According to Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard, while he won’t rule out anything yet, it’s looking increasingly likely that former 1,000 yard rusher Marlon Mack may not be back with the franchise in 2021:
“Marlon Mack broke my heart,” Ballard said on Thursday afternoon during his virtual end-of-season press conference.
“That sucked. That was hard. Really hard. And it was hard on him, but he’s so tough-minded. I watched him work his butt off here all season to get back. Marlon Mack deserves a contract unequivocally. He deserves a good contract. I don’t know if we are going to be able to do that here. Saying that, I’m not going to say that ‘Marlon is not going to be back,’ because I think he’s really special as a player and I could just see a backfield of Marlon, Jonathan (Taylor) and Nyheim (Hines) and (Jordan) Wilkins be really special. So I’m not going to discount it, but I think Marlon Mack is a great player and deserves what he has coming to him. And he’s even a better teammate, unselfish, everything you want.”
Entering a contract year this past season, the 24 year old running back tore his Achilles in the Colts’ season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
While Mack’s future was already murky with the Colts selecting rookie Jonathan Taylor this past offseason, his season-ending injury may have safely closed the book on any potential return—especially with Taylor having broken out as the team’s undisputed bellcow in his unfortunate absence.
That being said, while Mack’s injury is significant and can be one that saps long-term explosiveness, don’t count him out quite yet either.
The former 2017 4th round pick of the Colts has continued to work and fight his way back from the injury in his ongoing rehabilitation. It’s still possible that he could still regain his 2019 form, when he rushed for 1,091 yards on 247 carries (4.4 ypc. avg.) and 8 rushing touchdowns during 14 games (12 starts).
It might just not be with the Colts though, as with Taylor’s thunderous emergence, and Nyheim Hines as the lightning behind him, there may not be enough meaningful carries available to justify any significant salary cap commitment toward Mack going forward.
However, should his 2021 free agent market prove to be ultimately cold—coming off such a serious injury, perhaps the Colts could offer him a 1 to 2 year ‘prove it’ contract and let him work all of the way back to his old self.
The Colts attempted something similar with safety Clayton Geathers in 2019.
To his credit too, despite the devastating injury and Taylor essentially supplanting him as the starter, Mack has remained the consummate teammate for the Colts and a mentor in the team’s young backfield:
I can assure you one guy who's thrilled for Jonathan Taylor after that 62-yard-touchdown run: Marlon Mack.— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) December 13, 2020
After his Achilles injury, Mack stayed in Indy, is in the running back meetings every week and has continued mentoring Taylor behind the scenes. Stuff of a great teammate.
That’s something that won’t go unnoticed for Ballard—especially if a Mack return starts making more salary cap sense given his potentially ‘cool’ free agent market ahead.