INDIANAPOLIS — As Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay entered the final hours and minutes of contract negotiations with Andrew Luck on Wednesday, their discussions weren't focused on dollar figures and guarantees.
There was already an understanding that Luck would become the highest-paid player in the NFL. Instead, as other key figures hammered out those final fine details, the conversation between Irsay and Luck, as it always has been, was centered on the team itself.
That team-friendly position, Irsay said, was one of the more pleasing aspects of negotiating with Luck over the offseason, and it paid off on Wednesday, when the fifth-year Stanford product inked a six-year deal worth about $140 million.
The total deal is a big figure, no doubt. But Irsay says the team remains in great position to keep its core together for several years.
"Just couldn't be more thrilled," Irsay told Luck after the contract was signed. "It was a smooth process, a process that took a little time considering the complexities and the aspects of making sure it was cap friendly. I couldn't be happier."
Luck's deal is indeed the largest in NFL history, eclipsing the five-year, $110 million contract between the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers in 2013. And when talking about guaranteed money, Luck's contract takes that cake, too: quarterbacks Eli Manning and Philip Rivers had previously received $65 million in guaranteed money; Luck's contract has been reported to include $87 million guaranteed.
Irsay acknowledges the gravity of a deal like this for Luck, but knows that it's the going rate these days for a franchise quarterback — especially one who turns just 27 years old in September.
"You know, Andrew's very deserving," Irsay told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday. "It was a deal that was a fair deal for both sides, taking into account being cap friendly, (and) being reasonable in the last year, also, in 2021."
Luck has more than lived up to the expectations thrown upon him when he was selected No. 1 overall by the Colts in the 2012 NFL Draft. Since that time, he's led Indianapolis to the postseason in three out of his four seasons, winning three playoff games in all and advancing to the AFC Championship Game in 2014.
A three-time Pro Bowler (2012-14), Luck's 12,957 passing yards from 2012-14 are the most of any NFL player in his first three seasons; his 86 touchdown passes during that span, meanwhile, set a new franchise record and ranks second only to Dan Marino (98) for the most in a player's first three seasons.
Luck has also been a model citizen and teammate, continuing the trend Peyton Manning established as a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Colts from 1998 to 2011.
"What an honor and privilege to be part of the Colts always; to have this deal done is great," Luck told Irsay on Wednesday. "I've loved being a Colt, and continue to love being a Colt."
Luck said the new contract "won't change my process or my preparation in any way."
Colts quarterback, Andrew Luck.
"It's all about winning, and we understand that in this building," he said. "It's a great, winning franchise that knows how to win, and, you know, we need to get back to the playoffs and give ourselves a chance to win a Super Bowl."
The deal also puts no doubt into the minds of the Colts players, coaches and fans that the organization is confident Luck can quickly rebound from the struggles of an injury-plagued 2015 season. In a career-low seven games, Luck last year completed just 162-of-293 passes (55.3 percent) for 1,881 yards with 15 touchdowns to 12 interceptions for a quarterback rating of 74.9. The team rallied to an 8-8 record, but just narrowly missed earning a spot in the playoffs.
Irsay said he saw everything he needed to see out of Luck in what turned out to be his final game last season. Pitted against Manning and the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos Week 9 at Lucas Oil Stadium, a banged-up Luck completed 21-of-26 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns, leading his team to an impressive 27-24 victory over the top defense in the league.
Perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that early in the fourth quarter of that game, Luck took a hard hit to his midsection and suffered what was later diagnosed as a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle. Luck wouldn't return the rest of the season, but he was able to stay in the game to finish off the big home win.
"Look, if he's healthy, there's no question in our minds that he's going to return and do the things that he's done," Irsay said of Luck. "I've never seen him more motivated to have a great season in terms of taking care of himself and just working out; I mean, he always has been, but if you can talk about redoubling your efforts, that fire's in his eye in a special way."
So while Irsay, Luck and the Colts eagerly await their 2016 debut Sept. 11 at home against the Detroit Lions, they'll do so with a huge burden lifted off their shoulders.
With Luck under center for the foreseeable future, Irsay knows the franchise is in good hands.
"Andrew and I were joking earlier today that, you know, we really didn't have much of a conversation when it comes to dollars and those sort of things," Irsay said. "We talked more about how's the franchise doing? How's he doing? And talked about just his playmaking ability and all those things about winning. So we don't take for granted that this process was quiet, smooth, productive, and now we have a six-year deal done going into the 2020s, and it's a big deal for the franchise today that we have the peace of mind knowing that we got this done."