Anthony Gonzalez came to the Colts with combine-record agility and good straight line speed. He showed precise routes and exceptional hands, and 2009 was expected to be a breakout year for him. Fantasy draft boards had him skyrocketing up depth charts. Fans and blogs began predicting the first of his 1,000+ yard seasons, and concerns about the loss of Marvin Harrison were lessened by the buildup to his arrival in the starting lineup. Two years later, he has suffered 2 knee injuries, a high ankle sprain, and a hamstring tweak and some think the door is swinging shut.
Even through the injuries and circumstances, I think he will retain his roster spot.
Similarly-rated players who had difficulties with injuries — CB Kelvin Hayden missed 18 games over the past 3 seasons, S Bob Sanders missed 41 games the past 3 seasons, and LB Tyjuan Hagler missed 20 games from ’07-’09 — were cut after 3 injury plagued seasons. If the Colts are consistent, Gonzo may also receive another year to prove his value.
While the team’s history with injury-plagued players is no guarantee, it does show that the team has patience with highly rated, but oft-injured talent.
Nature of Injuries
The injuries Gonzalez has sustained have had more to do with bad luck than physical fragility. His first knee injury was unavoidable, and no amount of training or conditioning could have prevented it . His high ankle sprain was caused when he was hit by another player and twisted around with his one leg planted. That kind of sprain is foreseeable under those circumstances. As for his second knee injury, it would have been difficult for most players to jump up healthy after taking the hit safety Bernard Pollard laid on him out of bounds.
Gonzalez’s current hamstring issue is not as serious and could be the result of not easing back into practice after the off-season. As the backup NFLPA representative for the Colts, Gonzalez may have spent less time than he needed in the gym. While his status for Week 1 is undetermined, assuming he remains on the roster, his recovery should have him back soon after.
Plans, Plans, and More Plans
How do the Colts’ plans change with Gonzalez on and off of the roster?
If Gonzalez is allowed one more season to show he can be productive at the NFL level and succeeds, what do the Colts gain? At his best he is capable of replacing Garcon, who already has the talent to be a legitimate number two alongside Reggie Wayne. If he is healthy enough to compete, the Colts can field a group of receivers in 2012 that is still highly competitive if veteran wideout Reggie Wayne proves to be too expensive for another contract extension. A grouping of Collie, Gonzalez and Garcon would be potent enough that, at the very least , it would buy the team some time if the right wide receiver is not available in the 2012 NFL Draft.
If Gonzalez fails and suffers another injury, he lands on the injured reserve and the Colts will not sign him again.
If Gonzalez is cut, who is around to back up the starters? David Gilreath is new to the offense, Chris Brooks is inconsistent, and Taj Smith drops too many passes — and seems limited to “go” routes. White is likely to stay on the PUP list when the season starts, and WR Kole Heckendorf has been injured/waived.
With lingering injury concerns for Austin Collie, two of the top three tight ends returning from injuries, and no OTAs, it’s not prudent to go with a wide receiver corps that Manning has never thrown to. If Wayne is still too expensive to keep around after this season and Gonzalez has already been released, the Colts will have 2 holes at WR to fill.
Replacing players like Wayne and Gonzalez could require picks in the first two rounds of the draft. While a pair of early receiver picks may happen anyway, wouldn’t it fit the Colts mentality to keep a player around who can delay that kind of pressure on a pair of rookie receivers?
Gonzalez has not simply been a bench warmer during his time with the Colts. He’s shown he can be productive. He’s shown great work ethic, and even when injured is always talking with Peyton, discussing plays on the field, getting inside his mind. And for one more year, Gonzalez still represents the best option the Colts have to replace Harrison, or Wayne in 2012, or at least to provide a stop-gap until such a replacement is found.
When Hagler was let go, the team still had Session playing relatively well, and bright prospects in Cody Glenn and Ramon Humber. When Hayden was let go, the team still had Jerraud Powers, Jacob Lacey, and Justin Tryon with good amounts of starting experience to fall back upon. When Bob Sanders was let go, Melvin Bullitt was still on the roster to step into his role as starter, and had done so in three prior seasons already.
Gonzalez does not have that kind of backup behind him. He IS that backup safety net. Losing Gonzalez accomplishes nothing. Taking a risk on him costs nothing. Gonzo should keep his roster spot… for now.