In NFL, loyalty only goes so far


Forget, for a moment, that Reggie Wayne is a New England Patriot.

That’s not the most egregious part of his departure from the Indianapolis Colts.

The worst part is that he was ever allowed to depart. Period.

That’s the real letdown.

Galling as it is for fans to see Wayne join the Pats, it didn’t have to be this way. He could still be suiting up for the Colts.

Yet the Colts turned him way. So what was a player with his pedigree — with his burning desire to play, to compete and to win a championship — to do?

Take the best opportunity, of course. And it just so happens that New England provided the best opportunity.

Nothing “disloyal” or “traitorous” about it. Very good career move on his part.

Bad move on the Colts’ part, though, not to offer him a contract. Guys like Reggie Wayne, declining skills and all, are gold commodities in a locker room crammed with youngsters who revere him and follow his sterling lead.

That’s the value of Reggie Wayne, whether he catches passes or not.

No doubt he’s not the player he was two years ago. No doubt roster spots are precious and few. No doubt the Colts didn’t want to pay him. No doubt, from their perspective, the money would be better spent on someone who could contribute more on the field.

But this is Reggie Wayne, a quintessential pro, a future Hall of Famer, a face of the franchise, a player whom fans love and respect nearly as much Peyton Manning. Maybe even more so, in some circles.

His leadership alone had nearly as much to do with the Colts’ post-Manning success as Andrew Luck’s greatness out of the gate, and there is little question that he — not Marvin Harrison — is the most beloved wide receiver in franchise history.

If loyalty were an issue, as some disgruntled faithful have espoused, it would start with the Colts. They declined to pursue him in free agency. This, despite six Pro Bowl nods, a Super Bowl championship and his decision to remain with the team after the 2-14 debacle of 2011 and the wholesale housecleaning that followed.

But the NFL being a business, loyalty only goes so far. It ends when production and paychecks don’t line up. The Colts made a business decision not to re-sign Wayne, and Wayne made a business decision to sign with the Pats.

Simple as that.

In a perfect world, Wayne would have retired a Colt. So would have Peyton Manning, Jeff Saturday, Dallas Clark, Dwight Freeney, Bob Sanders, Edgerrin James, et al. But in the salary cap/revolving door free-agency era, the NFL is not a perfect world.

Far from it.

Players come and players go. Many, if not most, are readily forgotten once they leave town. Their losses aren’t grieved. Heavy emotional investments are reserved for a select few.

Reggie Wayne was one of the few.

Watching him play in any uniform other than a Colts uniform will be surreal. The fact that he’ll be doing it in New England only makes it more so.

Rick Morwick is sports editor for the Daily Journal in Johnson County, a sister paper of The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected].

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