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Should the Colts trade Jonathan Taylor?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Taylor’s 2021-22 season was one of the best in Colts history and one of the best in recently NFL history. His 2022-23 campaign hasn’t been as good, with his yards per carry number dropping by a full yard and he’s been hit with bad fumbling problems on top of having a few injuries. With the expiry of his rookie deal fast approaching, the Colts should look to trade him now while his value is high instead of looking to keep him around at a high cost.

What could he get in a trade?

Earlier this season, Christian McCaffrey was traded to the 49ers. He was traded for a 2nd, 3rd, 4th and future 5th round pick.

Jonathan Taylor may not have the same trade value as McCaffrey since McCaffrey is a lot more versatile and stronger as a receiving back, but Taylor’s value, even with a down season isn’t that far off. Considering the fact that teams could also get Taylor for one season at an extreme discount, that only further increases his value.

In my opinion, Taylor could fetch a 2nd and 4th round pick in the offseason.

The Running Back is the least important position on an offense (and maybe the entire team)

If we don’t count punters or specialists, the running back spot might be the least important position on the team only for the fact that it’s entirely dependent on the players and scheme around them, more so than the other positions. If the offensive line isn’t good, it doesn’t matter who is back there since there won’t be much production. If the offense is built like the Buffalo Bills that tends to pass the ball a lot, especially on early downs, having a bellcow running back isn’t so important. Everyone likes to talk about the Tennessee Titans and how their entire offense is based around Henry and use that as an argument for running backs being important. In the case of Henry, the Titans have a winning record of 6-3 without Henry in the last 2 seasons (6-4 in the last 4 seasons).

Running backs are always being replaced by younger, cheaper options and their shelf-life is the shortest out of any position. It’s why when looking at these things, its’ good to use the best coaches as prime examples. Bill Belichick wins Super Bowls with running backs by commitee accounting for less than 5 million against the cap. The same can be said for Andy Reid and his Chiefs in recent years. The Rams won the Super Bowl last season with a running back by committee approach. In fact, the last time any team won a Super Bowl with a true 25-30+ touch a game running back was in 2013 with Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks. Run based offenses and singular star backs are slowly becoming a thing of the past.

The Looming Contract

Taylor is going to cost a pretty penny to keep. High end running backs in recent years are receiving anywhere between 9M and 13M (in terms of cap hit), with some wild exceptions. Taylor will probably want the higher end of that range. The question becomes who would you rather have: Jonathan Taylor at 13M or a Isiah Pacheco type at 800k. The rebuttal would be “there aren’t many Isiah Pacheco’s lying around” but the reality is that there are always young rookie running backs coming up through the ranks. We’re watching Dameon Pierce, a 4th round pick in 2022, have an amazing rookie season where he’ll most likely finish with over 1000 yards. We’re seeing Khalil Herbert, a 6th round pick in 2021, outplay long-time starter David Montgomery. Even Deon Jackson, against the Broncos and Jaguars earlier this season, accumulated 104 rushing yards on 25 carries. Jonathan Taylor this year has averaged 4.5 yards per carry and averages around 5 yards per carry his whole carry.

The next question is it worth paying 10M+ million to gain an extra yard on every rush. Another way of asking that question is saying how much does 25 extra yards cost per game. In my opinion, not 10M+ million., especially in a football world where passing and strong offensive line play are the two most important things to a health offense so all resources should be put into those things. To me, I take 4 yards a carry at 800k any day of the week over 5 yards a carry at 10M; I would take that money and spend it elsewhere, where the effects are greater.

Trade him while he’s somewhat hot

Despite the rough year, I’d still consider one of the 6-7 best running backs in the game right now. A player like him, in his prime, has a lot of value to certain teams. This is the perfect time to trade him, especially to a contender, a bit like how the Colts traded Nyheim Hines to Buffalo, who are seriously competing for a championship. In Indianapolis without a quarterback, Taylor is not only rotting away but his potential contract could cost the Colts dearly in the next 3-5 years. If you look at Ezekiel Elliott, the perfect window to trade him closed and they offered him an outrageous 5 year, 90M contract which has now bit them in the butt with the emergence of Tony Pollard, another late round draft pick.

From this point on, Taylor is like a car where his value will slowly diminish over time. He is currently at 1700-1800 total touches in college and the NFL, which means that while he has about 3-4 good seasons left in him, from this point on, he will slowly lose value and his stock will far.

If you think of Jonathan Taylor as a stock, he is trading near his high right now. THe Taylor stock got as high as $98 and it is currently trading at $74. Unfortunately, it seems like it probably won’t get back to $98 so selling at $74 doesn’t look too bad right now.

Never Pay a Running Back a 2nd Contract

In my opinion, this is the most important thing. We’ve seen way too many horror stories over the last decade with giving running backs a 2nd contract. We saw it with the following players:

  • Ezekiel Elliott
  • Aaron Jones
  • Joe Mixon
  • Alvin Kamara
  • Nyheim Hines

These 5 players are the prime examples. Elliott has been overtaken by Tony Pollard, Aaron Jones by AJ Dillon, Joe Mixon by Samaje Perine, Alvin Kamara by a running back by committee system and Nyheim Hines never got to see the field in Indianapolis.

Even since Derrick Henry’s 2nd contract has kicked in, he hasn’t gone over 4.5 yards over the past 2 seasons even though the entire offense is built around him and as mentioned earlier, they have a winning record without him.

Christian McCaffrey got a nice deal from the Carolina Panthers, but found no use for him on a fledgling offense so they traded him and that contract as fast as they could.

The second contracts cost teams up to 12M in cap space in a given season, which could make the difference between having a good offensive line or a great offensive line, or a good receiving corps versus a great receiving corps. Since the running back position is the least important on a team, freeing up space in that area allows you to spend on more important areas.

The Final Verdict

The Colts should trade Jonathan Taylor.

In my opinion, three big things stand out:

  • Draft compensation
  • Diminishing returns
  • Running backs are not important and should not receive 2nd contracts.

The Colts are not in a win-now mode and they won’t be until they find a quarterback. They should do what the Panthers did with McCaffrey and unload him to help the rebuild. Ironically enough, the Panthers are 1-5 with McCaffrey this season and 4-3 without him and with D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard. McCaffrey was making over 16M against the cap while Foreman and Hubbard combine for less than 2M.

If the Colts can trade Taylor to a contender, accumulate some Day 2 picks, they’ll be able to fortify other areas and then they can plug any young running back on a good team that will be able to succeed. If the offensive line is weak, it doesn’t matter who is back there since there will be no holes to run through. So instead of wasting money on a position dependent position, they should go spend money on areas that control the game and have a much larger effect on the action like the offensive line which is struggling mightily right now.

The Colts are not in a position to pay a running back and they need to rebuild. That rebuild needs to start with getting rid of Taylor.