INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - There's a huge problem brewing between Colts owner Jim Irsay and quarterback Andrew Luck, the kind of problem that may destroy the relationship between the owner and his team's best player. And you wonder now, might Irsay and his big mouth run Luck out of Indianapolis?
During a commercial cut-in of Dan Patrick's national radio show, guest Tony Dungy, who did not know he was on the air, told Patrick during a break that Irsay recently said he believes that what's holding Luck back from returning to the field is more mental than it is physical.
Patrick asked Dungy about the Luck situation, and Dungy responded, "I don't know what's going on there. Jim Irsay made a comment about six weeks ago, 'It's inside his head now.'"
Patrick: "Wait, it's inside Luck's head?"
Dungy: "Yeah, [Irsay] said that when I was out [in Indianapolis] for Peyton's ceremony."
Patrick was stunned. "Wow," he said. "I really wonder if Luck's future is in Indianapolis. I really do."
Dungy didn't respond initially, then when Patrick brought up the fact that Irsay expected Luck back at the start of the season or early in the season, Dungy replied, "They obviously believed it because they did nothing to prepare for him not being there."
Recently, there was a report out of Denver, unconfirmed locally, that Irsay was upset at Luck because he felt like the quarterback had given him every reason to believe he would be back either at the start of the season or early in the season. During the summer, in fact, Irsay told reporters Luck would be back for the season opener, and then, after the preseason game against Detroit, he insisted Luck would return early in the year.
Obviously, none of that has happened. Luck finally returned to the practice field a little more than three weeks ago on a limited basis, but after two weeks, the pain and inflammation returned to his surgically repaired right shoulder. This past Thursday, general manager Chris Ballard announced Luck would go on IR and be completely shut down for the rest of the season.
Irsay's comment to Dungy gives even more weight to the rather unsubtle hints he's dropped previously, suggestions that Luck's issues are more in his head than his right arm.
On Aug. 13, Irsay said, "It's been said before, all sports is played on a 4-inch field between your ears. It's really important we continue to help Andrew emotionally, mentally, get his confidence and his endorsement, deep down his rubber stamp (in) his heart of hearts because in the end, that carries the biggest weight."
Then, during the Colts' final preseason game this summer, Irsay went in the TV booth and again brought up those four inches between the ears.
"…You have to be able to deal with this, not only physically but mentally," Irsay said. "I have no doubt that Andrew, the person that he is, he's going to come out of this thing not just how he was but a better quarterback. 'When' is the question. That timetable is more on the football gods and Andrew's gut feeling on how he's feeling."
So what we have here, quite simply, is the team owner saying both publicly and privately that he believes that the only one holding Luck back now is Luck himself. And that is not going to go over well with Luck, with his father, Oliver, with his representative Will Wilson or anybody else associated with Luck.
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Even if Irsay truly believes these things to be true, it's not something he should be hinting at publicly or saying quite forcefully in a private conversation. He is questioning Luck's toughness, his desire to play through discomfort, which is rather precious considering that Luck has been hit more often than any other NFL quarterback since 2012. Luck has suffered a concussion, a lacerated kidney, broken ribs and a shoulder injury since he's been in Indianapolis, due both to his shoddy offensive line play and his own reckless style of play.
It's never, ever, EVER smart business to question the toughness and pain tolerance of any athlete, and especially one who is expected to carry your franchise the next 10 years or so.
This is Irsay's mess to clean up, or his franchise player, the guy he views as another generational quarterback, will start looking for the next train out of Indianapolis.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that Tony Dungy said to Dan Patrick that, "Jim Irsay made a comment to me." No such conversation took place. Dungy was referring to public comments that Irsay had made earlier.