The Indianapolis Colts signed Ahmad Bradshaw, via the Washington Post (h/t The Associated Press), to an incentive-laden deal in hopes that the former New York Giants star would be the running back that could push them from a playoff team to a Super Bowl contender.
For the plan to work, Bradshaw will have to overcome the chronic foot injuries that have plagued his career.
What can the Colts expect?
First, we must understand the injury issues that Bradshaw has dealt with over his NFL career. Bradshaw had screws inserted into the fifth metatarsal of each foot. The fifth metatarsal is the bone on the lateral aspect (outside) of the foot, opposite the arch.
Bradshaw had the screw replaced on his right foot in January but was cleared to play in April. He also passed an extensive physical from the Colts. However, he also dealt with a mild knee sprain last season, though that has not been a major issue.
Despite these injuries, Bradshaw has never played in less than 12 games in a season.
While there has been some physical degradation due to the condition, Bradshaw is still a productive back—especially when his carries are shared. With the Colts, Vick Ballard makes for a nice platoon partner, though it is not clear exactly how new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton might split carries.
Sigmund Bloom of Football Guys speculates (subscription required) that no back on the Colts will get more than 18 carries. This seems like a very reasonable number, and for Bradshaw, keeping his workload at this level makes it likely that he can continue to be ready for games.
To keep Bradshaw healthy enough to be effective, the Giants have often held him out of practice. This has worked to keep the inflammation down.
One other major concern is that Bradshaw will still be playing half his games on turf. Bradshaw showed some issues during and after games on turf, both at Giants Stadium, MetLife Stadium and on the road.
Lucas Oil Stadium not only uses turf but is the only uncrowned surface in the NFL. This makes it a bit unexpected, as many thought that Bradshaw would likely stay healthier on a natural field. The Colts also have an indoor turf practice facility, so weather may factor into how much Bradshaw will be able to practice.
The schedule may work against his health slightly. The stretch from Week 9—just after the Colts' bye—to Week 16 will all be played on turf. The only respite after the bye from turf will be a cold-weather visit to Kansas City.
The Colts medical staff has not had great results over the years, regularly ranking in the bottom tier of Football Outsiders' rankings. Last season, the Colts were rated 28th in terms of adjusted games lost, up from a 30th ranking in 2011.
The Colts did hedge their bets with a contract that pays Bradshaw on a per-game basis. At a reasonable 12-game level, Bradshaw would be making somewhere in the vicinity of $9 million. That will put pressure on him to be healthy at the start of the season, when the Colts would be most likely to "cut bait" on any sort of injury.
All in all, Bradshaw should be a positive addition for the Colts.
While he cannot be expected to play in 16 games or to take a heavy workload, it will be up to Chuck Pagano and Hamilton—along with the medical staff—to figure out how best to use what Bradshaw can do.
Expecting between 10 and 14 games is a very reasonable projection for Bradshaw, though he will be among the riskiest of running backs next season.