Now the exhale. Truth be told, everybody has to be glad that one is over. Peyton Manning can focus on the next game instead of an ongoing Twitter soap opera. Jim Irsay can keep being Jim Irsay, but won’t have to worry about so much media scrutiny. Andrew Luck showed just how fortunate the Colts are last night in being able to go from perhaps the all-time great to play the position to a young and promising super star in the span of only one down season.
It was an exhilarating and overwhelming night, and one that came at a tremendous cost. Taxes, death and Reggie Wayne suiting up on Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday): three things you can count on no matter what. Watching Reggie cry on the sideline and limp off the field was pure torture. Some have wondered if that’s the last we’ll see of # 87 in a Colts uniform. If there’s one thing I know, it’s this: never, ever count out Reggie Wayne.
What a swing from such an amazing game and riding the emotional high to a stark and hard crash the day after. The Colts enter their bye week severely banged up and without the services of yet another offensive staple for the remainder of the season. Imagine this offense with Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw and Reggie Wayne. Not to mention Donald Thomas, who was playing the best of any offensive lineman before he went down in the loss to Miami. That’s the cold hard reality of life in the NFL; injuries happen, and happen often.
Where do the Colts go from here? Well first they enjoy some down time to heal, which comes at a very opportune moment. As much as I disliked the bye week coming so early last season, it gave Chuck Pagano the opportunity to get diagnosed and win his battle. This year, this is a perfect time for the bye, in order to plan to move forward without possibly one of the two or three most irreplaceable men on the team.
How will they approach the loss of Reggie? I see three potential options:
1) Next man up. Bring Griff Whalen or Da’Rick Rogers up from the practice squad and go with what you’ve got.
2) Make a big move. Already down their 2014 first-round pick in the trade that brought Trent Richardson into the fold, might Ryan Grigson use the bye week to do some more film study and make some more calls?
3) Make a smaller move or sign a free agent. Rather than get into the fray and potential heavy costs of a major move, could Grigson do a smaller deal, even possibly a player-for-player without any draft pick cost?
Those options are listed in no particular order of what I think could or should happen. Let’s dive into each and try to make the case for or against.
The Colts can stand pat with what they have. T.Y. Hilton and DHB become the starters, LaVon Brazill becomes the number three option and Whalen or Rogers move to the active roster as the # 4. This option bears no real cost in terms of picks or players. The real impact here would be the load it places on Coby Fleener. Reggie was never a true burner even in his earlier years, and very much was the reliable guy who could make the tough catches over the middle for first downs. A highly underrated part of his game was blocking. Fleener picks that mantle up (catches over the middle; he isn’t known for blocking by any means), which is extremely difficult and perhaps too much to ask.
Wayne drew double and rolled coverage often, and his absence greatly simplifies things for opposing defenses and coordinators. The big fear is if they go this route, they could become even more reliant on the running game and more conservative. If last night showed anything, it’s that Andrew Luck’s right arm and legs are the paycheck. If the Colts stay in house and go more conservative, it would be a huge disservice to Luck and the team.
Does Ryan Grigson make yet another high profile trade? The jury is still very much out on the Richardson deal, which cost the Colts their first rounder. It would be extremely risky to offer up yet another pick to pry someone the likes of Hakeem Nicks from another team. The Giants are going nowhere fast, Nicks is in the final year of his contract and they just gave a large deal to Victor Cruz this offseason. At the very least, Grigson has to pick up the phone and inquire. Is that giving up entirely too much in one year? Quite possibly. If the price isn’t too steep or the Colts could get him for a 2015 pick, it has to be mulled.
The danger with Nicks is the rental factor; how much are you willing to give for a player who is only signed for eight more regular season games? Now if it worked well and Nicks liked being here, surely the Colts could do a deal and bring him into the fold long term. Nicks is only 25 and could absolutely be a good fit. The main reason this option is so iffy is the Richardson deal. Then again, had Bradshaw and Ballard not both been lost, Richardson would still most likely call Cleveland home and the Colts would still possess their 2014 first-round pick.
Finally, the smaller deal or sign a free agent option. Not a household name but a serviceable player for a much less steep price is certainly in the realm of possibility. No names immediately come to mind, because that’s kind of the point. Free agents are unsigned and available for a reason, so that doesn’t seem too likely. All in all, maybe another large deal is just too rich for the franchise’s blood and they go with a player-for-player trade or part with a conditional late-round pick down the road for a less heralded guy.
The bottom line is that finding Reggie Wayne’s heir apparent had to have been pretty high on the priority list for this upcoming offseason even before the injury. Without a first round pick to potentially spend on what you hope becomes that player, a deal seems to make plenty of sense. T.Y. Hilton is a hell of a player, but he’s the explosive play maker and not the rugged played in 189 consecutive games making the tough catches over the middle, blocking and being the consummate pro. DHB is what he is: a big and extremely fast receiver with maddeningly inconsistent hands. The guess here is the Colts thank him this offseason and turn their attention elsewhere. He just won’t ever be a consistent enough option to sign long term.
The best in house replacement is also already lost for the season. Dwayne Allen brings such a toughness and entirely new dimension to this offense, but he’s not the long term answer either. Allen will flourish here and I hope he overcomes injuries and lives up to his tremendous potential. However, that player to carry on for Reggie Wayne over the long haul is not currently on this Colts roster.
The NFL trade deadline is still eight days away. With the Colts now entering their bye week, it is entirely possible that Ryan Grigson goes back to the well and makes yet another deal. You simply cannot replace Reggie Wayne or his leadership, but you also can’t take the risk of doing nothing and see a potential Super Bowl season evaporate due to horrific injuries to your offense.
On a side note…the article has been absent now for several weeks due to a death in the family. My beautiful wife lost her grandfather recently, and it’s been a very difficult time. By all accounts he was a wonderful man that I just didn’t get the opportunity to see very often and get to know that well. He took me for a walk through his property once, telling me stories about the scrap metal and old rusted out cars and school buses. The man gave cancer one hell of a fight and taught me a lot about courage, unbeknownst to him. I sure do wish I could have gotten to know him much better, but am grateful to be in his family. I’ll never forget that he took me for a walk.