Jonathan Taylor's relationship with the Indianapolis Colts has devolved into a circus sideshow.
During a wildly bizarre weekend that began when Colts owner Jim Irsay took a hard-line stance against negotiating a long-term contract with the 2021 NFL rushing champion, Taylor requested a trade just as the veteran running back market is cratering across the league.
Taylor's trade request followed a meeting with Irsay on the owner's luxury bus along the sidelines of Colts training camp practice. It just might prove to be the nadir of the relationship between one of the game's star players and the team that drafted him in the second round in 2021.
"If I die tonight and Jonathan Taylor is out of the league, no one's gonna miss us," Irsay said, according to The Athletic. "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."
Irsay's quotes couldn't have possibly been helpful.
The two sides have even publicly disputed whether Taylor reported back pain early in training camp, which has reportedly prompted the Colts to consider placing Taylor on the non-football injury list because of a back injury he suffered while training on his own. Such a designation would allow the Colts not to pay Taylor in 2023 and to retain his rights in 2024.
Barring some sort of unforeseen thawing of tensions, trading Taylor seems to be the most likely outcome — if Irsay has a change of heart and will ultimately trade Taylor.
And that's if Indianapolis can find a suitor that is willing to pay a premium in the current economic climate of the NFL.
That may prove difficult in an era where Saquon Barkley couldn't come to terms on a long-term contract with the Giants; reigning rushing champion Josh Jacobs plans to hold out after being franchise-tagged; and Dalvin Cook was released by the Minnesota Vikings, at age 27, after rushing for 1,173 yards and scoring eight touchdowns last season.
"I think they could get a second-round pick for him," an NFC North personnel executive told FanBuzz. "For sure. Maybe a team that is extremely confident in their team being good/very good this year would give something more than that to get him."
While the running back position has been largely devalued across the league, the position can still put a contending team over the top, as the executive points out.
Taylor would no doubt be a difference-maker and the kind of player who alters the trajectory of a franchise. With a First-Team All-Pro nod and one Pro Bowl appearance already on his resumé, Taylor has has rushed for 3,841 yards with 33 rushing touchdowns, while adding 104 receptions for 802 yards and three more scores through his first 43 career games.
Even with Taylor being one of the more-prolific players at his position, it could be a difficult proposition for the Colts to find a trade partner to make an offer commensurate with what Taylor brings to an offense.
"The problem for the Colts is that he's a terrific player, but Indy might not get his actual value in return," an NFC East personnel director told FanBuzz. "Especially since he's going to want a new deal with only one year left on his current contract."
So, where might Taylor land? Which teams, if any, would come calling if the Colts make him available?
FanBuzz spoke to several NFL executives and scouts to get a sense for which teams those inside the league believe would be Taylor's best fits. The individuals were granted anonymity to freely discuss a player currently under contract with another team.
Armed with a bounty of resources, including entering this offseason with the most cap space of any team in the league, Bears general manager Ryan Poles has methodically bolstered the talent around quarterback Justin Fields.
The Bears' overhaul — on both sides of the football — coincides with the burgeoning young quarterback entering his third season.
Taylor might be the perfect piece to elevate the Bears as the team to beat in the NFC North.
"Chicago's the first team that comes to mind," an AFC front office executive told FanBuzz. "They run a zone-read combo-style offense, with a young quarterback in place, and a pretty weak depth chart at running back."
Khalil Herbert has shown flashes — rushing for 731 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games last season — while battling through injuries. But Taylor would, at a minimum, provide an explosive complement to the 25-year-old and perhaps be the bell cow that allows Fields to take the next significant stride in his development.
Chicago still has approximately $28.3 million in cap space, as well as the Panthers' first-round pick and the Eagles' fourth-round pick in the 2024 Draft as ammunition. If Poles and the Bears are interested in Taylor, Chicago would be a formidable team to beat in the running back sweepstakes.
Kansas City Chiefs
If there is one thing excelled at by general manager Brett Veach, head coach Andy Reid, and the Kansas City Chiefs, it is relentlessly adding premier talent around premier quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
In the recent past, Veach has invested in former top picks such as wide receiver Kadarius Toney, defensive lineman Taco Charlton and cornerback DeAndre Baker, to name a few, in hopes that a change of scenery would bring out the best in former highly touted players.
While Taylor wouldn't be a traditional reclamation project, he certainly would add a dimension to Kansas City's prolific offense that would make it even more difficult to slow down.
"Honestly, Taylor's a fit for any of the 31 other teams," an AFC South scout told FanBuzz. "But look out for Kansas City. He'd be the thunder to Isiah Pacheco's lightning."
Pacheco was an instant impact star in Mahomes' arsenal in 2022.
As a rookie, Pacheco burst onto the scene.
The possibilities of what a mad-scientist play-caller like Reid can put together with Taylor and Pacheco in the same backfield seem endless.
From two-back sets to using Taylor to salt out victories late in games, gash tired defenses or simply as part of a timeshare with Pacheco, there's little doubt this backfield by committee would boost Kansas City's rushing offense, which averaged a meager 115.9 yards on the ground per game in 2022.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have been doing their due diligence on the veteran running back market this offseason.
Between being linked on the fringes of the Dalvin Cook sweepstakes to hosting Ezekiel Elliott for a visit, it's obvious the Patriots are in the market to solidify a backfield currently headlined by Rhamondre Stevenson, who rushed for 1,040 yards and five touchdowns last season.
"Honestly, Taylor could play anywhere," a veteran NFC scout told FanBuzz. "But the Patriots may be a team to watch. He's a stud player, a stud person, can run, can catch, and he's even really good in pass protection."
It remains to be seen if the Colts would trade Taylor at all, let alone to an AFC rival, but he would certainly be a fit and likely vault to the top of the depth chart at running back.
But Taylor would be a significant jolt to a rushing attack that finished the 2022 campaign ranked 22nd in the league. In addition, he would help keep pace in the AFC East with the dynamic offenses of the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
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