When Jonathan Taylor was placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list on Tuesday afternoon, he found himself on the wrong side of the fence staring down the Beast. The prize isn’t a Babe Ruth autographed baseball, but rather a long-term, lucrative contract that could reset the running back market in the NFL.
Unlike Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez in The Sandlot, Taylor has little working in his favor. Taylor is playing on a field where his opponent, familiar with every rule, knows each move and countermove to secure the tag.
Taylor wishes he had Benny’s odds.
Here is why he doesn’t.
Final Contract Year Exception
The rules governing the “Physically Unable to Perform” (PUP) list prevent players from using injuries to sidestep playing in their contract’s final year. The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) stipulates that an injured player's contract year will accrue except in the last year of his contract, “when the player’s contract will be tolled if (i) he is still physically unable to perform his football services as of the sixth regular season game; and (ii) he is not reinstated to the Club’s Active/Inactive List during that regular season or postseason.”
Taylor finds himself in a precarious position. He must play or risk being under contract with the Colts for another season, even without using the franchise tag. The CBA further stipulates that if Taylor practices but is never active, by rule, the contract will toll.
Good Faith Negotiations
The CBA stipulates that contract and salary conflicts will be arbitrated, and “if the Arbitrator finds that any party did not engage in good faith negotiations, he may enter a cease and desist order.”
If Taylor is physically able to perform but unwilling to report, practice, or otherwise negotiate in good faith, the Colts could claim that he and his agent have failed to enter into good-faith negotiations. Winning this would certainly go a long way with the league and put Taylor in the crosshairs for a standard contract clause.
Player Contract Injury Clause
Assuming Taylor’s contract includes this clause, it stipulates that a player “will receive such medical and hospital care during the term of this contract as the Club physician may deem necessary, and will continue to receive his yearly salary for so long, during the season of injury only and for no subsequent period covered by this contract, as Player is physically unable to perform the services required of him by this contract because of such injury.”
This is a loaded situation. It has been reported that Taylor is refusing to be seen by team doctors. It is known that he sustained the injury that is reportedly keeping him on the PUP list during the 2022 season. We are now entering the 2023 season. If he refuses diagnosis and care, hasn’t suffered a football-related injury in the 2023 league year, and is also found to be physically able to play but unwilling — he could lose his salary this season, still be under contract, and find himself right back where he started.
Why the Colts Retain the Advantage
If that isn’t enough, the reserve PUP list gives the Colts a roster exemption, allowing them to sign another player in his spot. Sure, the Colts are better off with him on the field but they can sign a player to fill his role and wait for Taylor’s next move.
Rookies Impacted Most
For players on rookie contracts, especially those approaching the contract’s end, the stipulations around the PUP list can be a double-edged sword. While they could potentially earn another season with their original team, the player doesn’t get to “cash in” on free agency, which is where many athletes make the most significant financial gains of their career.
Taylor and his agent might need to get out the Erector Set, or a vacuum, or something. Things aren’t looking good. He’ll need to stay in shape to earn a lucrative contract or attract a trade partner. Doing so will risk his 2023 salary. Refusing to do so will allow the Colts to hold him under contract in 2024.
It feels like we need James Earl Jones, with his wisdom from ‘The Sandlot’, to step in and make sense of it all.