The Indianapolis Colts were one victory away from reaching the 2015 Super Bowl, and they’re hoping to take the next step and win a championship next season. In an effort to improve their team, the Colts have added a few of the most high-profile free agents on the market, while saying goodbye to one of the best receivers of the past decade.
Prior to the start of free agency, the Colts announced that they would not re-sign wide receiver Reggie Wayne. A week later, the team has agreed to contracts with wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Frank Gore.
Wayne has spent his entire 14-year career with Indianapolis, reaching the Pro Bowl six times. He’s surpassed the 1,000-yard mark eight times, and has been one of the best players in Colts’ history. But Wayne has been on the decline in the last two years, and offseason moves to offset his absence may have strengthened the offense.
Indianapolis was a top offensive team last year under offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, ranking third in total yards (6,506) and sixth in points per game (28.6). Andrew Luck continued to get better, throwing for 4,761 yards and leading all quarterbacks with 40 touchdown passes. His production has a chance to increase in 2015, now that he has new weapons at his disposal.
While Johnson and Wayne are both out of the conversation as the NFL’s top receivers, the Colts’ newest addition appears to be the better option going forward. Wayne totaled just 102 receptions the past two years, missing half of 2013 with a season-ending injury and catching only two touchdown passes in 2014. Johnson had a down year by his standards last season, but he could see a resurgence in 2015.
Three years younger than Wayne, Johnson is still capable of being a No.1 wide receiver. He won’t be asked to be Luck’s top option, playing alongside T.Y. Hilton, Johnson may still have a lot left in the tank.
Catching passes from three mediocre quarterbacks in 2014, Johnson still managed to catch 85 passes for 936 yards in 15 games. Much like Wayne saw his receiving total increase by 395 yards when Indianapolis went from Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky to Luck, Johnson could see him numbers improve with a much better quarterback. With Matt Schaub as the Houston Texans’ quarterback for the majority of 2012 and 2013, Johnson caught 221 passes for 2,005 yards.
Johnson has played with below-average quarterbacks for most of his career, and he’s still been the NFL’s most prolific receiver since he was drafted in 2003. He’s never recorded fewer than 1,142 yards when playing all 16 games, and he could put up similar numbers next year. In his final two games of the 2014 season, Johnson combined for 199 receiving yards. While age may catch up to Johnson, he could have extra motivation by playing for a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2015.
Not only will the swap of Johnson for Wayne help Indianapolis’ offense, but the addition of Frank Gore could also be key. Indianapolis had the league’s top passing attack in 2014, but they ranked just 22nd in rushing. Current free agent Ahmad Bradshaw was hurt for much of the year, rushing for just 425 yards. Trent Richardson led the team with 519 rushing yards, but he averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and could be cut or traded this offseason.
Gore is no longer an elite rusher, but he’s still productive. He played all 16 games last year, rushing for 1,106 yards, and has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in eight of the last nine seasons. At 32 years old, Gore could see his numbers decrease next season. But he won’t carry the full load, possibly splitting carries with Daniel Herron, who got the majority of the carries for the Colts in the playoffs. The Colts are expected to draft an offensive lineman, which could bolster the ground game.
Since drafting Luck in 2012, Indianapolis has gotten better each year. They were knocked out of the first round in the quarterback's rookie season, reached the Divisional Round in 2013 and made it to the AFC Championship in January. Improving their offense and having a more experienced Luck could put the Colts over the top and help them reach the Super Bowl for the first time in a decade.
The New England Patriots are still the favorites in the conference, but the Colts are not far behind, having been given the second-best odds of any AFC team to win the Super Bowl.