The Indianapolis Colts and Jonathan Taylor are speeding towards a messy divorce.
In a market where running backs have never been valued less, it appears the Colts have failed to find a trade partner to acquire former First-Team All-Pro amid a bitter contract dispute that has seemingly worsened with each passing day this summer.
From owner Jim Irsay's reckless comments that alienated the team's star back, to Taylor wildly misjudging the market with one year remaining on his rookie contract, there is plenty of blame to go around for soap opera currently dominating the NFL landscape with Week 1 looming.
One prominent NFL agent, who represents multiple top running backs, believes Taylor's handling of these negotiations cost him the chance to reset the running back market.
"This has all been pride and ego that's gotten in the way," the agent told FanBuzz, on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly. "And embarrassment. Jonathan just played it all wrong."
It is obvious Taylor believed — perhaps even expected, that the Colts would slide a mega-contract across the proverbial table this offseason, despite the fact that his 2022 campaign was cut short by a high-ankle sprain last December while averaging a career-low 4.5 yards per carry with just four touchdowns in 11 games.
When healthy, Taylor has been wildly productive since being chosen in the second-round of the 2020 NFL Draft. The former University of Wisconsin standout has rushed for 3,841 yards with 33 touchdowns while catching 104 passes for 802 yards and three more touchdowns through his first 43 career games.
"Teams know what he can do, but they don't know what he will do once he comes off the injury," the agent points out. "You have to play the position a bit. You have to bet on yourself. If you're healthy, you know what you're going to do.
"When you think about it from the team's perspective; he has one year left on his deal. He has the ankle that still needs to get well. So, you've got an issue with your wheel, the team wants to make sure that you're fully-back before they hand you a big deal. Then, you have to look at when the Colts typically extend guys, and they like to do it leading up all the way through close to the first game, and then after that, you're waiting until the following year. Especially because teams don't like to do deals during the season."
NFL Running Backs Are Fighting To Get Paid
Taylor isn't the only running back mired in disgruntling negotiations this offseason.
The New York Giants initially used the franchise tag on Saquon Barkley, before the sides agreed on a one-year pact that paid Barkley a measly $500,000 more than the tag would have. Josh Jacobs walked back into Raiders camp after Las Vegas revised his deal to pay him up to $12 million, months after applying the $10.5 million tag.
"Players need to understand that players set the market," the agent believes. "They have to understand it's all about getting the truly attainable money. It's not about the headline total. It's about making sure you get as much fully guaranteed and realistically attainable money you can get."
Meanwhile, the Colts have granted Taylor to seek a trade and to date — unsurprisingly — struggled to find a suitor willing to pay a premium for a running back.
The agent says he doesn't believe this situation needed to play out the way it has.
"This is exactly how I would have approached Jonathan about all this," the agent said. "If I were repping him, my message would be simple ... Get healthy. Nothing else matters unless you're healthy. So, all Jonathan's energy should be poured into that purpose. Then, I'd show leadership and an undeniable effort to get back to All-Pro form. While you're doing that, make sure your insurance policy is up to date.
"Now, each game — players love to talk about value. But, you don't need to talk about that, all you have to do is continue to show people what you're worth. Period. That's it. I would have told him each game 'Go crazy. Go rush for at least one touchdown, make an effort in the blocking game, show improvement as a pass-catcher, and show that you are back, back. After each game, we'd up the insurance policy to continue hedging our bet, because now your value is going up because you're healthy, you're playing extremely well, you're leading your team in rushing, you're leading the league in touchdowns, you're producing YAC, your name is coming up every week and the team is winning, now your value is up. Now the pressure is on the team to do something that isn't normally in their precedent."
Colts Leaving Door Open for Jonathan Taylor
That's not even close to how Taylor went about this.
As a result, a summer of discontent is about to yield to a season with no reasonable solution in sight. Taylor is a Colt, essentially in title only, and Indianapolis may be forced to either trade him for pennies on the dollar or begin 2023 with uncertainty reigning supreme in the backfield alongside rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson.
"The situation sucks," Colts general manager Chris Ballard told reporters. "I'm not going to sit here and give you some rosy picture like everything is OK. No, it sucks. It sucks for the Colts, it sucks for Jonathan Taylor and it sucks for our fans. It does. It's where we're at and we've got to work through it, and we're going to do everything we can to work through it."
Ballard hasn't closed the door on welcoming Taylor back into the fold, but it is evident that missteps have been made in both sides of these negotiations. Perhaps the biggest of all was Taylor expecting after a disappointing and injury-shortened season to be handed significant guaranteed money in an era where his position has never been valued less.
"If he'd have done all the little things the right way," the agent explained. "He could come out next February at 24 years old, with four years in the league, you're a two-time All-Pro, you have all this insurance, and now you're negotiating from a position of strength. Right now, Jonathan's negotiating from a position of feelings.
"If he was coming off an All-Pro year, you're talking about $16-$17.5 million per year, and he's setting the market."
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