In March, when the Colts’ signed Hakeem Nicks to a one year, $3.5M dollar contract, you may have been thinking, “Wow, what a bargain!”. Nicks is one of the bigger named receivers in the National Football League. At 26, he’s a player that’s a former Super Bowl XLVI Champion, and someone who’s had both big games and spectacular catches throughout his NFL career. Surely, he has a lot of good football left in him, right? RIGHT?
So how did we get to this point? Why is a receiver presumably in the prime of his career settling for a one year, “prove it” deal? To be blunt, Nicks wasn’t all that good in the 2013 NFL season with his former team, the New York Giants. He finished the year with 56 receptions, 896 yards, and 0 TD’s. That’s right 0 TD’s. Whether it was the result of nagging lower leg injuries or not, Nicks showed a lack of explosive burst that we’ve been accustomed to seeing from him throughout his NFL career. He had only two receptions of 50+ yards, both of which were against the Washington Redskins, one of the poorer pass defenses in the NFL last season.
The advanced statistics provided by our friends over at ProFootballFocus.com shed an equally negative light. In terms of all qualifying NFL receivers, Nicks graded out as the 69th ranked NFL wide receiver in receiving, right around other underperforming big named NFL receivers like Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe, Miami’s Mike Wallace, and ex-New York Jet Santonio Holmes (recently released). Such a ranking is hardly befitting of a player that was once one of the highest regarded young receivers in the NFL. Analyzing the advanced stats, I tried to find a silver lining. “Blocking, ah yes! Blocking! Maybe Nicks was called to block more and was quite effective at it?” Wrong. Nicks graded out 90th out of 111 qualifying NFL receivers. This ranking placed him right ahead of ex-Colt, Donnie Avery. Officially listed at 6’1″ and 208 lbs, Nicks is a slightly bigger receiver for NFL standards, so why is his blocking in the same stratosphere as the diminutive, 5’11” 200 lbs, Donnie Avery?
This leads me to believe that there were effort issues, and quite possibly, a lack of effort on Hakeem Nicks’ part last season for the Giants. Giants’ beat writer Jay Graziano indicated that Nicks’ chief motivation last season was to stay healthy, so that he could cash-in on a lucrative long-term contract this offseason. By worrying about injury, Nicks may have lost the aggressiveness that once made him so feared earlier in his career. Instead, he was timid, but timidness has no place in the NFL, as this is a warrior’s game. The best suggested way to avoid injury is to not worry about avoiding injury, but rather, play like you’ve always played. Ideally, things should take care of themselves. Nicks’ motivation to avoid injury in order to make big bucks clearly backfired, and that’s partly why we’re here on a one year, “prove it” deal.
Up to his point, you may be thinking, “Wow, this stinks. Nicks doesn’t sound that great. Way to burst my bubble.” However, it’s not all gloom and doom, as it relates to Nicks. This is a low risk, high reward signing, as the Colts’ didn’t have much to lose by this contract. If Nicks finds his knack again, this signing will be a steal, and Colts’ GM Ryan Grigson will have hit a homerun. The Colts’ still have the funds to sign Nicks to a long-term extension after this season, giving QB Andrew Luck another explosive toy at his passing disposal long-term. If Nicks falters, well, it’s only one year. No harm, no foul. He’ll be given his walking papers much like WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (DHB) was this offseason, who was on a prior one year, “prove it” deal that didn’t work out as the Colts initially intended.
To be fair, the New York Giants offense struggled a bit as a whole last season. QB Eli Manning led the league in interceptions at 27 (5 more than the next QB, Joe Flacco), and the offense as a whole was 19th overall in passing yards per game. The offensive line suffered through injuries and inept play, and the running game was laboring through injury, losing both RB David Wilson (season-ending IR) and RB Andre Brown (returning Week 10) to significant time, throwing the offense largely off-balance.
Highly renowned doctors have given Nicks’ the green light on all of his previous lower leg ailments, so it looks like Nicks may be due for a bit of a bounce back year. I don’t fully expect him to be the pro-bowl caliber receiver we saw earlier in his career. The good news for Nicks is that he won’t necessarily have to be. He’ll already be an upgrade to DHB if he can make routine catches. If WR Reggie Wayne fully recovers from an ACL tear, Nicks will join Wayne and up-and-coming receiver, T.Y. Hilton, to form a pretty formidable trio of receivers. It shouldn’t be one guy carrying the load, as these guys will hopefully be able to work together. Outside Wayne, Nicks at age 26, will be considered a veteran for the purposes of this receiving corps, so theoretically, he should be able to show a thing or two about NFL receiving nuances to the Colts’ projected young receivers: T.Y. Hilton (24), Da’Rick Rogers (22), LaVon Brazill (25), and Griff Whalen (24). How it will fully work out remains to be seen. However, Colts’ fans remain hopeful that Nicks will find his knack and be more productive next season.