amount; however, comparatively, this isn’t anything outrageous at all. The following teams have starting quarterbacks with a higher percentage of cap numbers; Giants, Falcons, Ravens, Lions, Panthers, Redskins, Cardinals, Seahawks and Packers. Additionally, the 49ers, Saints and Chiefs have quarterbacks with the percentage of cap situations within one percentage point below Luck’s 12.22 percent.

We all know what kind of quarterback Luck is. His first three seasons of carrying those rosters on his back were example enough of his skill set and overall abilities. Keep this in mind as well; the Panthers, Cardinals, Ravens, Seahawks, Packers and Chiefs have made it to at least the divisional round of the playoffs in the past two seasons. With this, we see that it’s not a great stretch to allocate the funds appropriately elsewhere on the roster to maintain a competitive team.

More so, the added issue of drafting poorly over a few years makes everything harder. I don’t think this is rocket science, and I’m sure that you all understand that.

So now let’s look at the future monies that Luck will earn and how it affects the cap. If we are to assume that the cap will go up at least an average of 6.12 percent each season through the duration of Luck’s contract — which we’ve discussed is pretty modest compared to the expected 7.5 percent-8.5 percent jump – despite the rises in his pay, his percentage of cap number doesn’t necessarily affect the organization much differently.

Here are Luck’s yearly cap hits (with annual 6.12 percent rise in cap), and his percentage of cap obligations throughout his contract:

2017 cap estimate $164.78M:

Luck: $19.4M or 11.77 percent of cap

2018 cap estimate $174.86M:

Luck: $24.4M or 13.95 percent of cap

2019 cap estimate $185.56M:

Luck: $27.525M or 14.83 percent of cap

2020 cap estimate $196.91M:

Luck: $28.4M or 14.42 percent of cap

2021 cap estimate $208.96M:

Luck: $21M or 10.05 percent of cap

More holistically when you look at players and which positions tend to last longer in the league, as well as how much (on average) those players will make per season – it eludes to the culmination that just because the cap will inevitably continue to rise, the majority of the remaining position player’s contracts will not be poised to do the same. Quarterbacks, however, will continue to get the bulk of the money.

Luck, specifically will at most account for 14.83 percent of the Colts salary cap throughout this contract, which won’t be until 2019, and even today there are four NFL teams which either have quarterbacks accounting for more than 15 percent, or are hovering right around this threshold with their organization’s roster payout.

In short, Luck is getting paid a ton of money as he well deserves. But, taking a wide-angle look at how his contract shakes out in relation to that of the rest of the roster’s over the coming years takes away from the wow factor just a bit, putting it in perspective.

Matt Danely (@MDanely_NFL) is an Indianapolis Colts Analyst for Today’s Pigskin (@TodaysPigskin), and host of the Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts).

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