After being informed last week by the Indianapolis Colts the team would not renew his contract, former BYU wide receiver Austin Collie will be looking to sign with a new NFL team when the free-agent signing period opens March 12.
There are plenty, from fans to journalists, who are suggesting Collie should retire from professional football, after he’s dealt with concussion issues since 2010 and went down for the year in 2012 with a knee injury. It’s not his passion or talent they question; rather, it’s the fact they don’t want to see someone with such a strong work ethic and undeniable passion for the game do irreversible damage that could haunt his long-term health.
“Football is a mean business, but this organization has a caring soul, and I don’t believe (Colts owner and CEO) Jim Irsay wanted to continue to employ a guy who may have post-concussion issues long after he retires from the game. It was a matter of conscience,” Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz wrote last Friday.
Collie, not surprisingly, said he’s determined to continue his NFL career.
“I’m playing,’’ Collie told The Indianapolis Star. “Right now, it would take a doctor to tell me, ‘You can’t play anymore.’ I feel like this is a gift that I’ve been given, and personally I feel I should still be doing it. That’s just me.’’
With his injury history, Collie will not command a big contract. So, what options are available?
Here’s a look at a few teams who could be in use of his services:
Denver Broncos (13-3 in 2012, lost in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs): One of the most discussed destinations for Collie is Denver, where he would be reunited with Peyton Manning. The duo played together in Indianapolis, and it was during the 2009-10 seasons Collie put up his best numbers in the NFL (118 receptions, 1,325 yards, 15 touchdowns). Slot receiver Brandon Stokley caught 45 passes for 544 yards and five touchdowns last season, but he, like Collie, will be an unrestricted free agent when the market opens next month. Denver wide receiver Matt Willis will also be a free agent. If the Broncos don’t re-sign either Stokley, who turns 37 in June, or Willis, they could be in the market to add depth behind their top two wide receivers, Demaryius Thomas (1,434 yards and 10 TDs last year) and Eric Decker (1,064 and 13).
Atlanta Falcons (13-3 in 2012, lost in the NFC championship game): The Falcons’ wide receiving crew is led by the complimentary duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones, who combined for 171 catches, 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. After those two, the Falcons — who came up just short of reaching the Super Bowl — could be in the search for depth, as only Harry Douglas (395 yards) had more than 100 receiving yards among the team’s other wideouts. The Falcons may also lose 16-year NFL veteran Tony Gonzalez to retirement, expediting the team’s need for help in the passing game.
New York Giants (9-7 in 2012, missed the playoffs): Like the Falcons and Broncos, there is no dispute who the Giants’ top two receivers are. Victor Cruz (1,092 yards and 10 TDs in 2012) and Hakeem Nicks (692 yards and three in an injured-riddled season) provide the New York passing offense with a major spark, and the team has an emerging producer at tight end in Martellus Bennett. Cruz is a restricted free agent, and two other wide receivers, Dominek Hixon and Ramses Barden, are unrestricted free agents. The Giants, who are tight against the salary cap, could be in search of a cheaper, productive option at wideout, which Collie could provide.
New England Patriots (12-4 in 2012, lost in the AFC championship game): Any chance Collie would be looked at for the joining New England team likely depends on what happens with Wes Welker, the Patriots’ leading receiver last year (118 receptions, 1,354 yards and six touchdowns) out of the slot position. The Patriots are one of the league’s most prolific passing offenses, and Welker has proven dependable and durable in their system. New England must decide if it will put the franchise tag on Welker or if it will let the unrestricted free agent test the NFL open market. New England also has a pair of other wide receivers, Deion Branch and Julian Edelman, who will be unrestricted free agents; both put up respectable numbers last season and if they aren’t re-signed, New England could be on the lookout for wideout talent.
Cleveland Browns (5-11 in 2012, missed the playoffs) or Buffalo Bills (6-10 in 2012, missed the playoffs): Both of these teams are in need of stronger play out of their wide receivers. The Browns have a No. 1 wideout in Josh Gordon (50 receptions for 805 yards and five TDs in 2012) and Greg Little has shown flashes, but is inconsistent. Cleveland also has a pair of wide receivers who will be unrestricted free agents, Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs. The Bills are in much the same situation, with a clear No. 1 receiver in Stevie Johnson (79 receptions for 1,046 yards and six TDs last year). Beyond that, Buffalo’s wide receiving crew had minimal impact in 2012. The team will have three free agents, including David Nelson and Donald Jones (restricted) and Ruvell Martin (unrestricted). Collie’s strong work ethic could create positive competition for either team.