Coming off a dormant offensive showing against the New England Patriots in their 45-7 AFC Championship loss, the Indianapolis Colts know they have to upgrade their wide receiver position this offseason.
In this case, bigger is better.
Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Chris Matthews (13) catches a pass against New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington (25) in the second quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
After seeing the Seattle Seahawks 6’5″, 218 pounds, Chris Matthews dominate the New England Patriots talented secondary in Super Bowl XLIX to the tune of 4 receptions, 109 yards, and 1 touchdown, the Colts should be preparing to find another similar big wideout in either the draft or free agency.
To their credit, the team has already taken one positive step by signing Duron Carter, who was a star wideout in the CFL last season. At a listed 6’5″, 205 pounds, Carter will provide a big and athletic target for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck next season, if he’s as good as initially advertised.
However, that alone cannot be the only upgrade that the team invests in their wide receiver position this offseason. Preferrably, they need to be able to find a proven veteran wide receiver, who can effectively fill Reggie Wayne‘s void as their possession wideout going forward. They don’t have that wideout anymore, as there’s no one on the roster right now that’s both physically big enough and proven they can play the part. It wasn’t too long ago after all, that Wayne dubbed the Colts’ receiving unit as “Smurfs“:
"“They’re all Smurfs. I thought once they put on pads, they’d get bigger, but they’re still Smurfs. Not only are they Smurfs, but when they get the ball, they’re dangerous with it,” Wayne said."
Don’t get me wrong, T.Y. Hilton is one of the best young wide receivers in the NFL, but he’s more of a “home run hitter” and big playmaker at a diminutive, yet dangerous 5’9″, 178 pounds. He’s not the type of wideout that’s going to consistently catch those critical 3rd down throws, those 7 yard catches over the middle, and consistently move the chains down the field due to his smaller stature.
The Colts need someone, as Matthews showed last night, that’s open even when they’re not really open. What I mean is someone that due to their imposing physical size can make tough catches even when they’re seemingly “covered”. A wideout that can win a jump-ball or “catch it where they can’t” regarding opposing cornerbacks.
Nov 24, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) and Indianapolis Colts cornerback Cassius Vaughn (32) attempt to catch a ball during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Unfortunately for the Colts, there aren’t many of those proven caliber of wideouts who normally reach free agency. However, it looks as though longtime Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald could very well be one of the exceptions.
The big 6’3″, 218 pound veteran is due a $23.6MM cap hit for 2015, which has no chance of actually occurring. If the two sides can’t successfully reach a renegotiated contract, then there’s a strong chance that Fitzgerald has played his last game in the desert.
The 11-year veteran is currently the Arizona Cardinals all-time franchise leader in career receptions with 909, career receiving yards with 12,151, and career touchdowns with 89. To put that in perspective to the NFL’s all-time receiving marks, the sure-handed Fitzgerald ranks:
- 19th in NFL career receptions
- 21st all-time in NFL career receiving yards
- 12th in career NFL touchdowns
While Fitzgerald isn’t quite the dominating superstar wideout he once was, he remains a really good veteran wide receiver in the NFL. Still only 31 years old, he figures to have a handful of productive years left. He may not be the tremendous vertical, down-the-field threat he was in his prime, but with Hilton and to a lesser extent Donte Moncrief already in the fold, the Colts don’t necessarily need him to be.
On the season, he had 63 receptions for 784 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns, despite dealing with a knee injury. Per the advanced grades provided by ProFootballFocus (subscription), his +2.5 overall grade in 2014 placed him as the 31st best wideout overall.
Dec 28, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) runs a route during the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi
However, Fitzgerald could be a great candidate for a bounceback season in 2015. He’s just one year removed from a season with the Cardinals that saw him catch 82 receptions for 954 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013. According to ProFootballFocus, his +12.0 overall grade in 2013 ranked him as the 11th best wide receiver in the NFL, a season in which he was fully healthy.
To be fair too, he hasn’t played with an elite quarterback since Kurt Warner all the way back in 2009. In truth, he’s suffered in receiving production from the likes of Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb, Drew Stanton, and Ryan Lindley among others as his starting quarterback in recent seasons.
While the Colts took a chance on Hakeem Nicks in a somewhat similar bounceback proposition last season, Fitzgerald looks like he’s a safer rebound candidate for this next season than Nicks was entering last season, all things considered. For comparison purposes, Nicks’ ProfootballFocus grade with the New York Giants in 2013 was a -2.8, placing him as the 69th best receiver overall, well behind Fitzgerald’s 31st overall mark this season.
The Colts could use Fitzgerald’s veteran presence among their young wideouts, a player who’s been highly regarded throughout his decorated career for both his strong leadership and coachability while with the Cardinals. If he actually hits the free agent market, which is a big if, he can be expected to be sought after by a number of NFL contenders, including possibly the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.
Even his own head coach, former Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, doesn’t want to lose him. He called Fitzgerald the “ultimate team player” and is praying that he’ll remain with the Cardinals:
"“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t,” Arians said. “We definitely, desperately want him to stay. He knows that. It’s really his decision.”I’m hoping and praying every day that it does happen,” Arians added. “I’ve expressed to him personally how much it means to us.”"
He had nothing but high praise for the versatility of his beloved veteran wideout’s polished game, further commenting:
"“God yeah. Larry has become one of the best blockers, like Hines Ward, in the league,” Arians said. “You really have to be a football player to have that role. But he knows how much it helps the team. He’s learned to play in the slot well, he can still play outside. He can do pretty much everything in the offense.”“He’s bought into what we’re doing offensively,” Arians remarked."
In that regard, he sounds a lot like what Reggie Wayne has been to the Colts in the past few seasons, “Mr. Everything”. With the aforementioned revered Colts veteran seemingly on his last leg, Fitzgerald would be a great candidate to fulfill Wayne’s possession wideout role going forward and strengthen the offense. It’s still a big if, but one that could possibly pay off dividends if Fitzgerald is agreeable to a bit of a pay reduction while playing with Andrew Luck and indeed hits free agency.
For the Colts, in regards to possibly signing Larry Fitzgerald, “bigger would be better” next season.
Oct 13, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians congratulates Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) after he scored a touchdown in second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. San Francisco 49ers won 32-20. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports