Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck stunned the sports world on Saturday when he announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 29, just two weeks shy of the start of the upcoming 2019 NFL season.
Perhaps even more shocking than his retirement is how much money Luck — who is coming off a 2018 NFL season in which he was named to the Pro Bowl and won the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year Award — could be leaving on the table by ending his NFL career. Colts owner Jim Irsay estimated on Saturday that Luck could "potentially" be giving up as much as $450 million in future salary.
Luck, whose career started in 2012 when the Indianapolis Colts made him the first overall pick of the NFL Draft out of Stanford University, has earned more than $97.1 million in total salary in his previous seven NFL seasons, according to Spotrac, a sports data company. That total includes a four-year, $22.1 million rookie contract, as well as the first three years of a six-year extension he signed before the 2016 NFL season. That second deal would have paid him a total of $140 million had he played out the final two years of the contract that was set to run through the 2021 NFL season.
Luck, who made four NFL Pro Bowl teams and led the Colts to the playoffs four times, announced his decision to retire after suffering multiple new injuries (to his calf and ankle) as he prepared for the 2019 NFL regular season, which kicks off the first week of September.
Despite the long list of injuries suffered throughout his career — including a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder that forced him to miss the entire 2017 season, as well as a lacerated kidney during the 2015 season — Luck's retirement still caught the NFL world by surprise, mostly because of his young age. The average age of NFL starting quarterbacks in 2018 was reportedly just over 30 years old, and at least two notable quarterbacks will start the upcoming season over the age of 40 (40-year-old Drew Brees, and 42-year-old Tom Brady, who is fresh off winning his sixth Super Bowl).
Considering Luck's relative youth, along with his track record of professional success, it's fair to assume that his NFL career could have lasted several more seasons had his injuries not convinced him to retire early. We may never know whether or not Luck would have eventually earned the additional $450 million that Colts owner Irsay predicted, but if his career continued well into his 30s, then Luck would have surely pulled in additional salary worth nine figures.
First, retiring now means that Luck is definitely giving up the roughly $58.1 million left on his current contract. What's more, Luck would have been 32 years old when that contract expired after the 2021 NFL season, at which point he would have been eligible to sign a massive new deal with the Colts or any other NFL team.
Luck's 2016 contract extension made him the NFL's highest-paid player at that time, at an average of $23.3 million per season. Had Luck been able to recover from his latest injuries and continued playing at a high level, he likely would have signed a new deal that would again make him one of the league's best-paid players.
As the Indianapolis Star newspaper noted on Sunday, the highest-paid NFL player is currently Seattle's Russell Wilson, at $35 million per year, and NFL salaries are expected to steadily rise for the foreseeable future. It is certainly possible that Luck's next contract could have earned him between $40 million and $50 million annually.
But of course, the reality is that Luck's career has been cut short by the lingering effects of the various injuries he's suffered since entering the NFL in 2012.
Luck called his retirement "the hardest decision of my life" in a news conference on Saturday. He told reporters the litany of injuries he sustained during his career had worn him down physically and mentally.
"I'm in pain, I'm still in pain. It's been four years of this pain, rehab cycle," Luck said. "It's a myriad of issues — calf strain, posterior ankle impingement, high ankle sprain. Part of my journey going forward will be figuring out how to feel better."
Luck is not the first athlete to surprise the world with an early retirement. Among the other recent examples from the NFL are former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who retired after the most recent NFL season, as well as former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber, who retired at 31 in 2006 and went on to enjoy a post-NFL career in television as a football commentator for NBC and as a "Today" correspondent. While Luck has not yet offered any details on his post-NFL career plans, many former players have found post-career success as television commentators and as coaches or executives for football teams.
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!