Now that they have their new head coach, the Indianapolis Colts have plenty of work to do in constructing the best roster for Shane Steichen to work with. Arguably the most popular name on the roster is running back Jonathan Taylor.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Taylor is up for an extension. There’s a stigma around paying elite money for running backs on a second contract considering the rapid rate of decline at the position.
This is mostly why Connor Orr of Sports Illustrated predicted Taylor will be traded at some point during the 2023 season.
“Prediction: They will trade Jonathan Taylor at some point during the 2023 season.
This isn’t necessarily a bold take. They’ll have a new offensive philosophy and will need to start long-term planning around a running game that potentially suits a different back. Taylor is hitting free agency next year and, like Christian McCaffrey with the Panthers in 2022, can only do so much for the franchise before it’s senseless to hold onto him without recouping value.”
From a salary cap standpoint, this move makes sense. Running backs on their second contracts typically fail to meet expectations and the physicality of the position often leaves players battling injuries as their age increases.
There are few running backs who take care of their bodies the way Taylor does. But as we saw in 2022, Taylor is still (mostly) human, dealing with a nagging ankle injury that eventually required an offseason procedure.
General manager Chris Ballard has never been shy to pay his players top dollar if he feels they deserve it even if they’re in positions of perceived lesser value (e.g. Quenton Nelson, Shaquille Leonard).
The same notion applies to Taylor at arguably the league’s least valuable position. The running back position is replaceable, and Steichen has proven he can run an efficient ground game without elite talent. Though it’s certainly intriguing to see what Steichen would do with a healthy Taylor.
Here’s what Ballard said in January about whether it’s the right move to pay a running back top dollar:
“When they’re great players it is. When they’re a special playmaker it is. I’m not going to get into what we’re going to do contract wise with him, but when you’re a special player and a special playmaker, yeah. I mean, yeah.”
The Colts are likely looking at a contract extension that would start around the $15 million range annually. Christian McCaffrey leads the NFL with an AAV of $16.02 million while both Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara sit at $15 million.
Taking away Steichen’s best offensive weapon isn’t the wisest idea, but considering the value of the running back position, it’s at least something to consider, especially if a team is willing to pay first-round draft capital.