If you haven’t already heard, Marvin Harrison has been released by the Indianapolis Colts this week, ending a 13 year career with the team highlighted by numerous NFL records and a Super Bowl victory in 2007.
I had a lot of trouble figuring out which angle I wanted to come at this story from. Would I talk about the release of Harrison itself; how the Colts could not afford to pay him his worth and him not willing to take a pay-cut to stay with the team? Would I talk about his legacy as a Colt; how he and Peyton Manning have hooked up more times than any other QB-WR duo in the history of the game, how in 2002 he set the NFL record for most receptions in a season, how he had 1000+ receiving yards and 10+ receiving touchdowns in eight straight seasons in Indy, how he was selected to eight Pro-Bowls, and how he let his game talk for itself – never uttering a word to the media begging for attention and glory? Would I talk about where he could end up next season; how he is the second best receiver available behind Anquan Boldin, how quarterback Donovan McNabb wants a premiere receiver to throw to in Philly, how the Giants are in need of someone to replace wideout Plaxico Burress, how Harrison would make any team in the NFL better starting on day one?
Then I thought to myself, if this is all true, why wouldn’t the Colts front the money to keep this guy around?
In 2007, Harrison missed all but five games due to a knee injury. In those five games he played he only managed 20 catches and made it into the endzone just once. This opened the door for Reggie Wayne to steal the spotlight in Indy. And he hasn’t given it back.
The same season Harrison was sidelined for the injury, Reggie Wayne put up career numbers in receptions, receiving yards, and yards per game. His move from the second option to the first option in the pass-happy Colt offense only increased his already stellar stats; three straight seasons of at least 77 catches and 1000 receiving yards entering the 2007 season. Wayne, a standout wide receiver from the University of Miami,
was more than ready to take over the job that had been occupied by Harrison for over a decade.
When the 2008 season started, it must have been terribly difficult for Manning to decide who he would throw to now that Wayne proved himself as an all-pro receiver and his partner in crime Harrison would be coming back from injury and dying to touch the ball. No matter what Manning’s feelings were, Wayne was thrown to quite a bit more than Harrison was that season. Wayne caught 82 balls for 1145 yards to Harrison’s 60 catches and 636 yards. The endzone visits were comparable, 6 to 5 respectively, but it was clear who had become the main target in Indy.
The emergence of receiver Anthony Gonzalez, second-year receiver out of Ohio State, only made it easier to shift Harrison out of the picture. Gonzalez grabbed 57 passes for 664 yards and four touchdowns in 2008; all very close to Harrison’s numbers, but at an age 12 years younger.
Looking at it that way, it’s not at all difficult to see why Harrison was not worth his elite price tag to the Colts’ frontoffice. Wayne is emerging as one of the best receivers in the game while Gonzalez shows a lot of promise for the future. On the backend of his career, with his best football behind him, there’s no room for Harrison in Indianapolis.
So what next for Harrison? Will he end up in his hometown of Philadelphia catching passes from McNabb for the Eagles? Will he end up in New York, filling the shoes of Burress who is dealing with legal troubles off the field? Will he end up in Chicago, catching passes from god-knows-who, breathing some life into a team whose offense scores less than its defense? Will he end up in Tennessee or Baltimore, two teams that are title contenders but one piece away from completing the Super Bowl puzzle?
Only one thing is for sure: Marvin Harrison is one of the best wide receivers of the last 15 years. In an era with wide recievers like Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Chad Johnson (Chad Ocho-Cinco?), guys who spend more time running their mouths about anything and everything while drawing attention to themselves than running routes and catching passes, maybe there really is no room for a quiet, hard-working guy like Harrison.
Buyer beware! To teams looking at picking up Harrison this spring or summer, don’t expect his 143 catch, 1722 yard season of 2002. Don’t expect his 15 touchdown season of 2001 or 2004, either. What can you expect? A guy that will show up to training camp on time; a guy that won’t miss a practice; a guy that will catch whatever ball is thrown his way and not cough it up to the defense (only seven fumbles lost in 190 career games); an on-the-feild and in-the-locker room leader; a guy that will leave it all on the feild – win or lose.
The Colts may not have been able to justify keeping him around, but I know that one team will be more than happy to have a cool-headed, all-pro wide receiver line up wearing their uniform in Week 1. You’ve had a Hall of Fame career, Mr. Harrison, and that will be official five years after you retire. But what’s the rush?