What’s going on in Indianapolis?
The Colts appeared to be headed toward the signature problem of the 2023 offseason: figuring out how to handle an elite running back who is close to hitting free agency. The Giants and Raiders spent the summer going back and forth with their star running backs before failing to land on long-term agreements. The Colts are hitting this cycle early, especially considering that Jonathan Taylor’s contract isn’t up until the end of the season.
Unlike those other teams, the Colts have an extra variable to account for in any major decision they make — the wholly unpredictable nature of team owner Jim Irsay. All NFL franchise owners will make their presence known from time to time, but Irsay is in a class of his own when it comes to how he expresses his feelings.
Taylor’s desire to have a long-term contract isn't a new phenomenon, but Irsay’s response to it made it seem like a question of existential importance. First, Irsay took a shot at "bad faith" running back complaints on X, formerly known as Twitter, last week. Then, after Taylor's agent responded, Irsay said, according to James Boyd of The Athletic:
“If I die tonight and Jonathan Taylor is out of the league, no one’s gonna miss us. The league goes on. We know that. The National Football [League] rolls on. It doesn’t matter who comes and who goes, and it’s a privilege to be a part of it.”
Of course, Taylor and his camp have been turned off by how Irsay has responded to all of this, with Taylor requesting a trade from the Colts. That’s the most logical part in all of this — Irsay’s lack of tact in this situation has fractured a relationship that was going to be integral for the immediate future. Irsay has made his thoughts known on the running back debate and the collective bargaining agreement via social media, but it is fair to wonder if moving in this direction is in the best interest of the franchise.
It’s not like the Colts are in a position where they’ll be footing a huge bill at quarterback any time soon. They just drafted Anthony Richardson fourth overall a few months ago, putting them five years away from a potential massive QB deal. Having a player like Taylor in the backfield certainly would help maximize Richardson’s seemingly unlimited potential as he acclimates to the NFL. Would paying Taylor a contract that nets him a little more than a franchise tag ($10.1 million) on an annual basis hinder what the Colts are trying to accomplish here?
Regardless of how they’ve evaluated Taylor’s contributions to this team and his future with them, there has to be a better way to go about this situation than how Irsay is handling it. It’s a bit early to have a bridge burned, but that seems to be what has happened here.
There’s also the uncomfortable truth that Taylor doesn’t have much recourse here as he attempts to fix this situation with the Colts. He can’t hold out from training camp without incurring a $50,000-a-day fine, which probably would not be in his best financial interests. He can do a hold-in, which the Colts may or may not respect, but at some point he’s probably going to have to show up to work and play for the Colts this season — and probably soon.
Maybe the Colts can rework the final year of his deal, but they aren’t under any obligation to do so and it seems unlikely that they'll be the first side to offer a resolution to this given how hostile Irsay has been publicly. The Colts find themselves in a sticky situation with arguably the best player on their entire roster, and it was entirely avoidable.