One of the worst kept secrets over the last week has been that Ahmad Bradshaw was going to end up being a member of the Colts. Contract negotiations stalled and sputtered from time to time, but in the end it turned out just like everyone expected with him signing a one year deal worth $1.1 million with a signing bonus and some other bonuses based on him being active for games. Let’s take a look at what it means for all of the pieces involved:
Ahmad Bradshaw RB, IND
The draft was a disaster for free agent running backs like Bradshaw, Beanie Wells and others. The vast majority of potential landing spots for the free agents like Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Denver and St. Louis all ended up spending draft picks on running backs. With the immediate need for the majority of the league satisfied, the market became pretty much non-existent. For someone coming off of an operation, there wasn’t any reason to expect any kind of signing until summer, which is exactly what happened in Bradshaw’s case.
Looking at the deal Bradshaw signed, it is basically a one year, “prove it” deal. With the signing bonus and some other parts of the contract, he is going to be on the roster for this year and anything else isn’t guaranteed. The contract is basically paid by the number of games played with how the bonuses are set up so the Colts are protected from injury – that means even if he does get hurt (more on this later), they can keep him around for almost nothing. The better question is if he’ll be around next year, which will all come down to how he performs.
Speaking of the injuries, there is a common perception that Bradshaw is injury prone and unreliable. While he does have some chronic foot issues, calling him injury prone or unreliable may not be fair. Bradshaw is one of those players who misses a lot of practice time and is almost always on the injury report, but he really doesn’t miss many games. Brian Westbrook and Clinton Portis come to mind as other players who were always like this as well. The truth is Bradshaw averages 14 games played per season which is right in the middle of the pack for starting running backs. For reference, it is about three more games per season than Darren McFadden and a game and a half more than Ryan Mathews. I’m sure Bradshaw will be on injury reports and miss some practice time, but you can count on him to be on the field on game days, especially given the setup of his contract.
As for the talent level, even at 27 years old, he is far and away the most talented running back on the Colts roster. He is one of (if not the best) pass blocker in the league which is at a premium when it comes to protecting Andrew Luck. Bradshaw also has great hands and runs nice routes out of the backfield. To top it all off, he has the ability and toughness to run inside while possessing the speed and agility to turn the corner.
He has the skill set to never leave the field, but due to his history, I’m expecting 14-16 carries a game with three or four receptions to go with it. If you take his career production of 4.6 yards per carry and 8.2 yards per catch, that means we’re talking right around 100 total yards per game with a good shot at a touchdown – that should put him squarely in consideration for a RB2 slot or at least a flex play for this year.
The long term outlook is a lot more difficult to project for Bradshaw as it will all come down to injuries. If he can put his best foot forward (pun intended) and play at least 14 games this season, I would expect him to sign a relatively cheap two year contract with the Colts that would keep him there through the 2015 campaign, which would be his age 29 season. His veteran presence and experience winning Super Bowls will be very valuable to the young Colts. If he ends up missing significant time, this could be the end of the road for Bradshaw.
Vick Ballard RB, IND
This off-season for Ballard is yet another example of why we all need to take comments from coaches with a hefty grain of salt during the offseason. We heard for weeks (if not months) that Ballard was going to be “the guy” and be a “workhorse back.” Well, the truth is that coaches, especially during the offseason, almost always pump up their guys. Hopefully you realize that by now. However, when the chance comes along to get better, they jump all over it.
The truth about Ballard is he is really little more than “just a guy.” He isn’t fast, doesn’t possess much agility and his power is merely average. Production-wise he averaged less than four yards per carry and only managed two rushing touchdowns on the year. The signing of Bradshaw means Ballard is going to be the backup and someone who probably won’t reach double digit touches in a game unless Bradshaw misses some due to an injury. In those cases where Bradshaw misses time, I still don’t think Ballard is going to be much more than a Flex play on most teams, if that. That means that with Bradshaw in the mix, Ballard has no business being anywhere close to your starting lineup.
Andrew Luck QB, IND
Aside from Bradshaw, the person who should be the happiest right now is Andrew Luck. Not only did his team find a pretty solid upgrade when it comes to talent in the backfield, but they managed to sign one of the best blitz pickup running backs in the game. While I don’t think the signing will provide a massive boost in Luck’s fantasy production or anything like that, I do think that it will help Luck (and his fantasy owners) sleep better at night knowing that Bradshaw is helping to keep the pocket clean. Bradshaw’s presence should help keep defenses a bit more honest as well due to the increased threat in the backfield.
The other major impact on Luck is in terms of his development. Bradshaw’s experience with the Giants and winning championships provides another person Luck can learn from and also one who can help him to continue to develop into one of the best quarterbacks in the game.
Donald Brown RB, IND
I remember back when Donald Brown came into the league as a first round pick. I had really high hopes for him – so much so that when I was picking fourth my rookie draft that year, I was deciding between him and LeSean McCoy. Thankfully I went with McCoy because Brown has largely been a bust. While Brown was billed as a complete running back with speed, agility and power, he has never been able to adjust to the speed, tempo and dynamic of the game at the NFL level. He has flashed his ability from time-to-time (think about the 2012 preseason), but he dances around too much and has a hard time seeing and hitting the holes in the brief window they’re available in the NFL.
He is one of the running backs who is squarely on the chopping block when it comes down to a roster space due to Bradshaw’s signing. Personally, I think he’ll remain on the roster this year because he is more talented than the other options to be cut, but this is the final year of his contract. If he is cut, he is someone to keep track of. If he were to sign somewhere like Jacksonville, he has the talent that he might potentially figure things out and become fantasy worthy. If he stays on the Colts, he belongs on the waiver wire unless you’re going to hold out hope that he does something in 2014 on a different roster.
Kerwynn Williams RB, IND
The seventh round rookie is most likely safe on the roster. He’ll probably be the primary kick returner and help out on special teams. The Bradshaw signing pretty much kills any chances he had of seeing the field on offense, though.
Delone Carter RB, IND
Carter is the other player who many expect to be on the chopping block due to this signing and he’s my pick to be released. Carter is entering his third year with the Colts and has a hard time staying healthy with ankle and shoulder issues, just to name a few. He only touched the ball 33 times all of last season and is likely the odd man out. He might be signed elsewhere, but I don’t ever see him being that productive. The only thing that might save him is that he’s cheaper than Brown.
Beanie Wells, RB FA
It might seem strange to had Wells be a part of this article, but with Bradshaw off the market, he is now the top running back that is available. There are some definite injury concerns but he’s only 24 years old (25 in August) and just a year removed from a 1,000+ yard, ten touchdown season. He is the next best option and should an injury occur or teams that are lacking at the position (Jacksonville, I’m looking at you) decide to add someone, he’s the man they will call on. Don’t forget about him.
Find Jacob on Twitter at @feldmanjacob