Two former 2020 second round picks of the Indianapolis Colts, running back Jonathan Taylor and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., are set to become prized free agents at seasons end—meaning both could be poised for early contract extensions this offseason.
The young pair remains central pillars of the Colts offense respectively, and Indianapolis has to ensure that it continues to surround rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson with bona fide weapons to better ensure his initial success and continued development.
RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
This is going to be a tricky negotiation as all second contracts are for running backs in the current market, but Taylor could have a few things working in his favor. First, it would benefit both parties here if one of the franchise-tagged running backs — namely Las Vegas Raiders star Josh Jacobs or New York Giants star Saquon Barkley — got a multi-year extension done before the July 17th deadline. This would help define the market and provide a benchmark to work off of, as Taylor will be looking to surpass any deal these players may sign because of his age.
Secondly, although the Colts almost immediately turned around and traded 2018 fourth-round running back Nyheim Hines, they did extend him after his third season, which provides some precedent at the same position for Taylor to lean on. That said, recent early extensions for top-end running backs have not been very favorable. Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb’s three-year, $36.6 million extension signed in 2021 is the most recent top-of-market deal that is likely providing clubs with a ceiling to leverage in negotiations. Taylor will have to work very hard here to buck the recent market contraction at the position.
Taylor is coming off an injury-shortened 2022 season after earning the rushing title and a first-team All-Pro selection for his dominant 2021 campaign, but he has been incredibly productive through his first three seasons. Since 2020, Taylor’s 214 first-down rushes lead the NFL despite nearly 100 fewer carries than the second through fourth-place finishers. Additionally, his 123 missed tackles forced ranks sixth while his 3.4 yards after contact per attempt ranks fifth. The range of outcomes here is fairly wide, but we’re going with a very bullish outlook here for Taylor and the market at large, even though it’s somewhat crazy to call a projection bullish when it’s merely in line with the big deals signed in 2019 and 2020.
Contract Projection: Four years, $60 million ($15 million per year), $35 million total guaranteed
Recent big money running back contracts haven’t worked out all that well for teams on the back-half of the deals—particularly regarding former Los Angeles Rams workhorse Todd Gurley and the Dallas Cowboys Ezekiell Elliott respectively (and the Tennessee Titans Derrick Henry and Minnesota Vikings Dalvin Cook certainly trending in a similar direction).
An average annual value of $15 million on his next contract would place Taylor behind the San Francisco 49ers Christian McCaffrey ($16.015M) and tied with both the New Orleans Saints Alvin Kamara and *Elliott in AAV, so that sounds around his fair market value—even though I’m sure Taylor would love to best McCaffrey’s deal with another monster campaign.
If fully healthy, it’s quite possible that Taylor could rebound and reclaim his league’s leading rusher crown and the undisputed top back in football title. The Colts’ RPO game will be awfully dangerous and difficult to stop with dual-threat, rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson which should open up running lanes and lessen the attention for Taylor.
The good news is that while Taylor had a heavy, heavy workload at Wisconsin (and in 2021 for the Colts), he does take great shape of his body and despite him being hindered by an ankle injury last season, it did limit some of his mileage and potential wear-and-tear.
Meanwhile regarding Pittman Jr.:
Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts
Pittman was selected with the very next pick after Higgins and offers a different profile despite almost identical height and weight measurements for the two players. Indianapolis has used Day 2 picks on wide receivers in four of the last five drafts, and the Pittman selection at No. 34 overall in 2020 looks like the best of the bunch to date. Indianapolis traded out of the bottom of the first round in 2019 with the Washington Commanders and were rewarded with the second pick in Round 2, bringing aboard the big-bodied possession receiver from USC.
It’s probably a bit unfair to call Pittman a “possession” receiver, but that is his role in this offense as a good-but-not-great athlete, with 2022 second-rounder Alec Pierce more of the burner on the outside and 2023 third-rounder Josh Downs brought in to be the shifty slot receiver that can win off the line with elite agility.
Pittman is tied for ninth in targets over the last two seasons with 263, fourth in contested catches with 33 and seventh among wide receivers with at least 100 targets when lined up out wide with a 91.8% reception rate on passes deemed “catchable.” Pittman’s 71.9% completion percentage when targeted out wide ranks fourth, and he rarely drops targets. He may not have game-breaking speed or lateral quickness, but he’s been as reliable a target as you can find.
Contract Projection: Four years, $92 million ($23 million per year), $53 million total guaranteed
The Cincinnati Bengals’ Tee Higgins should secure a slightly more lucrative deal than Pittman Jr. as a pending 2024 free agent, but the latter is still in line for a major pay day.
A new contract averaging $23M per year would place Pittman Jr. in the tail end of the league’s Top 10 highest paid wideouts. While one could argue he hasn’t quite reached that level yet, NFL contracts are going to continue to increase and more expensive for clubs.
With his size, deceptive speed, reliable route running, and sure hands, Pittman Jr. should be a consistently solid target for Richardson in the passing game—and it’s important that the Colts lock him up to a long-term contract, even if it is at least a slight overpay.