Would it be worth it for the Buffalo Bills to trade for veteran quarterback Andrew Luck? Let’s go backward and take a closer look at the possibility.
Peyton Manning missed the 2011 season with a neck injury. The Indianapolis Colts were terrible without him and the team “earned” the first overall pick in the draft. Indy used that pick on Luck and bid goodbye to Manning, who went on to Denver. Luck led the Colts to a trio of 11-5 seasons and looked like he was going to be one of the next great NFL quarterbacks.
Luck had an injury-shortened 2015 (kicked off by a beating delivered by the Bills) but the Colts thought well enough of his prognosis (shoulder and lacerated kidney) to give him a 5-year extension worth nearly $123 million dollars. Early in 2016, general manager Ryan Grigson denied that Luck has “labrum fraying” and owner Jim Irsay said it wasn’t a “chronic shoulder injury” even though Luck was missing practice time every week. Assurances aside, Luck underwent an outpatient shoulder surgery at the close of the 2016 season.
While the Colts assured their season ticket holders that Andrew Luck would be back at the start of the 2017 season, it wasn’t meant to be. Irsay kept up the happy talk through October and the team finally put Luck on injured reserve on November 3rd after Luck continued to complain of soreness in his shoulder. Luck headed to Europe in order to seek treatments that are not available in the United States.
Jim Irsay reportedly told Tony Dungy that Luck’s injury is “in his head” back in September. In other words, it sounds like Irsay doesn’t think Luck is doing everything he can to get back on the field. Irsay isn’t noted for being the most even-keeled of people but he his known for swinging wild trades. There is a possibility that Irsay’s volatile personality could lead to a split.
There are other factors beyond a billionaire recoiling at the thought of paying a guaranteed $12 million on March 19th, the 5th day of the league year, to a guy who he sees as possibly taking advantage of him. The Colts counted on Luck being healthy in 2017 and were burned. With no plan at QB the team had to rely on scrubs and now pick third overall. That third pick means the Colts could have any QB not named Rosen or Darnold (or whoever, you get the point). Any rookie QB would be much, much cheaper than Luck which would allow the Colts to rebuild one of the weakest rosters in the NFL.
If the Colts trade Luck, Indy would avoid $2.2 million of their $24.4 million cap hit in 2018 and cap hits of $27.525 million in 2019, $28.4 million in 2020, and $21 million in 2021. Say the Colts are smitten with a third quarterback such as Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen. Solomon Thomas was the 3rd overall pick of the 2017 draft and signed a 4-year deal with $28 million. Even with almost 10% growth the Colts would have approximately $80 million more in cap space over the next 4 seasons if the team traded Luck and drafted his successor.
That would require a trade partner. Enter the Bills?
No team is going to offer the Colts much if that team had any doubt that Luck would indeed be ready to roll in training camp in 2018. Assume for the moment that the Bills are satisfied that Luck is healthy, a determination that couldn’t just be left to team doctors. Assume further that the Colts do indeed want to move on from Luck, never mind that he will be 29. What might a trade look like?
NFL draft day trades get a little wonky when they involve quarterback prospects. A trade for Luck is a little different though and there aren’t too many trades of franchise type QBs to look at since 2000:
- Sam Bradford: 1st and 4th round picks
- Carson Palmer: 1st and 2nd round picks
- Jay Cutler: two 1st and 3rd round picks, plus Kyle Orton
- Drew Bledsoe: 1st round pick
- Trent Green: 1st round pick
It’s pretty clear that the Bills will need to include a 1st round pick or, failing that, first round value in terms of a player. Cutler brought a pair of 1st round picks but the Broncos thought highly of Orton which mitigated that hefty cost. Cordy Glenn may be seen as an expendable asset and the tackle-needy Colts really could use Glenn protecting their shiny new QB, provided he, too, is healthy. He is worth at least a 1st rounder and had manageable cap hits of about a combined $40 million over the next three seasons. Indy wouldn’t go for a straight up Luck-Glenn trade but Glenn + number 22 + a 2018 second may get the job done if Irsay is ready to move on from Luck even if he is now healthy.
Assuming Luck is healthy, the Bills would be getting a franchise QB who is under contract for the next four seasons. The remaining financial obligation for Luck’s deal is $82 million, or about $21 million per season in combined salary and roster bonuses. The Bills could move on from Tyrod Taylor while only incurring about $3 million more for the QB position. Buffalo would be able to focus the 2018 draft on building around Luck instead of trading up for a rookie.
Much depends on the excitable nature of Colts owner Jim Irsay and that pesky shoulder.