Indianapolis Colts  

 

Colts must pick right horse in Wayne-Mathis payday derby

Reggie Wayne or Robert Mathis?

With both players entering the final year of their contracts, that's the question Colts president Bill Polian is facing as he attempts to decide which veteran will give Indianapolis the best opportunity to make a sustained run at another Super Bowl title.

Although conventional wisdom suggests that defense wins championships, the Colts have been a perennial contender due to their high-powered offense. Indianapolis has finished among the top-five offenses in six out of the last eight years, and the team has captured six division titles and went to the playoffs every season during that span.

That's why retaining Wayne makes the most sense for the Colts' long-term future.

While Peyton Manning is certainly the most valuable player on the roster, he needs a stellar supporting cast to maintain his high level of play.

Wayne, a five-time Pro Bowler, has been a model of consistency, producing seven straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons with 80-plus receptions in six of those seasons. Those numbers are remarkable on their own merit, but he deserves credit for being the rare complementary receiver who blossomed into a No.1 target in the middle of his career.

Since supplanting Marvin Harrison as Manning's top option in 2007, Wayne has ranked among the league leaders in receptions, tallying at least 100 in three of the past four seasons.

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Granted, the Colts' wide-open, no-huddle offense provides Wayne with plenty of opportunities. However, he is much more than a system player. Wayne is a polished receiver with an all-around game. From his precise route running to his exceptional hand-eye coordination, he shows few flaws on film. He is versatile enough to do damage as a possession receiver, yet also able to make plays downfield.

Now, a strong argument could be waged that Mathis is just as vital to the Colts. Their defensive system relies heavily on the defensive line to create pressure, and Mathis has been one of the game's most-productive pass rushers during his eight-year career, with 74 sacks and double-digit totals in two of the past three seasons.

As an undersized speed rusher with explosive first-step quickness, Mathis overwhelms offensive tackles with his burst and acceleration. He complements his straight-line speed with athleticism and agility that allow win with a frenetic style off the edge. Throw in his non-stop motor and penchant for creating turnovers (36 career forced fumbles), and there is no denying his impact as a pass rusher.

Even with all the production, the Colts should have some concerns about Mathis' game and long-term prospects.

At 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, Mathis lacks the bulk and power to hold up against the run. He routinely gets knocked off the ball and his inability to hold the point allows opponents to run successfully on the edges. In the past, the Colts kept him off the field on early downs to compensate for his deficiencies, but he has been forced to play more in running situations due to their lack of depth at end. Given their consistent struggles to stop opposing ground games, keeping Mathis on the field more might not be a wise idea.

If that's the case, the Colts should think long and hard about investing significant dollars in a situational player who downplayed a recent report he'll holdout.

To that point, the Colts have already found Mathis' eventual successor in 2010 first-round pick Jerry Hughes. Even though he didn't make a substantial impact as a rookie, Hughes is a young, athletic rusher with the potential to develop into a disruptive force. If Hughes develops according to plans, it will make it easier to part ways with Mathis at the end of his deal.

The Colts' title window is closing quickly, but picking the right veteran could make another run at a ring a strong possibility. With Manning and the offense ultimately holding the key to those hopes, there is no doubt that the money should head in Wayne's direction.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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