A former teammate knows where Reggie Wayne belongs: in the Indianapolis Colts Ring of Honor.
“Put (Wayne’s name) right beside me, man,’’ Edgerrin James said prior to joining the team’s elite group Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. “That’s my boy.”
Wayne smiled when informed of the endorsement by his ex-teammate and long-time friend.
“Tell him don’t be rushing my career,” he said.
Wayne, 33, is the longest-tenured Colts player — he was the 30th overall pick in the 2001 draft — but there’s little evidence of his talent declining. Wayne’s 23 receptions are tied for the fourth-most in the NFL, and the most he’s had after three games in his 12-year career.
“Not surprised at all because Reggie puts in the work,” James said. “Reggie don’t take no days off. Reggie is going to train. Reggie is going to do everything that it takes.
“And then Reggie is smart so Reggie understands what it takes to play at a high level and then he takes care of his body.”
Wayne’s offseason workout regimen rivals what James used to do. He lives in Miami, is an early riser and a tireless worker. It’s no coincidence Wayne has started 148 consecutive games and appeared in 169 straight, both first among active receivers.
While Wayne’s game-day presence continues to elicit Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie chants from Lucas Oil Stadium crowds, he nearly found himself caught up in the Colts’ massive offseason makeover. He was an unrestricted free agent and his cell phone was active.
“I was close. Very, very close,” Wayne said of signing with another team.
There were serious discussions with at least two teams, although Wayne’s keeping the names to himself.
“But just one team, probably two teams, Colts fans wouldn’t have liked,” he said, grinning.
It’s believed New England was one of the teams. Also, perhaps one of the Colts’ AFC South rivals?
“I’ll never tell,” Wayne said.
Wayne was on the verge of leaving his home in Miami and signing with another team when he checked in one last time with the Colts.
“I promised (owner Jim) Irsay and I promised Chuck (Pagano) that before I did anything, I’d give them a call,” he said. “I did and I didn’t walk out the door. I sat back down in my office.”
Wayne re-upped the Colts in March with a three-year, $17.5 million contract that included a $7.5 million signing bonus. It was a wise investment for the Colts, considering they were transitioning from veteran quarterback Peyton Manning to rookie Andrew Luck.
But Wayne said the decision wasn’t driven by money.
“It’s fair to say I left money on the table … probably a minimum of $3 million,” Wayne said, adding he knew he was “taking a leap of faith” by returning to the Colts.
“Oh, yeah, I knew I was,” he said. “I knew it was going to be like this, me and a bunch of new faces. Once we released all the guys that had been here for years, I knew it was going to be weird.”
Occasionally, it still is. Thirty-one of the 53 players on the active roster are in their first year with the team. That includes eight of the nine receivers and tight ends.
“Sometimes I walk in this locker room and I’m like, ‘Wow,’” Wayne said. “But I knew what I was getting myself into. I would never have any regrets. I’m going to use this and run with it.”
The Colts made an attempt to re-sign receiver Pierre Garcon, but dropped out of the bidding when Washington offered him $42.5 million over five years.
An argument can be made that retaining Wayne was more important. He would serve as a calming presence amid the upheaval, and a reliable target for Luck.
Luck’s 122 pass attempts are tied for fourth-most in the NFL. Wayne has been targeted a league-high 40 times. Donnie Avery, a veteran free-agent acquisition, has been targeted 27 times. No other player has had more than 16 passes thrown at him.
It’s not a matter of Luck forcing the football to his most experienced receiver.
“He gets open,” Luck said. “He has an uncanny knack for, when it’s a zone, (knowing) where the hole is going to be based on where the other routes are running. When it’s man, he’s got all the tricks up his sleeve.
“It’s an honor for me just to throw the ball to him.”