Andrew Luck, a Pro Bowl quarterback and the face of the Indianapolis Colts, has decided to retire at 29 after a career defined by wins and injuries.
Luck sustained severe injuries throughout his career. He missed nine games in 2015 and the entire 2017 season. He was working his way back from a persistent ankle injury and had not appeared in any of the team’s preseason games, including one in progress on Saturday night when the news of his retirement first broke with reports by ESPN and the NFL Network.
Luck confirmed the reports at a postgame news conference. “I haven’t been able to live the life I want to live,” Luck said as he fought off tears. “It’s taken the joy out of this game. The only way forward for me is to remove myself from football and this cycle I’ve been in.”
Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, was an instant star for the Colts, helping offset the loss of Peyton Manning, another franchise icon, who was cut by the team after he had dealt with serious injuries of his own.
In just 86 career regular-season games, Luck produced a 53-33 record, and his 171 touchdown passes trailed only Dan Marino, Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre for the most in the first 100 starts of a quarterback’s career.
Luck led the Colts in his third season to the A.F.C. championship game, where they lost, 45-7, to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. At the time it seemed like a matchup destined to be repeated for years, but Luck, thanks largely to injuries, never got his team that far again.
Luck, who was selected to play in the Pro Bowl four times, listed a host of injuries that he has battled, including a calf strain, a high ankle sprain and a shoulder injury that forced him to miss 26 games.
“I’m in pain, I’m still in pain, I’ve been in this cycle for four years,” Luck said. “Shoulder, ankle, and this and this and this. I don’t feel like I can live the life I want moving forward” by playing football.
Luck, who has three years remaining on his contract worth more than $64 million, said he decided to retire about a week and a half ago. He said there was no single moment, but rather a dawning reality that his injured ankle was not improving, and that he wanted to break the cycle of injuries and rehabilitation.
“The lack of progress just builds up and you turn the corner and run into another stumbling block,” he said.
Luck said he understood that people may be shocked by his decision to suddenly leave the game. But he said he felt relief.
“It felt like a weight has lifted,” he said. “Part of my journey going forward is to figure out how to get out of pain.”
Luck thanked Colts owner Jim Irsay, several front office executives, the training staff and his former and current teammates, including quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Luck said he has not contemplated what he intends to do in the future, besides recuperate.
“Physically, it has taken its toll over the last four years, and that’s why I’m here,” Luck said. He added that he vowed to himself a few years ago to “choose me” if he continued to be in pain because of injuries.
Luck’s decision to step away from the game before reaching the age of 30 is unusual for such a high-profile player. Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who was chosen second in the 2007 draft, was 30 when he retired in 2016 after nine seasons, citing persistent injuries.
Terrell Davis, a running back with the Denver Broncos who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, played 78 games and retired because of injury problems.
Few quarterbacks have achieved so much in so short a time, only to walk away in what might otherwise be the prime of their career.
Neil Vigdor contributed reporting.