Indianapolis Colts continue to work on Andrew Luck extension; guaranteed $ worth monitoring

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Andrew Luck (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The prevailing question regarding an extension for Andrew Luck isn’t if it materializes. It’s When?

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is optimistic he’ll be able to lock up his franchise quarterback by the start of training camp, which opens July 26.

“Both sides believe the sooner, the better,’’ Irsay said last week.

The timeframe aside, here’s the overriding question that undoubtedly will steer much of the negotiating process between the Colts and Will Wilson, Luck’s agent/uncle: How much of what figures to be the richest contract in NFL history will be guaranteed?

Forget the magnitude of the sheer numbers involved. Forget latter-year portions that often inflate a contract’s value but aren’t guaranteed and can be wiped away at the team’s whim. How much of Luck’s extension is flat-out guaranteed?

“That’s going to be the over arching issue. The guaranteed money and how front-loaded they make it,’’ said Joel Corry, a former agent and current contributor to CBSSports.com and NationalFootballPost.com. It doesn’t matter whether guarantees are in the form of a signing bonus, roster bonuses or base salary. “As long as it’s secured in guarantees, that’s fine,’’ Corry said.

The current high-water mark for guarantees rests with quarterbacks Eli Manning of the New York Giants and Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers at $65 million each, according to overthecap.com. Manning signed a four-year, $84 million extension last September, a month after Rivers accepted a four-year, $83.25 million extension.

Also, Miami signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, an unrestricted free agent last offseason, to a six-year, $114.375 million contract of which $59.955 million was fully guaranteed at signing. Manning and Rivers had to meet certain roster requirements to max out their guarantees.

“That’s an outlier and has to change because typically you don’t have a defensive player with the most money fully guaranteed at signing, which is Suh at practically $60 million,’’ Corry said. “Suh was an unrestricted free agent and he should not be treated better than a quarterback because quarterbacks usually are paid a premium and they set the market. You already have Philip Rivers and Eli Manning at $65 million in overall guarantees.’’

If Corry was dealing with the Colts on behalf of Luck, “I’m looking to blow well past the $70 million in overall guarantees and I’d want at least $60 million of that fully guaranteed at signing.’’

The length and value of an extension aren’t ancillary issues. Corry noted it’s in Luck’s best interest to make an extension relatively short.

“From Luck’s side, you don’t want to do more than five new years,’’ he said. “I would want to do four, kind of like (Seattle quarterback) Russell Wilson did. “If you are a good quarterback, you want to get as many bites of the apple as possible and reap the benefits of the changing marketplace.’’

A four-year extension would make Luck eligible for another mega-payday after the 2020 season. He’d be 31, with another half dozen quality years ahead of him. In effect, Luck is pushing the financial bar for quarterbacks to come – perhaps Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles or Kirk Cousins – who in turn would push the bar higher for his third contract with the Colts.

And let’s not forget, Luck has a ton of leverage on his side. Irsay has long conceded the numbers to retain his franchise quarterback will be “shocking’’ and “ringing the bell in terms of nine figures and those sorts of things.’’

He only has stated the obvious, but Corry chuckled nonetheless.

“You have an owner who almost seems proud that he’s going to make Luck the highest-paid player in football, which is unusual,’’ he said. “Owners normally don’t announce they’re going to sign a player at a ‘shocking number.’ That’s an interesting dynamic. Plus, he’s not going to really hold last year against Luck. That could be a huge stumbling block because a lot of times a team will remind you ‘Last year wasn’t what we expected.’ They make that a point of contention.’’

Also, not reaching common ground on an extension isn’t a palatable option for the Colts.

Luck is in the final year of his rookie contract and due to earn $16.155 million. Without an extension, the Colts would have to play tag with their most irreplaceable player.

Consider the prohibitive cost of investing the exclusive franchise tag on Luck for three seasons after his current contract expires: approximately $23.5 million in 2017, $28.2 million in ’18 and $40.6 million in ’19.

We’ll save you the trouble. That’s three years, $92.3 million.

Imagine if Luck would get an opportunity to test his value by talking with other teams.

“You take a guy like Luck in his prime and put him on the open market, that would be crazy money,’’ Corry said.

Although no one outside of Irsay, his confidants, Luck and Wilson are privy to the numbers and parameters being discussed, Corry was asked if we should be anticipating an extension in the neighborhood of five years, $125 million with $75 million guaranteed?

“That’s the minimal acceptable deal in my mind,’’ he said. “Luck has all the leverage. They won’t let him get free because if he hits the open market, there would be a bidding war like we’ve never seen before.

“This will get done. They are not in the same mode as when Bill Polian was around and everybody played out their contract.’’

The Colts signed wide receiver T.Y. Hilton to a five-year, $65 million extension Aug. 13. They locked up left tackle Anthony Castonzo with a four-year, $43.6 million extension a month later. Each had one year remaining on his contract.

“I fully expect them to get something done with Luck before the regular season starts,’’ Corry said. “Whether it’s July or August, I expect a deal to get done.’’