Jonathan Taylor came into the league with a chip on his shoulder. He'll leave with a chip in his ankle, part of the physical price he'll pay for playing a position designed to take the maximum abuse.
The Indianapolis Colts running back did it willingly, through college and three years of a pro career that has been defined by blazing talent and debilitating injuries. The downside for Taylor is that he did it at a time where the entire position is being devalued by the evolving game, and for playing for a team that can't seem to get the medical side right.
Taylor's holdout and trade request have masked the bigger issue, that after nearly nine months, Taylor's ankle is still not able to hold up without pain and swelling. Taylor had a relatively simple surgery - an arthroscopic debridement, where the surgeon went in and cleaned up scar and bone spurs/chips - in January. That surgery allowed the surgeons to look at his syndesmosis, the "high ankle", and they said there was no structural damage.
In April, Taylor himself said the surgery was a "perfect success", though he didn't participate in camp. The type of surgery Taylor had normally comes with a six- to eight-week recovery period, so he would have been expected to be cleared for camp, at least in some capacity. Instead, we're at six to eight months and Taylor's still not back on the field.
It's easy to say that Taylor's displeasure with his contract situation is what's keeping him off the field, but comments from Colts coach Shane Steichen continue to say "when he's cleared, he'll be back on the field." It could be a smokescreen, but there's little value for the team to say such things or for the medical staff to hold things up when it's their job to get players back on the expected timeline and functional.
Jonathan Taylor Isn't the First Odd Injury Situation For the Colts
Colts fans might also be feeling a bit of deja vu. Shaquille Leonard, the Colts All-Pro linebacker, missed virtually all of last season with what was originally thought to be a similar ankle injury. In 2021, Leonard had an amazing season after having arthroscopic surgery on his ankle. While he was able to play at a high level, the ankle bothered him all year. In June 2022, Leonard consulted with several surgeons and it was determined he had a back issue that was radiating pain to his leg and ankle. Surgery was performed and he was able to come back, but he was never effective and a second surgery was performed in November.
The Colts have never given details, nor has Leonard, about how this process went or the full details on what the surgeries are. There have been rumors that Leonard's second surgery was a spinal fusion, where the disc is removed and the vertebrae are pinned together with titanium rods. Deja vu again? Yes, this is similar to the surgery that ended Peyton Manning's Colts career, though his was in the neck while Leonard's issues have been in the lower back.
For Taylor, the ankle issue is concerning in that it's gone significantly beyond the normal healing time. That usually indicates that the surgery may have been successful - usually defined as going to plan and the patient waking up (and no, that's not a joke) - but that it may have been conservative. While Taylor's ankle may well have been cleaned up, there may be other issues such as bone-on-bone grinding, tendinitis, or nerve damage. The definition of "no structural damage" is one that is often not clear.
The Colts aren't off the hook here. Not only does the NFL operated under a policy of "you break it, you buy it", where medical issues continue on the team's books potentially forever, unless another team accepts the player in trade or as a free agent and clears them through a physical. At that point, the injury and all other injuries transfer to that team. (I won't complicate this with longer term disabilities or worker's compensation, but those exist.)
As well, it must be noted that this isn't an indictment of the Colts medical staff. While the team has had poor results in terms of days and dollars lost over the course of the last decade, the team has gotten significantly better over the past couple seasons despite these injuries. Also, both cases have involved outside surgeons, though those involved are among the best in the world.
While Taylor remains sidelined and unsigned, while also seeking a trade, the ankle issue shouldn't be forgotten and could become the key issue in either a trade or in what Taylor could do if he plays out his rookie contract in Indianapolis. There's still no answer as to why this injury has extended far beyond the normal surgical rehab, what remains wrong, and whether further treatment might be necessary. For the rebuilding Colts, under a new head coach and a GM that's made several wrong moves in other rebuilds, losing another star, either through injury or contract, doesn't help anyone.
Want More Sports News?
Get the biggest and best sports news sent directly to your inbox.