There is no position on the 2011 Indianapolis Colts that will undergo or require more immediate front office attention by way of future contract considerations than wide receiver. Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, and Anthony Gonzalez are all at the end of their contracts.
Two of the three were first round draft picks. One of the three is a perennial Pro Bowler.
The difficulty behind what direction Indy's front office chooses to take includes a lot of variables.
At this point in his career, I think it is clear that either Gonzalez is incapable of staying healthy or the coaching staff prefers the options around him so much that they are not interested in giving him time on the field. In either case, it's not a positive outlook for Gonzo wearing a horseshoe on his helmet in 2012.
That leaves Wayne and Garcon as players in two drastically different situations who will be looking to get paid significant contracts.
Putting in a one-three year bid for Wayne in what would likely be his final contract in Indianapolis is a possibility. The problem is that he is entering -- or has entered -- the twilight stages of his career and his drop-off in production could be drastic at any time. Overpay for an aging wide receiver and lose the cap space to sign a younger player at his position -- or another position of weakness -- and it could cost Peyton Manning (or Andrew Luck) an opportunity to get to or win the Super Bowl in the next three years.
Garcon showed a lot of promise in 2011 and has surprised his biggest detractors by displaying reliable hands. The only real knock on him heading into his contract year was the frustrating habit in previous seasons to drop easy passes and only make sensational ones.
Which gamble should the Colts take? Allow both players to exit via free agency and draft an early wide receiver like Iowa's Marvin McNutt? Sign Garcon but allow Wayne to exit, hoping that Garcon's improved play in 2011 is indicative of how he will play in the next four-six years of his career? Sign Wayne but let Garcon go, securing the most experienced wide receiver on the team for a final run with Peyton Manning, risking that the best years of his career have long since passed? Sign both receivers, tie up a lot of money in the process, potentially struggle to re-sign a player like defensive end Robert Mathis or center Jeff Saturday, and risk neither player working out as hoped?
Ultimately, retaining one of the three free agent wide receivers should be a no-brainer. Assuming Gonzalez is out, the choice between Garcon and Wayne is not easy.
Garcon has the upside of a marquee wide receiver, the physical abilities and strength of tenacious larger receivers like Anquan Boldin. Wayne has the experience and savvy to pick apart his younger competition and communicate seamlessly with Peyton Manning.
For the money, Garcon is probably the better play at this point because it should be clear that Wayne's struggles to gain separation have become more noticeable in the last couple of years. Garcon? He does not have that issue at all and if he continues to work on his ability to grind out yards and catch routine passes, he could become the team's number one receiving option moving forward.
The choice for Garcon also makes sense because the entire corps of receivers that remain on the team will be very close to one another in age and experience. The group would be young, energized, and if they can stay healthy, should have the best years of their careers ahead of them. Choosing only Wayne necessitates a wide receiver draft pick or free agent acquisition.
There should be no misunderstanding that Wayne's ceiling is another three years in the league -- with one year being an uncertainty already. Accordingly, keeping Wayne and parting ways with Garcon occurs only if the team wants Wayne to provide veteran leadership and mentor his successor for the future -- and likely only if Wayne is willing to take a paycheck that reflects that role.
Key options in the early rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft include South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery, North Carolina's Dwight Jones, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, and Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu. Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon is the clear favorite as the top receiver prospect in 2012 at this point and will not be available to the Colts unless they trade the top overall pick, but any one of these receivers projects well and should be able to play outside relatively quickly.
Middle round sleepers include Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles -- who suffered an ACL tear in November which will make him a potential steal if he can recover, or Wisconsin's Nick Toon.
Don't we need to draft a WR regardless of which player we keep (Wayne & Garcon)? If we only keep one of them we would have 2 good receivers (whoever we keep and Collie) and that's it....I think we need 3 good receivers.
I am still not convinced that Garcon is a #1 WR. Even so, I think you have to try to resign him. This team is in rebuilding mode and has a lot of holes to fill, many of which are more pressing than WR. Reggie and Gonzo are both likely gone, which means if Garcon is not resigned we have to burn a draft pick on someone. By resigning Garcon that pick can be used on a DB or OL. I would love to let him walk, but don't think we can out of necessity.
The Colts will likely go to Wayne first and say this is the number we're comfortable with. (Whatever that is). He'll likely get a much bigger payday for his last contract if he leaves, and he will. Similar to Edge. From there, they'll lock up Garçon.
Wayne is the only jersey I've ever owned and he'll always be one of my favorites, but the Colts can really only sign 2 of their big 3 fa. It will be Mathis (unless they're going to a strict 3-4) and either Wayne or Garçon. With Garçon being more likely.
So there's always a lot of talk about drop off in production, usually in running backs after signing a big contract. Does the same thing happen with WRs? Could that be a real concern, or is this more of a myth?
Honestly, I would have to find really good statistical numbers for you before I could give you an exact age. In my mind, Reggie Wayne is not a production drop-off concern based upon the size or length of his final contract. He is a drop-off concern due to age and age alone. I'll see what we can come up with regarding actual production averages for elite receivers in their early-mid thirties. @Sinn0331
Obviously for the Colts, Gonzo is not an option.
However, as close as Peyton and Gonzo are... I'm wondering if Peyton talks his new team into taking a chance on Gonzo. With an incentive laden contract, that team could end up with a steal.
@DougEngland I always got the feeling he was on the wrong side of the Polians. Now they they are gone as is Caldwell, I see no reason why Grigson wouldn't reach out to Gonzo and at least feel him out.
If the Colts can offer him a small contract, he might even take it. I'm not sure how confident he is that someone else will pay him at all, let alone more than what the Colts might offer. @DougEngland
Perhaps mistakenly, I just assumed that the Colts would have no interest in Gonzo. Personally, I still think Gonzo has some really good football left in him, and if the Colts could get him for the right price, they'd be smart to do so.
But I also think with his recent history, Gonzo will have a hard time finding any takers. That is why I posed the question about Peyton lobbying for him with his new team.
I also wonder if Reggie doesn't get the money he wants, if he would follow Peyton to his new team.
Or if Dallas gets cut, does he follow Peyton...
Oh hell, this is getting depressing.
@DougEngland I am going to continue to believe that Jim Irsay is not lying to me and that if Peyton can play this year, he'll play for the Colts. So if he's not back, it's because he retired.(please... no one burst my bubble, it's happy in the bubble.)
@DougEngland Personally I believe that yes, Gonzo had some injuries but I really feel like he got into Polian's doghouse and was simply never going to get out. With that said I am a big believer in Bill Polian but I understand he wasn't a good people person, well, let me say it hinged on who you were. I think that happened to Gonzo for some reason and now maybe he'll get a second chance to prove he can be 'available' to the team. I think it's obvious Gonzo has the talent to play in the league.
I have always been super proud that Reggie Wayne was a Colt: professionalism, the work ethic, the production, etc. but the decision between Wayne and Garcon is not a tough one for me. If I had to choose between the two I would take Garcon in a heartbeat. He plays with a kind of physicality that Reggie Wayne never did. He's tough enough to run through tackles. He can make a play from anywhere on the field, returning punts, causing fumbles, taking a screen pass to the house, not to mention his speed. I think Reggie Wayne's shadow is probably a better pure receiver, but I think Garcon is worth more than the money it'll take to sign him. Besides we'll be mining NFL draft GOLD for for the first 3 rounds. Peyton Manning can make anyone look good, and Andrew Luck is just as likely to build some good chemistry with a least two his receivers in his rookie year.
I agree that at this point you'd have to take your chances with Garcon over Wayne and look to the future. Reggie just like Manning will always be a Colt no matter what happens in the next month. Also, ya gotta think that if Irsay has any thoughts of having both Manning and Luck, Wayne surely won't be resigned.
One last thought about 18, as much as it sucks that he's most likely played his last game as a Colt . If he goes to a team that is a franchise QB away from a championship he could cement his bid for GOAT and shut everyone up once and for all. This is a team game and most times that's all that has held him back from more rings.
@colt44 It'll be immensely sad to see Peyton go. The only evidence I can see that Irsay is even hedging, is that Clyde C. is still on the team.
If Manning ends up with another team, I'm interested in the prospects of the Colts FA WRs who are let go ending up there. Miami and Arizona could both use WR corps upgrades.
Make decisions with your heart and you're Matt Millen.
Make them with your head and you're Belichick.
The heart decision is Wayne, the head decision is Garcon.
Love Sanu and Broyles, should be options at the top of the 2nd and 3rd respectively.
Alternatively, a fall for Alshon would be nice.
@Ben Savage I'm not big on Alshon and I think he'll bust out. Sanu at the top of the second would be good if Thompson and Minnifield are gone. I'd be willing to take Broyles at the top of the third but I've seen some mocks with him falling all the way to 4 or 5, which I'd love as even more.