The Indianapolis Colts were one of the biggest surprises in the NFL last year, but as the team tries to build on an 11-win season in 2012, upgrading the NFL's 22nd-ranked ground game is a priority for head coach Chuck Pagano.
The Colts have now taken steps to do just that, agreeing to terms with free-agent running back Ahmad Bradshaw on a one-year deal. The 27-year-old Bradshaw gained 1,015 yards and scored six touchdowns in 14 games for the New York Giants last year.
According to Mike Garafalo of USA Today, Bradshaw's agent tweeted the news that the contract was done after talks broke down over the weekend.
With Bradshaw in the fold, talk now turns to how he will fit with his new team. A great deal of that will depend on the same issue that got him released by the Giants in the first place: health.
Bradshaw has battled foot problems for much of his NFL career. As Jenny Vrentas of The Star-Ledger reported at the time, he had surgery in January to remove a screw in his right foot and replace it with a larger one. Shortly after that, the Giants let Bradshaw go, despite the fact that he led the team in rushing each of the past three years.
However, Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk reported back in April that Bradshaw has been cleared to resume football activities, so in theory, there's no reason why he wouldn't be ready to go for training camp.
If that's the case, a healthy Bradshaw could be a big boost for a Colts team that has struggled to find consistent production at the running back position for several years.
Only once in the past four seasons (2009) did the leading rusher for the Colts outgain him on the ground. In fact, the Colts haven't had a running back top 1,000 rushing yards in a season since Joseph Addai in 2007.
Meanwhile, Bradshaw has topped that benchmark in two of the past three seasons, and in three of the past four years, he has gained at least 4.5 yards a carry. That's a fair sight better than Vick Ballard, who led the Colts in rushing in 2012 despite averaging fewer than four yards a pop.
Bradshaw is also a capable receiver, a trait that should appeal to new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and his West Coast offense. Over that past four years, he has averaged 35 receptions per 16 games played, which will afford quarterback Andrew Luck a nice new target on checkdowns and screen passes.
Additionally, Bradshaw is an excellent pass-blocker, a welcomed sight for Luck after he was sacked 41 times in 2012. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has ranked Bradshaw among the top six NFL running backs in blocking every season over the past four years.
By weight of comparison, Ballard ranked 42nd in blocking last year, according to PFF.
That would seem to portend a lead back role for Bradshaw. He's a more accomplished runner, a better receiver and a much better blocker than Ballard, and while Bradshaw's durability has been an issue in past seasons, he's not "over the hill" by any stretch.
This isn't to say that Bradshaw's arrival means it's off to the scrap heap for Ballard. Given Bradshaw's injury issues, the Colts are sure to rotate Ballard into the game on a regular basis. The second-year pro could also be in line for short-yardage and goal-line work, if only to alleviate some of the wear and tear on Bradshaw.
The outlook isn't as rosy for Donald Brown and Delone Carter. There are only so many touches to go around in a backfield that was 14th in the National Football League in rushing attempts a year ago, and neither back averaged four yards a carry in 2012.
In fact, several members of the media are already speculating that Brown may soon find himself looking for work, which would be an ignominious end to the former first-round pick's time in Indy.
A healthy Ahmad Bradshaw is a significant boost to the Colts offense as a runner, receiver and pass-blocker, and his arrival in Indianapolis continues a solid offseason for the NFL's Cinderella story in 2012.
Now, could someone just please explain to me what the Erik Walden signing was about?
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