Yesterday, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck admitted what we all already knew: that his shoulder injury that required surgery this offseason initially occurred in the team’s week three game against the Titans in 2015.
But that admission by Luck, who was actually surprisingly open about the injury yesterday, has gotten a lot of people talking: did the Colts do the right thing?
First off, let’s get this out of the way: the Colts didn’t violate NFL rules regarding the injury report. Luck was injured in week three of the 2015 season and then missed the next two games with a shoulder injury! The Colts downplayed the severity of the injury, but they didn’t hide that it existed (even though they may have liked to). And then in 2016, Luck was listed on the injury report in 15 of 16 weeks with a right shoulder issue, and the only week he wasn’t was when he missed all three practices due to a concussion. In at least one practice for each week of the season, Luck was either limited or didn’t practice. Overall, he was limited in 19 practices and missed five others, meaning that he was only a full participant in exactly half of the Colts’ practices last year. Again, the Colts downplayed the severity of the injury, but they didn’t hide that it existed.
So the question about whether the Colts did things right isn’t related to whether they violated any injury report rules, because they didn’t. The question is about whether the Colts did the right thing in waiting until this offseason for Luck to have surgery.
The Colts tried their hardest to convince everyone that their quarterback was perfectly fine and that the shoulder issue wasn’t a big deal at all. That happened during the 2015 season too, such as Chuck Pagano saying he had “supreme confidence” that Luck would play that Sunday - after which Luck missed two weeks with a shoulder injury. The kidney injury later in the year took the attention away from the shoulder, but questions lingered into the offseason. At his pre-draft press conference, Ryan Grigson cut off a question about Luck’s injury situation.
"Let me cut you off: he's fine," Grigson said. "Alright? He's fine. He's fine. We had a process that he was to follow in the offseason, Coach, myself, Mr. Irsay was privy to it. He's just meticulously, in an Andrew Luck-type way, going through his rehab and strengthening program to a T. He is going to be fine."
Grigson’s adherence to that theme continued into the season. The Colts listed Luck as limited on their injury report with a right shoulder issue and offered no explanation, leaving fans to wonder. Grigson, however, maintained that it was just to keep Luck fresh.
"No. He's all good," Grigson said, specifically asked if Luck had labrum fraying. "I mean the guy's thrown a zillion balls. The media's seen it. [He was] in Anderson day in and day out throwing a ton of balls with a lot of velocity — even knocking some guys over. I don't know. I guess you could sit there and look for something that's not there, but I'm just saying he's going to be ready for the game this weekend, and we have a plan that we think's best for him, and one he feels good about, and that's what we're doing."
And then, in December, owner Jim Irsay said that there was “no plan for surgery, certainly not on his throwing shoulder.” That was December 15, 2016. On January 19, 2017, Irsay took to Twitter to announce that Luck had surgery... on his throwing shoulder (admitting even then that the injury occurred in 2015).
So the one thing that stands out is that the Colts tried really, really hard to downplay Luck’s injury - but that’s not neccessarily abnormal around the NFL, and it shouldn’t technically be classified as doing something wrong. Perhaps you could say that the Colts were so focused on trying to convince everyone else that Luck was fine because they desperately hoped it was true, though it wasn’t.
I think more likely, however, is the fact that the Colts thought that rest and maintaining the injury was the best solution to the shoulder injury, thus the reason why they waited a whole year for the surgery. And I’m not neccessarily sure that was wrong either. Look at it this way: the Colts were focused on getting Luck back to the level he had been playing at prior to his disastrous 2015 season, and their plan for rest and managing the injury certainly did that. In 2016, Luck was absolutely terrific. But while Luck was playing tremendous football on the field, he also spent much of the week with limited in practice and in pain, managing his shoulder injury to the point where he could play at a high level on Sunday.
So in this regard, with the limited information we have, I’m inclined to actually (surprisingly) give the benefit of the doubt to the Colts on this one. I think it’s most probable that the Colts’ original plan to limit Luck and help manage his shoulder was solely focused on getting him ready to play, as long as he could manage the pain. But after this season, Luck decided that it was worth getting the surgery so that he wouldn’t have to miss so much practice or play through as much pain.
In hindsight, it might have been better for Luck to undergo surgery a year ago - but I’m not sure I’d go so far as saying the Colts did something wrong (and they certainly didn’t do something wrong when it comes to disclosing the injury). They weren’t totally honest and forthcoming and they did try to downplay it, but outside of that it seems to mostly be an unfortunate situation that hopefully will be better moving forward, not an issue of the Colts being to blame.