COMMENTARY | The Indianapolis Colts announced on Sept. 3 that linebacker Caesar Rayford has been traded to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a conditional draft pick -- a move that has sent Colts fans into an uproar.
Fans might be in an even bigger uproar when they learn that the conditional draft pick is in 2015, not 2014.
At last count, the announcement on the Colts' Facebook page has generated over 300 fan comments, many of which express outrage that Rayford was traded away. Of the 40 comments on the Colts' announcement on their website, the vast majority question this decision.
The reason for Colts fans' dismay? Rayford played in all four preseason games, totaling 11 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles. At least one additional sack by Rayford was negated by a penalty against one of his teammates.
Judging by the general tone of the more than 50 responses on the Dallas Cowboys' website, Cowboys fans feel like their team pulled off quite the heist. As well they should. Because they did.
The writing was on the wall for Rayford the day before, when the Colts acquired Cam Johnson from the San Francisco 49ers for a conditional draft pick. Having followed Rayford closely since May, when I was excited that the Colts signed him, I did a mental count of linebackers on the roster. I had a strong suspicion that Rayford was going to be the odd man out with Johnson heading to Indianapolis.
Still, the trade begs the question, "Why?"
The Colts will likely end up with a seventh-round pick in two years for Rayford.
In April, the Colts drafted running back Kerwynn Williams and tight end Justice Cunningham in the seventh round. Both are now on the practice squad.
Last year's seventh-rounders were Justin Anderson, Tim Fugger and Chandler Harnish. Injured reserve, practice squad, practice squad.
In fact, in the last five years, the only seventh-rounders who are still on the Colts' active roster are reserve defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews and punter Pat McAfee.
A seventh-rounder in two years is a shot in the dark. Rayford is known commodity. Why gamble?
At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, Rayford is considerably larger than Johnson (6-foot-3, 238 pounds), so the Colts are losing a lot of size in the exchange.
Rayford has prior professional experience in the CFL and the Arena Football League. He dominated in the AFL, proving himself a durable, consistent athlete with a knack for planting the opposing quarterback.
Those who scoff at the CFL and AFL clearly have never played in or watched a single game in either league. There is no equal to the NFL, but the CFL and AFL are both very good professional leagues that allow players to develop their talents. Kurt Warner, Doug Flutie and Warren Moon each spent time in the AFL or CFL.
Johnson was a seventh-round pick of the 49ers in 2012 and spent the first 14 games of last season on the practice squad. He played in the season's final two games but recorded no statistics. The Colts got him in exchange for a seventh-round pick in 2014.
So this isn't exactly Patrick Willis talent that the Colts acquired from San Francisco. I'm not seeing any significant upgrade from Rayford to Johnson.
Lack of Competition?
Some fans commented that Rayford only shined against third-stringers in the preseason. Not true. He faced six-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas against the Cleveland Browns and broke him down twice. He got around New York Giants starting tackle Justin Pugh, pulling David Carr down with one hand.
Rayford may have faced a lot of third-stringers in the preseason, but when he got his opportunities to face starters, he shined.
No Interest from NFL Teams?
Other fans like to scoff that Rayford has never drawn interest from any other NFL team, so his loss is no big deal. Again, not true. He signed with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent out of Washington in 2008.
He didn't make the Lions, but after five seasons of professional football in the CFL and AFL, a guy tends to improve. He has developed into a very good football player, and he accomplished something that 1,184 other football players didn't: he made the final 53-man roster of an NFL team.
Apparently, he's a big enough deal that the Cowboys want him. By my count, that's three NFL teams who have shown interest in Rayford.
The Cowboys actually appear to need Rayford, as Anthony Spencer doesn't appear ready for the season opener. Perhaps Dallas will give Rayford the playing time that he needs to further develop.
But his departure from the Colts leaves a lot of fans in Indianapolis feeling robbed of a diamond in the rough and a budding fan favorite.
What do you think?
The author is a resident of central Indiana and long-time follower of the Colts.
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