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Andre Johnson release further highlights Colts' recent free agent wide receiver failures

The release of Andre Johnson, which is expected to be made official at any point, further highlights the fact that the Colts have failed in recent years in adding veteran free agent wide receivers.

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Earlier today, it was reported that the Colts will release Andre Johnson, something that has been expected for months.  The move shows yet again, however, how the Colts have failed to upgrade their wide receiver position via free agency in recent years.

In 2015, it was Andre Johnson.  The Colts signed the productive veteran hoping he could be a possession receiver for them, but that didn't happen.  He caught 41 passes (on 77 targets) for 503 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 12.3 yards per catch, but he didn't have a big impact on the offense.  The year before, it was Hakeem Nicks.  Another productive receiver (though not to the level of Johnson), the Colts took a chance in thinking they could resurrect Nicks' career, though it didn't work.  Nicks caught 38 passes (on 70 targets) for 405 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 10.7 yards per catch, and he didn't seem to get his timing with Andrew Luck down at all.  In 2013, it was Darrius Heyward-Bey, who caught just 29 passes (on 62 targets) for 309 yards and one touchdown, averaging 10.7 yards per catch and proving to be the worst of the group of disappointing free agent signings.  In 2012, the Colts signed Donnie Avery, who caught 60 passes (on 125 targets) for 781 yards and three scores, averaging 13.0 yards per catch and proving to be by far the most productive of the free agent receiver signings in recent years.

Colts free agent WR signings
Year Player Rec. Tgt. Yards TD Avg.
2012 Donnie Avery 60 125 781 3 13
2013 Darrius Heyward-Bey 29 62 309 1 10.7
2014 Hakeem Nicks 38 70 405 4 10.7
2015 Andre Johnson 41 77 503 4 12.3

It just goes to show once again that the house normally wins in free agency, something that Ryan Grigson admitted at the NFL Combine and something that he said Jim Irsay continually reminds him.  The Colts have failed in trying to upgrade their wide receiver position through free agency, but the good news is that they haven't ignored the position in the draft either.  In 2012, they added T.Y. Hilton in the third round; in 2014, they drafted Donte Moncrief in the third round; and in 2015, they drafted Phillip Dorsett in the first round.  Those three players will almost certainly be the top three on the depth chart in 2016, and they look to be a very promising group.

The trend of the Colts improving their receiving corps through the draft rather than free agency is nothing new.  In fact, over the past eleven seasons, only one player who the team signed as a free agent went on to have a 600+ yard season with the team - Donnie Avery, in 2012.  During the past eleven seasons (2005-2015), the Colts have had ten different players record a 600-yard receiving season, and nine of them have been players the Colts originally drafted.  Other than Avery, you'd have to go back to Brandon Stokely's 2004 season to find a player who originally signed as a free agent who went on to top 600 yards in a season with the Colts.  In other words, the Colts have built their receiving corps through the draft for a while, so this is nothing new.  Rather, the recent free agent receiver failures just go to highlight the uncertain nature of free agency, but as we reflect on that, it's at least encouraging that the Colts haven't ignored the position through the draft.