One of the greatest Indianapolis Colts may decide to call it quits this offseason. The team’s future Hall of Fame wideout Reggie Wayne is a soon-to-be free agent, and it’s uncertain whether this past Sunday’s brutal 45-7 loss to New England in the AFC Championship will be his last game in the NFL. When asked whether he’s played his last snap, Wayne noted on Monday:
"“Once I hit Nashville, I’ll figure out the rest,” Wayne said, in reference to the 16 hour drive he makes to his home in Miami every offseason. “I’ll make my outline and go from there. I don’t have a plan. I’ve never had one. I just gotta make a couple phone calls, say a couple of prayers and see what route the good Lord sends me.”"
In what has been a decorated career for the team’s beloved 14-year veteran, Wayne is one of the all-time great wide receivers in both Indianapolis Colts franchise and NFL history. Among his notable career rankings:
- 2nd in Indianapolis Colts franchise receptions with 1,070 (*7th in NFL History)
- 2nd in Indianapolis Colts franchise receiving yards with 14,345 (*8th in NFL History)
- 2nd in Indianapolis Colts franhise touchdowns with 82 (*22nd in NFL History)
Often overshadowed early in his career by fellow teammate Marvin Harrison, a future Hall of Famer in his own right, Wayne later proved that he was a bonafide #1 wideout all by himself. Never a tremendous down the field threat even in his prime, Wayne’s greatness was in his dependability, consistency in running routes, and most importantly, those Hall of Fame sure-hands.
However, what impressed me most about Wayne was always his leadership and work ethic. As the Colts moved from the “Peyton Manning Era” to a new frontier of Andrew Luck, it was Wayne who eased the transition. Despite receiving interest from the New England Patriots of all teams in the 2012 offseason, Wayne decided to stay with the only team he’s ever known, in part to help the Colts star young quarterback early on in his career:
"“It’s kind of unfair to Andrew,” Reggie Wayne said. “That’s another reason why I’m glad I stayed, to help him [Luck] create his own legacy. He’s going to have to win some games, win some rings, before he can completely get out of Peyton’s shadow. But I think he’s on the right path. He’s already done some things that Peyton didn’t do his rookie year [regarding to 2012].”"
Reggie Wayne had two catches and a touchdown in the Colts’ win over the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
(Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)
When entirely new coaches, front office personnel, and players came into the organization, Wayne was one of the lone bridges, as he successfully linked two distinguished eras of Colts football. The only Colts wide receiver to catch passes from both Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, aside from ironically Austin Collie‘s 1 reception in 2012 from Luck.
A highly regarded player that’s been there for the highs of the Colts franchise, as a 2006 Super Bowl Champion, as well as the lows when the team went 2-14 in the 2011 regular season.
However, Wayne clearly wasn’t himself this season after a Week 7 elbow injury that he suffered against the Cincinnati Bengals. It was later reported that Wayne was dealing with a torn triceps injury, which was directly attributable to his diminished play and uncharacteristic drops. A significant injury for a veteran player that was still looking to fully recover from a torn ACL he suffered in 2013 and feeling the direct effects from.
In the Colts three combined postseason games, Wayne had just 1 reception for 12 yards total, after failing to catch a pass in the team’s last two games. At age 36, the Colts and Wayne have to seriously wonder if “this is it“. It’s no real shame, as father time eventually catches all of us. The one constant despite advanced science and technology that we cannot truly escape.
Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne (87) against the Denver Broncos in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Colts defeated the Broncos 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Perhaps Wayne would still be going strong if not for the unfortunate injuries in recent seasons, as they likely accentuated the aging process. However, 14 years of playing wide receiver in the NFL is a great accomplishment in itself. It takes a tremendous work ethic, as well as a considerable amount of luck.
If Wayne elects to return, it’s unclear whether he’ll be able to regain more of his previous form. In turn, it’s uncertain whether the Colts will want to bring him back. The front office will be charged with the tough task of possibly pushing one of the greatest Indianapolis Colts in franchise history out the door.
However, I always tell myself, if it can happen to Peyton Manning…it can happen to literally anyone.
Yet, Wayne knows his body more than anyone, and hopefully, he’ll know when it’s truly time. If he can return to the player the team saw early in 2013 or even 2014, he’ll still have a role within the offense. However, if not, it’ll be hard to envision the Colts keeping a wideout, who can no longer get any separation on his routes and at an advanced NFL age, cannot play special teams.
The Wayne that the Colts saw late in this year’s season wasn’t the John Wayne we’re accustomed to seeing. It was a wideout that was no longer a starting caliber player. A diminished player, who still looked the part even if he could no longer play it.
It’s now Wayne’s choice of whether he wants to ride off in the sunset or go for one last ride…
Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne (87) waves to the crowd after the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports