After the top three, though, things get awfully dicey and awfully inexperienced. As luck would have it, two experienced receivers, Justin McCareins of the Jets and Washington's Brandon Lloyd were recently cut from the ranks of their respective teams.
Are they good fits for the Colts and what Peyton Manning and company like to do on offense? At first glance, the answer would seem to be no, since Indianapolis does not make it a habit to sign the castaways of other teams, but a closer look shows that these men might fill very useful roles on the Colts roster.
Starting with McCareins, there seems to be an issue when you first look at him. At 6 feet, 2 inches, he would be the tallest receiver on a team that employs four other men at the position that stand at exactly 6 feet and he would be the biggest man in the unit at 215 pounds.
McCareins battles the Patriots Ellis Hobbs
He's never had the long speed or the leaping ability to burn a defense deep and, whatever speed he did have, he has probably lost a step over the years. He also turns 30 in December.
However, he is a very accomplished possession receiver, has the size and ability to separate himself from the cornerback at the line of scrimmage, and the strength and body control to box the defender out on slants and in routes. But, he also shows surprisingly good burst running after the catch and is still fairly dangerous with the ball in his hands.
The issue with McCareins, though, is going to be the issue with any big possession-type receiver that becomes available in free agency — the Colts already have someone to fill this role and his name is Dallas Clark.
With Clark signing a big extension last week, it's doubtful that Indianapolis will pursue someone that is older, not a known quantity, and will cost them additional cap dollars that they could spend elsewhere on a player that can help them.
It just so happens that Brandon Lloyd is a player that can help them. What makes Lloyd intriguing is the traits he shares in common with another Brandon, Brandon Stokley.
Lloyd is about the same age as Stokley was when he signed with Indianapolis in 2003, he's about the same size as Stokley and has a similar skill set, and both men were miscast in the role of the second receiver, with both of them more comfortable working in the slot.
Stokley flourished in the slot during his time with the Colts, but it warrants mentioning, popular as he was and still is, that he had only one very productive year — 2004, when he had 68 receptions for 1,078 yards and 10 touchdowns — mixed in with three other fairly disappointing years in which he totaled 71 catches for 838 yards and five touchdowns.
Lloyd with the 49ers in 2005
It is safe to say that Lloyd does not have to have a huge season to fill the void in production left by Stokley's absence.
With Lloyd in the slot, Clark at tight end, and Harrison and Wayne at the other receiver positions, the Colts could once again have a highly explosive offense and Manning could reclaim some of the records that he lost to Tom Brady in 2007.
This new offense, though, would need to exclude Gonzalez, and that is not likely to happen, since Lloyd is neither as talented as Gonzalez, nor as important to the Colts future. So, signing Lloyd would not spell an end to Gonzalez's career in Indianapolis, but it could mean trouble for Harrison, or provide evidence that Marvin's days with the team could be numbered — more likely through retirement than release.
However Indianapolis chooses to sort out the depth chart, the top four men on it cannot be Harrison, Wayne, Gonzalez, and Lloyd. The fourth receiver typically contributes on special teams and none of these four men is skilled enough in that area or has enough experience in the kicking game to make much of a contribution.That means that one of them needs to go and the most likely candidate is Harrison, although the timing is probably not right.
Odds are good that Harrison will return this season, but probably not beyond that, so it points to Lloyd finding a home elsewhere.
But, should the Colts show interest in Lloyd, it means that either Harrison's knee injury is more severe than reported, Harrison is contemplating retirement, or both.