No matter how many additions the Indianapolis Colts make to their offense, the most important factor remains Reggie Wayne's rebuilt knee.
Hakeem Nicks will help, regardless of Wayne's return. The former New York Giants wide receiver who agreed to terms with the Colts on Friday, has the speed to be a deep threat and the hands to make the tough catches. Nicks' only real knock is being susceptible to injury. But his effectiveness, and the Colts' offensive effectiveness, will be bolstered immeasurably if Wayne is healthy.
Wayne's surgically repaired knee is a mystery that won't be revealed until training camp at the earliest. It could be the preseason or even the season opener before we have a real feel for whether Wayne can return to the level of play that made him the most reliable receiver in the NFL the last few seasons.
If Wayne comes back to his level, and T.Y. Hilton takes his presumed third-season step forward, then Nicks becomes a great way to keep defenses honest.
I'd take a healthy Wayne over every receiver in the NFL not named Calvin Johnson because of his reliability, leadership and work ethic. The latter attribute is on display for all to see every training camp, when he stays religiously after practice to catch balls out of the Jugs machine, forever working on his reflexes and hands.
A healthy Wayne makes Andrew Luck a better quarterback because he relaxes Luck. Yes, Luck learned how to deal with playing without Wayne as a security blanket, and it improved Luck's leadership and approach. But how much better could Luck be if Wayne returned to form, along with a more fully mature – in the football sense – Hilton and a reliable third option in Nicks?
Colts coach Chuck Pagano always mentions Wayne's work ethic and inner drive and how he expects him to do everything he has to do to return to the field and be a go-to receiver. Anyone who has seen Wayne's approach knows he will put in as much work as is humanly possible.
But, there's reason to doubt and worry. Knee injuries and wide receivers don't always mix well. Throw in age (Wayne is 35) and that makes his return to form even more tenuous.
So the Colts signing Nicks is a prudent move. The NFL (Not For Long) waits for no one when it comes to age and injury. The Colts won't ditch Wayne if he's not ready to go by the time training camp rolls around. They must, however, prepare for the possibility he won't be the same receiver moving forward.
The unknown with Wayne presents a quandary for general manager Ryan Grigson, which is a big reason for bringing Nicks in.
While Nicks has had injury issues, he has much better hands than Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was supposed to complement Wayne and Hilton last season, but had the minor problem of being unable to catch a football. Nicks has 311 catches for 4,622 yards and 27 touchdowns in five seasons. He's proven to be a consistent receiver far above Heyward-Bey. He's not in Wayne's league. But he's much more of a sure thing than any receivers the Colts could snare in the second round or lower in the May draft.
Reaching a one-year deal with Nicks allows the Colts to keep their options open moving forward. It also allows Nicks to prove he can stay healthy and possibly become a long-term option alongside Hilton when Wayne finally reaches the end of his career. The continued development of Da'Rick Rogers and Griff Whalen can also add depth to the Colts receiving corps.
Among wide receivers, Nicks was apparently graded higher by the Colts than the other big name, Eric Decker, who signed with the New York Jets. So the Colts achieved their goal to bolster the depth of receivers on the roster.
The question still remains: Will Wayne return to form and make this unit a contender for best in the NFL?