Last week's game against the Cleveland Browns proved to all of us that Reggie Wayne isn't the Reggie Wayne we all know and love. He looked weak, he dropped passes and as we just found out, he had torn triceps. The injuries are catching up to the 36 year old and his play has taken a big step backwards. When the offseason comes around, it's time Reggie Wayne hangs it up and calls it a career. It's a tough thought to fathom but it's becoming a reality; the great player we once knew, is now pushing the envelope. So, now that we can admit that he'll likely be gone after the season, what can/should the Colts do to replace him? They have several options.
They could look at some players via free agency. This year's free agent receiver class is perhaps the best in years or even a decade. Top names include Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin and Torrey Smith. It's safe to say that Bryant, Thomas and Maclin won't make it to the market, but there are also a lot of middle of the pack receivers that provide good value such as Michael Crabtree, Andre Holmes, Wes Welker, Eddie Royal and Cecil Shorts. Of course, at least half of the names you see here will be re-signed to be contracts or franchise tagged before free agency hits, but nevertheless, this is a strong class that should not be ignored. Let's take a look at two players who could replace Wayne.
The first player is Eddie Royal. Royal is a good slot receiver as well as a good returner. Royal isn't a big receiver at 5'10, 185 pounds, but he makes plays and has one of the highest yard after catch averages in the NFL (7 YAC/reception average). Royal is quick and hard to catch, making him one of the best slot receivers in the NFL. Royal also possesses a low drop rate. He had a 5.71% drop rate in 2013, and through 14 games in 2014, he has a 6.34% drop rate. These numbers are on the same level as Demaryius Thomas and Julio Jones. Royal has played 67.8% of the snaps for the Chargers this season, and 68.3% of the snaps for them last season. This are ideal slot receiver numbers and he could step in and fit in perfectly in this system. Royal is playing under a 1 year, 3.5M dollar deal, and would most likely require a deal somewhere between 4.0M and 5.25M a year.
The second player, and who I believe is the best option (best value), is Randall Cobb. I can sense some of you rolling your eyes, and of course the chances of him showing up on the market aren't exactly great, but if he somehow reaches the open market, the Colts should throw an offer his way and here's why. Rarely do I endorse big free agency signings (I preach building through the draft), but Cobb is an exception. Cobb is a versatile receiver as well as an outstanding returner. Cobb has been a big difference maker for the Packers and through 13 games this season, he has nearly 1000 yards and 69 catches. His drop rate and YAC per reception average is higher/worse than Royal, but he receives a lot more passes than Royal and is a more important part of the Packers' offense (then Royal is to the Chargers' offense). He's dynamic and has a good amount of experience at each receiver position. Cobb is playing under his rookie contract of 4 years, 3.2M (total) dollar deal, and would expect a hefty pay raise. He can expect a contract somewhere in the area of 8M to 9.5M a year. It would be an expensive investment, but worth the money considering the impact he has on the Packers and the impact he could have on the Colts. The Colts are expected to have about 35M dollars in cap space, so they can afford his type of contract.
Both are very good options in a class full of great players, and should be considered this offseason.
The draft is always a good place to look for receivers and considering that Hilton and Moncrief were both drafted by GM Ryan Grigson, it's plausible he goes that route again. The Colts, for the first time in a few years, have picks in the first three rounds, so they have flexibility in that regard. There are some talented receiver options in the 1st round and if the Colts want to wait until the 3rd or even 4th round, there will be options there as well, but keep in mind that receiver would become a minor need with Reggie Wayne gone. Options in the first round include DeVante Parker, Devin Funchess and Jaelen Strong. Options in the 3rd round include Justin Hardy, Rashad Greene and Phillip Dorsett. There are good options in this draft and the Colts should also take a look at those receivers.
Another option is to stick with what they have, and only add some depth players. Here's the problem with this option. Hakeem Nicks has proven this year that he isn't capable of a top 3 receiver role, at least not in this system. That leaves TY Hilton as the #1 receiver and Donte Moncrief as the #2 receiver. In my opinion, Moncrief isn't ready for the #2 receiver role, but is definitely worthy of the #3 role. I don't think making the leap from rotational #3 receiver to full-time #2 receiver is a smart move for him at this stage in his career. He has performed well in the limited amount of time he has played in, but it isn't enough to merit the #2 receiver spot. If the Colts decide to roll with Moncrief as the #2 receiver, it would be a big gamble and leave a hole at wide receiver.
As you can probably imagine, the two realistic options are between drafting a receiver and signing one in free agency. History indicates that drafting a receiver is the more likely choice here, but signing a receiver can be more beneficial. It is for that reason that I believe that signing a high-end receiver could not only be worth the money, but the smartest way to go this offseason.
Reggie Wayne has had a magical career with the Colts, setting numerous records, taking home a Super Bowl and will go down as one of the best receivers of our generation. On top of all of this, he deserves a ceremony and his number should be retired. With that being said, his career is almost over, but the NFL will continue to move on, and the Colts will be forced to move on. It's time to start thinking about life without Reggie Wayne, as hard as that may be.