As the NFL world prepares for Week 2, few storylines are more intriguing than the ongoing standoff between the Indianapolis Colts and star running back Jonathan Taylor.
By setting a deadline to identify an agreeable trade by cut day, the Colts told Taylor and his representation that they had no interest in drawing out the dispute once the season began. Chris Ballard attempted to speak to Taylor and his camp in his season-opening press conference, extending an olive branch and indicating that the team wants to restore the relationship. At this point, it appears that neither side is flinching.
The team is clearly doing its best to avoid the media circus and to mitigate any damage the Taylor situation could cause to the team in the locker room or as a distraction while the squad is focused on installing a game plan for a road tilt against the Houston Texans. No matter, the topic is too juicy, and there isn’t enough to get excited about at this stage in the season to sweep the topic under the rug.
With several injuries at running back, the Colts are still monitoring the market. They’ve been in touch with free agents Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette . That’s a position to watch in Indy as the Colts cycle through options.
Of course, this adds to the news that Darrell Henderson worked out with the team on Tuesday.
We have covered this story from about every angle at Stampede Blue. We have noted that the most significant issues in the negotiations revolve around shortcomings in the current NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement - namely, the rookie wage scale and its disparate impact on running backs. We have also noted that, like it or not, Jonathan Taylor has very little leverage here. In fact, his ability to hold out ends the moment he acknowledges that he is healthy enough to return from the physically unable to perform list.
This hasn’t stopped the mainstream media from running away with the story. Wild accusations have been thrown out at owner Jim Irsay. To make matters worse, fans are frustrated with the holdout, know how much the team would be better off with Taylor healthy and playing, and now they are also turning their blame to ownership or management. The media narrative is working.
Here’s what we know. In the final year of his rookie contract, Jonathan Taylor is reportedly upset because he doesn’t have an extension.
A list of players from the 2020 Draft Class who the Colts have not extended:
Michael Pittman Jr., Jonathan Taylor, Julian Blackmon, Danny Pinter
This is the entirety of the 2020 Colts Draft Class that is still on the roster.
Michael Pittman Jr. played in 16 games last year and led the team in every category that earns players extensions. He was drafted ahead of Taylor. Last weekend, he took the field and led his team in receptions and receiving yards and was the only offensive player not named Richardson to score.
Taylor played in 11 games in 2022. He suffered two ankle injuries, one that ended his season and required off-season surgery. Behind an offensive line that had noticeably regressed, he had the worst statistical season of his career.
Does this mean that Taylor doesn’t deserve a contract or that he is likely not fully recovered from his ankle? No. But he refused to see team doctors, engaged in a public war with the team owner through his agent, visibly pouted on the sidelines during training camp (setting off this media frenzy), and demanded a trade.
I pose a question for those who have decided to blame Irsay or others in the front office.
What do the Colts gain from burning bridges with Taylor?
He is incredibly talented. It’s clear to everyone that having a robust rushing attack is a staple in the Steichen/Eagles system. It’s clear to everyone that having a talent like Taylor in the backfield with rookie Anthony Richardson can only serve to take pressure off of him in his rookie season.
So, why would the team threaten it? What is the angle?
We will never know the whole story. True.
But we know running backs are getting a raw deal under the current CBA. We know that running backs are vocally letting the league know how they feel about it. We know that Taylor went from “Colts for life” to refusing even to see team doctors in only a few weeks - during which this entire running back drama train pulled away from the station. We know he hired an agent who went fire and brimstone against the team owner.
Do we know his contract demands? Do we know what it would take or would have required for him not to show up sulking at training camp? No. But I’ve often been told that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.
Irsay loves his players - especially his most prominent talents. His record in the area is well-established.
Ballard pays homegrown players. He has done so regularly.
And yet, we have members of the media and a fan base convinced that these are the people to blame.
These are strange times. I can’t wait until the whole mess is over.