Rest easy, Colts fans. The Andrew Luck era can now officially begin.
The Colts signed the Stanford quarterback and No. 1 overall pick in the draft to a four-year, $22.1 million deal on Thursday.
“12 is officially signed!!!!!!” Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted, adding a photo of Luck signing his contract for good measure. Luck’s agent and uncle, Will Wilson, confirmed the deal had been completed.
The deal is similar to the one signed by Cam Newton a year ago and the one signed this week by Robert Griffin III. Newton, last year’s top pick, has a four-year, $22 million deal with Carolina and Griffin, who went No. 2 behind Luck in April’s draft, signed a four-year contract with the Washington Redskins worth $21.1 million guaranteed, with a club option for a fifth year.
Whatever the terms, Colts fans can look forward to seeing Luck behind center this season, brought in to help the proud franchise rebound after last year’s horrible skid. The injured Peyton Manning never played a down and now he’s gone, off to Denver for a fresh start with the Broncos.
Indy gets a rare opportunity to transition from one star quarterback to another.
Luck threw for 35 touchdowns last season — breaking his school record of 32 in 2010 — and eclipsed John Elway’s career record (77) at Stanford with 80 touchdown passes in only three seasons. He finished with 3,170 yards passing, a 70 percent completion percentage and only nine interceptions without the benefit of an elite wide receiver in 2011. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up — twice.
Luck has a pretty good idea what to expect beyond wearing a No. 12 jersey for the Colts. He will be expected to help lead the team back from a 2-14 season that included an 0-13 start with Manning out recovering from neck surgery.
Irsay cleaned out the front office and changed coaching staffs in January and February. Bruce Arians was Manning’s first NFL quarterbacks coach and he’s back as Indy’s offensive coordinator, and former Indy offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen is now the Colts quarterback coach.
There’s a new general manager in Ryan Grigson and a new coach in Chuck Pagano.
But Luck is the cornerstone in Indy’s biggest overhaul since Manning was drafted in 1998. He is expected to start immediately after playing in a pro-style system at Stanford, where he was originally tutored by former Colts quarterback and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
After drafting Luck, the Colts picked tight end Coby Fleener, his Stanford teammate, in the second round. They got another tight end in Clemson’s Dwayne Allen and speedy receiver T.Y. Hilton to go with Reggie Wayne.
Still, there were a lot of player moves, too.
The Colts released Manning on March 7 rather than paying him $28 million. Two days later, Indy cut defensive captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt and former Pro Bowlers Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai. They lost longtime center Jeff Saturday and emerging receiver Pierre Garcon in free agency and dipped into free-agency to improve a leaky defense and an unproven offensive line.
The biggest challenge in 2012, like it was in 1998, will be breaking in a new quarterback.