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How Much Is Luck Worth?

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Andrew Luck will have a lot to look forward in his next contract. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
Andrew Luck will have a lot to look forward in his next contract. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Before the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck even entered the NFL, he was hyped by many draft gurus to be the best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning or John Elway. Luck lived up to the hype in 2012 by breaking numerous rookie records, including 4,374 passing yards.

As long as he continues to progress down the path he is already on, Luck will probably become the best quarterback in the NFL at some point during his career and he will definitely be mentioned in the elite category within the next couple years.

We all know what that means: another huge quarterback contract.

As you’ve probably heard by now, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers signed his long-awaited extension last week to leapfrog Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens and make him the highest paid player in NFL history.

Rodgers’ extension averages out to be $22 million a season, while Flacco’s deal pays him $20.1 million per year. Flacco barely jumped past Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Manning, who make $20 million and $19.2 million per season, respectively (all salary info courtesy of overthecap.com).

Considering Flacco isn’t near the quarterback Rodgers, Brees or Manning are, the routine to the system is clear – whenever a quarterback considered anywhere near elite signs a new contract, it must top the current highest deal.

This is a trend that should scare Indianapolis Colts fans. As the owner of arguably the best under-25 quarterback in the NFL, every new record-breaking deal should make the Colts cringe.

Fans of the Packers and Ravens are already complaining that these huge deals are restricting their teams from signing other good players to field a strong, complete team.

This worry comes for good reason. The salary cap is around $123 million and has remained relatively flat the past couple years. That means, on average, about one-sixth of the Packers’ and Ravens’ caps are committed to only one player during Rodgers’ and Flacco’s new deals.

But that could be even worse for the Colts come 2016. Luck will be an unrestricted free agent then and will surely want to be paid like the rest of his talented peers. But the Colts will have to pay him much more than $22 million per year. That’s where the bar is set now, but it could be much higher by 2016. Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman will become free agents next offseason, while Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton will be due a new deal in 2015. And don’t forget fellow 2012 draftees Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson who also will be free agents in 2016.

Not all of those players listed are as good as Luck, but that doesn’t matter. I mean, Flacco is making more money than Brees, Manning and Tom Brady for goodness’ sake. All it takes is getting hot and winning a Super Bowl at the right time and any quarterback’s leverage skyrockets.

Where will the spending stop? It’s quite the intriguing question. Quarterback is the most important position in any team sport. If you’ve got ‘the guy’, it’s hard to argue that you can overpay him, no matter the price. Still, it is a team game. You need to have the money to pay top-tier players at other positions.

It seems sooner or later, with all these young, talented quarterbacks due new deals in the next few years, the bar’s going to have to naturally settle at some point, but where? I think teams will be willing to eventually pay $30 million for their franchise guy, but will it continue to climb from there? $35 million? $40 million? Unless the salary cap starts to significantly rise, those are some dangerous numbers to approach for any team.

Although those could be figures teams eventually dish out, the Colts will be safe from going that high for Luck’s next contract. Realistically, probably only Ryan will make the jump next year. In 2015, Kaepernick almost certainly will, and Newton has a decent shot. So say that each of those players raise the bar by $1 million, that makes $25 million per year the new benchmark heading into the 2016 offseason.

Then the race between Luck, Griffin and Wilson begins. All will be worthy of being the next guy to raise the stakes. That’s why the Colts should resign Luck to a new contract as quickly as possible. As the price keeps building and building, the sooner you dish out a new contract, the cheaper it will be.

By that point, a few million dollars could be the difference between keeping the stellar duo of Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener together or having to let one walk. Luck can single-handedly win some games, but he’s going to need help to take home a Super Bowl victory.

Hopefully that cap will indeed grow and give the Colts some more flexibility in the coming years.