Colts Rumors

This Date In Transactions History: Colts’ Andrew Luck Becomes NFL’s Highest-Paid Player

Four years ago today, the Colts made Andrew Luck the highest-paid player in NFL history. The deal was supposed to tie Luck to Indy through the 2021 season, but it didn’t pan out that way.

[RELATED: Colts Sign Michael Pittman Jr.]

Luck agreed to a five-year extension worth $122MM, with $87MM in overall guarantees and $47MM fully guaranteed at signing. Without the deal, Luck would have been eligible for free agency following the ’16 season. From there, the Colts could have retained Luck for an additional two seasons via the franchise tag at estimated values of $25MM and $35MM, but it would have put them in a difficult position down the road. Instead, both sides used Luck’s expected franchise tags amounts as a framework for talks and hammered out a deal.

With the contract, Luck leapfrogged Joe Flacco, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers in average annual value. The deal made sense, but it did not come without risk. Luck was coming off of an injury-riddled, seven-game season in which he completed just 55.3% of his passes and logged 15 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.

Luck’s shoulder was largely a non-issue in 2016 as he threw for 4,240 yards and 31 touchdowns with a career-high 63.5 completion percentage. After the season, he went under the knife to fix his shoulder, and that’s where things started to get messy. First, Luck was held out of training camp and 2017 preseason. Then, he was ruled out for week after week in the regular season. Finally, in November, the Colts were forced to place Luck on season-ending IR.

Luck had to claw his way back into things – when he was finally able to throw a regulation-sized football, it was a noteworthy event. In 2018, things seemed to be trending up. The former No. 1 overall pick led the Colts to a 9-1 record to close the season, allowing them to squeak into the playoffs. The Colts even downed the Texans in the first round, before falling to the Chiefs. With a seemingly healthy Luck and lots of young talent, the Colts were moving in the right direction.

Then, just before the start of the 2019 season, Luck shocked the world. At the age of 29, Luck retired from football, largely due to the mental grind of the sport. With that, Luck’s five-year extension turned into a two-year add-on. The Colts, meanwhile, turned to Jacoby Brissett as their new starter, with little time to get him comfortable in his new role.

The Colts did not seek repayment on the deal – they could have recovered $12.8MM of the $32MM signing bonus he was entitled to under his current contract, plus two $6MM roster bonuses, totaling ~$25MM.

Luck is done with football, but speculation about his potential return persists. Earlier this year, before the Colts landed Philip Rivers, GM Chris Ballard did his best to quell the talk:

Andrew’s retired,” Ballard said. “Do I talk to Andrew? Yes, I do. Haven’t talked to him in a few weeks, I’m sure he’s been busy being a father. But Andrew’s retired, and I think we all need to accept that. That’s where he’s at. He’s retired.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts Sign Round 2 WR Michael Pittman Jr.

The Colts have made more headway in signing their draft picks than most teams, and they agreed to terms with their top 2020 choice Monday.

Michael Pittman Jr. signed his four-year rookie contract this afternoon. The slot deal for No. 34 overall will be worth $8.6MM. The USC product moves the Colts closer to having their full draft class signed. Only third-round pick Julian Blackmon is unsigned, and due to vaguer contract language, third-rounders’ deals often cause holdups.

A second-generation NFLer, Pittman will be expected to play an integral role from the outset. The Colts were in need of more help at wideout beyond T.Y. Hilton. The team has now used second-round picks on receivers in back-to-back years, with the Pittman selection following Parris Campbell‘s 2019 arrival. Campbell missed much of his rookie season because of injuries.

Pittman broke through as a senior in 2019, hauling in 101 passes for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns. Frank Reich was a key part of the effort to land Pittman, who was the eighth receiver off the board in a loaded draft at the position. With Hilton entering a contract year and set to turn 31 in November, the Colts are better set up long-term with Pittman in the fold.

Here is how the Colts’ signing efforts look as of June 15:

2-34: Michael Pittman, WR (USC): Signed
2-41: Jonathan Taylor, RB (Wisconsin): Signed
3-85: Julian Blackmon, S (Utah)
4-122: Jacob Eason, QB (Washington): Signed
5-149: Danny Pinter, G (Ball State): Signed
6-193: Robert Windsor, DT (Penn State): Signed
6-211: Isaiah Rodgers, CB (UMass): Signed
6-212: Dezmon Patmon, WR (Washington State): Signed
6-213: Jordan Glasgow, S (Michigan): Signed

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts Notes: Hines, Rivers, Buckner, DL

Even after drafting Jonathan Taylor in the second round to pair with Marlon Mack, the Colts say Nyheim Hines will continue to enjoy a meaningful role in the offense. Ideally, Hines says he’d also like to make a dent in the return game.

I’d love to do punt and kick returns again,” Hines said (via Joel A. Erickson of the Indy Star). “But I’ve got to go out there and earn both of the jobs. That’s what I plan on doing. I’d like to start at both of them.”

Hines made a strong case for the job last year, tallying the third-highest punt-return yardage total in the league in just nine attempts. Still, he’ll have to vie with fellow speedsters Parris Campbell and Isaiah Rodgers for the gig this summer.

More from Indy:

  • Philip Rivers has arrived in Indianapolis and has taken the lead role in organizing players-only workouts in the area, Stephen Holder of The Athletic notes (subscription required). These workouts are expected to take place next week. Players are not expected to be back at their teams’ facilities until training camp, though some momentum may be building to an earlier arrival.
  • Speaking of Rivers, his transition to the Colts will be easier than other relocating quarterbacks’ adjustments to their respective teams. While Tom Brady is learning a system that differs considerably from his Patriots setup, the Colts will use use essentially “the exact same system” as the one the Chargers used when Frank Reich and OC Nick Sirianni coached Rivers out west, Colts quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady said (via Colts.com’s Andrew Walker). They have installed roughly 90% of their offense already.
  • The biggest name on Indianapolis’ defense, however, profiled as a fairly unknown commodity to the team’s defensive line coach. New Colts D-line coach Brian Baker spent the past four years as a college coach, working with Mississippi State and Alabama, but will now coach Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner. Baker evidently did not catch many 49ers games during that time. “I’ve been away from it for a while, and I didn’t really know who DeForest was,” Baker said, via Walker. “My energy was focusing on college players and recruiting. So I didn’t know who he was, and I’m like, ‘Who’s the big ‘ol 99? This dude can play. And I’m like, ‘Man, it’d be great …’ and you end up looking, ‘OK, DeForest Buckner,‘ like, ‘Man, it’d be good to get this guy.'”
  • Buckner and Justin Houston will start for the Colts up front. But after that, competitions will commence to see who joins them, Baker added. Third-year defensive end Kemoko Turay appears to be the leading candidate to work opposite Houston. A starter at defensive tackle the past two years, Denico Autry will face off against ex-49ers starter Sheldon Day and third-year player Tyquan Lewis for the job alongside Buckner.

AFC North Notes: Colts, Mack, Ravens, Stanley, Humphrey

After his first season with more than 1,000 yards rushing, Marlon Mack isn’t assured the starting role in the Colts‘ backfield. Head coach Frank Reich says he’ll have a leg up on second-round pick Jonathan Taylor, but he also says that fans shouldn’t get too hung up on the RB1 designation.

There’s definitely inherent respect for the starter returning,” Reich said (via Kevin Bowen of 105.7 The Fan). “I see it as a 1-1 (punch). The way the league has gone and the way role playing has been elevated in our league, it’s made it prominent. We used to say in San Diego that when we had Danny Woodhead. He was not our starter, he was our ‘role playing’ starter. He played such a significant role. He had 80 catches in a year. You look at a guy like Nyehim Hines. We talk about Marlon and Jonathan, but what about Nyheim? He’s such a good third-down back that he’ll play a prominent (role). In some ways, (Hines) is a starter. He’s a role-playing starter.”

Right now, it seems like Mack will have to prove himself all over in camp as he gets set for his final year under contract. As it stands, he’s set to make $2.13MM in base salary before reaching the open market in March of 2021.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • After turning in a stellar season, Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley could become the league’s highest-paid non-quarterback, ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley writes. Currently, Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack ($23.5MM per year) leads the way, followed by Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald ($22.5MM). This year, fellow left tackle Laremy Tunsil ($22MM/year) put himself in that neighborhood, but Stanley is likely to leapfrog him. In 2019, Stanley allowed Lamar Jackson to be pressured just six times, the lowest total of any offensive tackle in 14 years.
  • The Ravens have other deals on their agenda, of course, including a new contract for Marlon Humphrey. With all due respect for Stanley, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic argues that the cornerback should actually be priority No. 1. When it comes to Stanley, his comp has already been set, thanks to the Tunsil deal. Meanwhile, time is of the essence with Humphrey – the top of the CB market will be reset soon with Jalen Ramsey, Marshon Lattimore, and Tre’Davious White all due for new deals.
  • The Browns went ahead with their gradual re-opening plan with Phase 1 beginning on Monday (Twitter link). Meanwhile, other clubs are still working on alternative plans. The Raiders, who were set to hold camp in Napa, California, may shift to their new headquarters in Henderson, Nevada.

Latest On Nyheim Hines' Role

  • After drafting Jonathan Taylor in Round 2, the Colts now have a pair of starting-caliber in running backs in the Wisconsin product and incumbent Marlon Mack. So where does that leave passing-game back Nyheim Hines“I wouldn’t anticipate [Hines] is going to play as many snaps as Marlon and Jonathan, but there are still enough snaps for him to be very, very productive this year,” Colts head coach Frank Reich told Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. Indy is hoping Hines becomes its version of Danny Woodhead, who caught 80 passes in for the Chargers in 2015 with Reich as offensive coordinator.

Colts, Ryan Kelly Discussing Extension

Ryan Kelly‘s camp is discussing an extension with Colts GM Chris Ballard, according to the center (Twitter link via Zak Keefer of The Athletic). As it stands, Kelly has one year left on his rookie deal, via the fifth-year option.

[RELATED: Colts Want To Bring Back Philip Rivers In 2021]

Kelly says that he wants to spend his “entire career in Indianapolis” and Ballard is likely on board with that plan. Last year, Kelly started in all 16 of the Colts’ regular season games and anchored one of the league’s best offensive lines. He earned his first ever Pro Bowl nod for that campaign and he’ll likely score a major contract to match.

For now, Kelly is slated to earn $10.35MM in 2020, up from about $3.3MM last year. A new pact would likely put him in the range of $10MM-$12MM, positioning him as one of the NFL’s highest-paid centers.

Connor McGovern scored the largest deal of any free agent center this year when he joined the Jets on a three-year, $27MM deal. Kelly will aim higher. Recent extensions for Bucs centers Ryan Jensen (four years, $42MM) and Bills center Mitch Morse (four years, $44.5MM) figure to be his comps. With a $10MM+ AAV, Kelly would join Jensen, Morse, Rodney Hudson, Maurkice Pouncey, Nick Martin, J.C. Tretter, Brandon Linder, and Cody Whitehair in the eight-figure centers club.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Longest-Tenured GMs In The NFL

When we ran down the longest-tenured head coaches in the NFL, we found that less than half of the league’s current coaches have been in their positions for more than three years. That’s not quite the case with general managers, but there have been plenty of changes in recent years.

A handful of general managers have gotten to take their coats off and stay for a long while. Among coaches, Bill Belichick had joined his team prior to 2003. Here, you’ll see that five GMs have been with their teams since before ’03 (Belichick, of course, is also on this list). Two of those five – Jerry Jones and Mike Brown – are outliers, since they’re team owners and serve as de facto GMs. But the Patriots, Steelers, and Saints, have all had the same general managers making their roster decisions for well over a decade.

Here’s the complete list of the NFL’s longest-tenured GMs, along with the date they took over the job:

  1. Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys): April 18, 1989[1]
  2. Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals): August 5, 1991[2]
  3. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000[3]
  4. Kevin Colbert (Pittsburgh Steelers): February 18, 2000[4]
  5. Mickey Loomis (New Orleans Saints): May 14, 2002
  6. Rick Spielman (Minnesota Vikings): May 30, 2006[5]
  7. Thomas Dimitroff (Atlanta Falcons): January 13, 2008
  8. John Schneider (Seattle Seahawks): January 19, 2010[6]
  9. Howie Roseman (Philadelphia Eagles): January 29, 2010
  10. John Elway (Denver Broncos): January 5, 2011[7]
  11. Les Snead (St. Louis Rams): February 10, 2012
  12. David Caldwell (Jacksonville Jaguars): January 8, 2013
  13. Steve Keim (Arizona Cardinals): January 8, 2013
  14. Tom Telesco (San Diego Chargers): January 9, 2013
  15. Jason Licht (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): January 21, 2014
  16. Ryan Pace (Chicago Bears): January 8, 2015
  17. Chris Grier (Miami Dolphins): January 4, 2016
  18. Bob Quinn (Detroit Lions): January 8, 2016
  19. Jon Robinson (Tennessee Titans): January 14, 2016
  20. John Lynch (San Francisco 49ers): January 29, 2017
  21. Chris Ballard (Indianapolis Colts): January 30, 2017
  22. Brandon Beane (Buffalo Bills): May 9, 2017
  23. Brett Veach (Kansas City Chiefs): July 11, 2017
  24. Marty Hurney (Carolina Panthers): July 19, 2017
  25. Dave Gettleman (New York Giants): December 28, 2017
  26. Brian Gutekunst (Green Bay Packers): January 7, 2018
  27. Mike Mayock (Oakland Raiders): December 31, 2018
  28. Joe Douglas (New York Jets): June 7, 2019
  29. Eric DeCosta (Baltimore Ravens): January 7, 2019[8]
  30. Ron Rivera (Washington Redskins): January 1, 2020[9]
  31. Andrew Berry (Cleveland Browns): January 27, 2020
  32. Bill O’Brien (Houston Texans): January 28, 2020

Footnotes:

  1. Jones has been the Cowboys’ de facto general manager since former GM Tex Schramm resigned in April 1989.
  2. Brown has been the Bengals’ de facto GM since taking over as the team’s owner in August 1991.
  3. Belichick has been the Patriots’ de facto GM since shortly after being hired as the team’s head coach in January 2000.
  4. Colbert was initially hired as the team’s director of football operations and received the newly-created general manager title in 2011.
  5. Spielman was initially hired as the team’s VP of player personnel and received the GM title in 2012.
  6. While Schneider holds the title of GM, head coach Pete Carroll has the final say on roster moves for the Seahawks.
  7. Elway was initially hired as the team’s executive VP of football operations and received the GM title in 2014.
  8. In 2018, the Ravens announced that DeCosta would replace Ozzie Newsome as GM for Ozzie Newsome after the conclusion of the season. The Ravens’ ’18 season ended with their Wild Card loss to the Chargers on 1/6/19.
  9. Technically, the Redskins do not have a GM, as of this writing. Rivera is, effectively, their GM, working in tandem with Vice President of Player Personnel Kyle Smith. Smith may receive the GM title in the near future.

Colts To Bring Back Philip Rivers In 2021?

The Colts gave QB Philip Rivers a one-year, $25MM deal this offseason in the hopes that Rivers’ familiarity with Indy’s offensive system and a strong O-line will allow the 38-year-old to recapture some of his former magic. And if he does, look for the team to bring Rivers back in 2021.

[RELATED: Latest On Contract Talks Between Colts, T.Y. Hilton]

Colts head coach Frank Reich told reporters, including Mike Chappell of CBS 4, that he fully anticipates a multi-year relationship with Rivers (Twitter link). That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given that Reich championed the Rivers signing and has repeatedly said that he has no concerns about the eight-time Pro Bowler’s abilities at this point in his career. Plus, Rivers himself has stated that he wants to play for two more seasons, so if he performs well in 2020, it stands to reason that both sides would want to run it back the following year.

On the other hand, the Colts have also said that they still see 2019 starter and current QB2 Jacoby Brissett as a potential long-term answer, but if the team re-signs Rivers in 2021, Brissett — who is entering the last year of his current deal — will almost certainly seek greener pastures elsewhere. Indianapolis also selected Washington QB Jacob Eason in the fourth round of this year’s draft, and he could take over as Rivers’ backup next season if Brissett leaves.

Of course, this may all be a moot point. There is understandably plenty of concern about how Rivers will play this year given his difficult 2019 campaign, and though playing behind a terrific O-line will help, not all of Rivers’ struggles last season can be attributed to the Chargers’ comparatively weak offensive front. If Rivers looks more like the 2019 version of himself than the 2018 edition, then Brissett and Eason could both become starting options, and the Colts could also look for a first-round signal-caller.

Reich, however, does not expect that to happen and fully believes Rivers’ end-of-career stint in Indianapolis will cover at least two seasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC South Notes: Jaguars, Eifert, Colts, Texans

Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden knows what he’s getting – or what he’s potentially getting – in tight end Tyler Eifert. Gruden was Eifert’s OC for his rookie year in Cincinnati and watched him flash serious promise. From 2014-2018, Gruden watched from afar as Eifert struggled to stay healthy. Now, they’re reunited in Jacksonville, and Eifert believes big things are in store.

We get along great,” Eifert said (via John Reid of the Florida Times-Union). “I had a good understanding of the offense he runs. Just having that familiarity with the offense is nice. There’s some new stuff in here. But just being familiar with it and having a general idea of what’s going on makes it a lot easier to learn.”

Last year, Eifert caught 43 passes for 436 yards and three touchdowns for a sagging Bengals team. More importantly, he was on the field for all 16 games. This year, he’ll try to keep the streak going.

Here’s more from the AFC South:

  • There’s been lots of talk about a potential extension for Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, but he’s not the only player on the team with a re-up to consider. Stephen Holder of The Athletic ran down Indy’s top candidates, a list that includes center Ryan Kelly, linebacker Darius Leonard, running back Marlon Mack, safety Malik Hooker, and linebacker Anthony Walker. Hooker, of course, is unlikely to sign a new deal before the season starts – the Colts declined his fifth-year option earlier this month, a move that puzzled many and put him on course for free agency following the 2020 season.
  • At 6’2″ and 213 pounds, Lonnie Johnson Jr. seems like a natural for the safety position. However, Texans defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver plans to keep him at cornerback, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle writes. “We got to get his confidence right, and I don’t think he lacks in that area,” Weaver said on a Zoom call. “That rookie year for a corner is difficult. I think he’s going to come in now with more knowledge not only of the system, but DB play in general. And I expect him to take a jump here in year two.” Johnson was inconsistent during the regular season, but he did get a good deal of starting experience. And, as Wilson notes, he made a key deflection on Travis Kelce to help the Texans upset the Chiefs in October (KC, of course, got their revenge in January). Johnson staying at CB, in theory, could improve the chances of Eric Reid joining his brother in the Texans’ secondary.
  • The Titans are said to have some degree of interest in Jadeveon Clowney, but former Texans colleague and current Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel says he hasn’t talked to him.

Longest-Tenured Head Coaches In The NFL

Things move fast in today’s NFL and the old adage of “coaches are hired to be fired” has seemingly never been more true. For the most part, teams change their coaches like they change their underwear. 

A head coach can take his team to the Super Bowl, or win the Super Bowl, or win multiple Super Bowls, but they’re never immune to scrutiny. Just ask Tom Coughlin, who captured his second ring with the Giants after the 2011 season, only to receive his pink slip after the 2015 campaign.

There are also exceptions. Just look at Bill Belichick, who just wrapped up his 20th season at the helm in New England. You’ll also see a few others on this list, but, for the most part, most of today’s NFL head coaches are relatively new to their respective clubs. And, history dictates that many of them will be elsewhere when we check in on this list in 2022.

Over one-third (12) of the NFL’s head coaches have coached no more than one season with their respective teams. Meanwhile, less than half (15) have been with their current clubs for more than three years. It seems like just yesterday that the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury, right? It sort of was – Kingsbury signed on with the Cardinals in January of 2019. Today, he’s practically a veteran.

Here’s the list of the current head coaches in the NFL, ordered by tenure, along with their respective start dates:

  1. Bill Belichick (New England Patriots): January 27, 2000
  2. Sean Payton (New Orleans Saints): January 18, 2006
  3. Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh Steelers): January 27, 2007
  4. John Harbaugh (Baltimore Ravens): January 19, 2008
  5. Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks): January 9, 2010
  6. Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs): January 4, 2013
  7. Bill O’Brien (Houston Texans): January 2, 2014
  8. Mike Zimmer (Minnesota Vikings): January 15, 2014
  9. Dan Quinn (Atlanta Falcons): February 2, 2015
  10. Doug Pederson (Philadelphia Eagles): January 18, 2016
  11. Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills): January 11, 2017
  12. Doug Marrone (Jacksonville Jaguars): December 19, 2016 (interim; permanent since 2017)
  13. Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers): January 12, 2017
  14. Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams): January 12, 2017
  15. Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco 49ers): February 6, 2017
  16. Matt Nagy (Chicago Bears): January 7, 2018
  17. Matt Patricia (Detroit Lions): February 5, 2018
  18. Frank Reich (Indianapolis Colts): February 11, 2018
  19. Jon Gruden (Las Vegas Raiders): January 6, 2018
  20. Mike Vrabel (Tennessee Titans): January 20, 2018
  21. Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals): January 8, 2019
  22. Zac Taylor (Cincinnati Bengals): February 4, 2019
  23. Vic Fangio (Denver Broncos): January 10, 2019
  24. Matt LaFleur (Green Bay Packers): January 8, 2019
  25. Brian Flores (Miami Dolphins): February 4, 2019
  26. Adam Gase (New York Jets): January 11, 2019
  27. Bruce Arians (Tampa Bay Buccaneers): January 8, 2019
  28. Ron Rivera (Washington Redskins): January 1, 2020
  29. Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers): January 7, 2020
  30. Mike McCarthy (Dallas Cowboys): January 7, 2020
  31. Joe Judge (New York Giants): January 8, 2020
  32. Kevin Stefanski (Cleveland Browns): January 13, 2020

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.