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Should the Colts Trade Jonathan Taylor?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Taylor is one of the best running backs in the NFL. But in today’s game, that does not really mean all that much. Decades ago, Taylor would have been drafted early in the first round and then hailed as the MVP for his rushing performance in 2021.

But obviously, times have changed. And with a new coach and a scheme focused on downfield shots, should the Indianapolis Colts entertain the idea of trading Jonathan Taylor?

Taylor’s Role in Steichen’s Scheme

New head coach Shane Steichen has never been known for his “run-first” mentality. During his sole season as offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers, his lead back’s averaged just over 14 rushing attempts per game. During the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl run, starting running back Miles Sanders averaged only 15 attempts per game, and ran the ball just seven times against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

Throughout his career, Taylor has carried the ball 17.5 times per game. During his rushing title season, Taylor averaged 19 attempts per game. With a scheme change, odds are that Taylor will see less and less of the ball. Steichen even admitted as much with his offensive motto, “ throw to score points and run to win games.”

With the rushing attack likely on the back burner, Chris Ballard may be willing to part ways with the former Wisconsin Badger in order to accrue draft capital and accelerate this rebuild.

Taylor’s Contract

Pro Football Focus’s Marcus Mosher posted a tweet showing the leading rushers from each of the last 14 Super Bowl winners. Surprisingly, the highest paid rusher was Percy Harvin, a wide receiver, in 2013 earning only $2,500,000 million. Jonathan Taylor’s base salary for 2023 is $4.3 million, over four times more than Isaiah Pacheco, this year’s Super Bowl leading rusher.

While Taylor is only on the books for $4.3 million this season, he is officially eligible for an extension and will be a free agent next offseason. Taylor surely won’t make Ezekiel Elliott money, but he could be in the Christian McCaffrey or Dalvin Cook range, earning upwards of $15 million per year.

Paying running backs a large percentage of the salary cap is clearly not a way to win in today’s NFL. Spending money elsewhere, especially with an incoming rookie quarterback, is historically a much better algorithm for winning.

Potential Trade Packages

When you take into account where the Colts are currently, and where they are heading, trading Jonathan Taylor to acquire draft picks in this rebuild should be a real consideration. In terms of what Ballard could expect in terms of possible capital, just take a look at the San Francisco 49ers’ recent trade for McCaffrey.

The 49ers sent a 2023 second, third, and fourth round pick, along with a 2024 fifth round pick to the Carolina Panther for the former Stanford running back. Considering McCaffrey’s injury history and age compared to that of Taylor, you would think that Indianapolis could get a similar package for the lead horse. Teams like the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Rams, or even the Chicago Bears could all be options for Taylor’s services.

Now, the Colts may need extra draft capital to include in a trade for the first overall pick to draft whichever quarterback they like best. But imagine if Indianapolis is able to stay put at fourth overall while also having two second and third round picks. That is certainly a recipe for a quick rebuild in Steichen’s first season.

While it may not be likely, Ballard, Steichen, and Irsay should exhaust all options to rapidly improve this Colts team. If they are not going to use Taylor to the extent he has been in years past, then their best course of action may be to move on from the three-year veteran, and draft Taylor’s replacement in the mid-to-late rounds of this incredibly deep running back class.