Jonathan Taylor has established himself as one of the best running backs in the league, especially when he’s healthy. He has had a tremendous impact on the Colts’ offense. He is due for a contract next offseason and the question will become how much is he worth, how much he could get and is he even worth signing?
Contracts of Related Players
I chose the following three players since both are were around the same age when they signed their deals and had similar levels of high production at their peaks.
Joe Mixon — 4 years, 48M with 10M Guaranteed (20.8%) — Signed in 2020
Aaron Jones — 4 years, 48M with 13MM Guaranteed (27%) (Before contract was reworked) — Signed in 2021
Nick Chubb — 3 years, 36.6M with 20M Guaranteed (54.6%) — Signed in 2022
If we account for inflation, the average of those deals in 2023 dollars would be:
4 years, 55.3M with 18.8M Guaranteed (34%)
So while the the average above would indicate he would be making close to 14M a year, we are seeing a trend in the NFL of running backs not being able to sign for their market value. If that is considered, on top of the decline in value amongst top running backs, then I believe his contract projection should look something like:
4 Years, 45.5M with 17M Guaranteed (37%)
The top running backs in the game are struggling to get over 13M a year. As it stands, only two running backs in the NFL make more than 12.5M a year: Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. The Kamara deal has scared a lot of teams from dishing out big contracts to running backs and McCaffrey is a unicorn who does everything at the highest level. So while inflation would indicate that Taylor should be making more than 11.4M per year, the reality is the market is doing everything but growing.
Should the Colts Extend Him?
I’ve written a few times in the past about the running back wall and to me it’s very real. If we use 3300 total career college and NFL touches as the magic number, as written out in my article update last summer, then Taylor should have around 4 to 5 years left of good play in him. Also seen in the article was the average age of decline being around 29 years old. Taylor is currently 24 (born January 1999), so a 4 year deal would allow the Colts to get the good version of Taylor during the length of his contract. In terms of giving a deal that avoids the dreaded wall, the Colts have a good timeframe with Taylor and can give him a 4 year deal without having to worry.
The next question, which may be even more important, and it is the one that many teams are asking is: can a player worth a fraction of the cost do most of the same job as Taylor? That’s where it gets complicated. Some players in the league have unique skillsets, such as Christian McCaffrey being an incredible all around player who has an impact on almost every play, or Derrick Henry (prime version) who could be fed the ball 30 times a game, deliver a pounding run after run and still deliver as many massive runs as anyone. Does Jonathan Taylor have a unique skillset? While he is a good receiver, he is not in the top 20 for receiving yards per game or receptions per game over the last 3 seasons. Amongst running backs with at least 200 carries over the last 2 seasons, Taylor ranks 5th in terms of yards per carry and 2nd in terms of yards per game. This is where we see his value shine.
The question from this is how much is 0.1 yards per carry worth? For example, if the Colts were to replace Taylor with a running back who averages 1 yard less per carry, but save 10M per season, would that be worth it in the long run? It’s a question I will answer in an article coming out in the next week or so.
For now, I’m going to give an all over the place answer. If the Colts were to extend Taylor, it should not be for more than the projected contract and even then, I personally won’t feel too good about that. Taylor is a very good running back, but we’ve come to see that running back is the least important position in an NFL offense and they are easily replaceable as shown by many examples over the past few years (Pollard replacing Elliott, Herbert replacing Montgomery, Pacheco replacing Edwards-Helaire, Perine replacing Mixon). If the Colts find success with Taylor this season as one half of a dynamic duo with Anthony Richardson (and to me his re-signing is very much dependent on that), then re-signing him at the price above isn’t too bad. If they re-sign him above that value, it will hinder the Colts’ salary for the duration of the contract and I will hate it. If they were to trade him or let him walk, it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. A lot of things can happen with Jonathan Taylor, so it will be fun to see how it all plays out.