Reggie Wayne is in the last year of his contract and turns 33 this year leading to speculation that he may be allowed to leave in free agency. Marvin Harrison was re-signed on a 7 year contract at the age of 32, performed at a very high level for another 3 years then suffered a knee injury that left him a shadow of his former greatness. This past year would have been the 7th of that contract while Harrison has been out of the league for two years.
Despite this, it appears unlikely that the Colts will have someone they can count on to replace him in 2012. Pierre Garçon has shown he can perform on a high level, but is still inconsistent and will also be a free agent after this season. Anthony Gonzalez is in a contract year as well, and he has been unable to stay on the field after a very promising first two years of his career. Austin Collie’s repeated concussions could end his career if he remains prone to them after an offseason to recover. Blair White has limited upside, and no one else on the roster as proven they can be more than a special teams contributor.
What if the Colts draft a wideout in 2012? It’s suppose to be a good class of receivers, but looking at the history of rookie pass catchers it’s not reasonable to expect one to be able to step into a #1 role immediately, and it’s not a good idea to even count on them as a #2.
In the last twenty years only 5 rookie wideouts have topped 1,000 yard receiving and only 4 have caught 70+ passes, marks Reggie Wayne has surpassed each of the last 7 years. 70+ receptions for 1,000+ yards are just pretty standard #1 WR numbers too; Wayne is a 5 time Pro Bowler. In the history of the league there have been 221 85+ reception seasons, 4 of them by Reggie Wayne, the same as the number put up by rookies, Terry Glenn (90), Anquan Boldin (101), Reggie Bush (88) and Eddie Royal (91). Similarly of the 232 seasons of 1,200+ receiving yards, 5 belong to Reggie Wayne and just 4 to rookies, Billy Howton (1,231), Bill Groman (1,473), Randy Moss (1,313), Anquan Boldin (1,377).
Young wideouts don’t usually produce. Less than 1/3rd of the 1,200 yard seasons and less than 1/4th the 85 reception seasons came from players 25 or younger. While rookies broke 1,000 yards 5 times in the last 20 years, 7 times the leading rookie WR had less than 800 yards. Contrasting the 4 seasons where a rookie WR broke 85 receptions, 7 times the top rookie had less than 50 catches. It’s not even a matter of picking the right WR in most years there just isn’t anyone ready to step right in and produce as an elite WR.
With the options to replace Wayne in 2012 looking shaky, it seems likely the team will want him back. If the franchise tag is part of the new CBA, it will make the Colts decision easy, allowing them to hold onto Wayne for a year while a rookie develops and/or the other options on the team prove themselves reliable. The Colts’ best option is to extend Wayne’s deal now in a reasonable way that provides both him and the team some security through 2013. Then the team can draft a new reciever in the first round of 2012 and give him time to develop into a true #1 option.