The Indianapolis Colts’ self-imposed deadline for trading Jonathan Taylor came and went without any action. This played out precisely like team owner Jim Irsay intended.
It took fewer than 24 hours for details to leak out about the Colts’ side of the trade they’d allowed their best offensive player to seek. As teams across the NFL set their rosters and picked through the scraps of a replenished free agent market, Indianapolis found itself soaking up buzz not from the moves it made but the one it didn’t. Taylor remains on the roster, albeit on the physically unable to perform list for at least four games. A rebuilding franchise will trundle forward in a feud with its most recognizable star.
Again, this is what the team wanted. That much became clear on Wednesday when reports swirled about negotiations between the Colts and parties interested in freeing the 2021 NFL rushing leader from football purgatory. At first, Irsay wanted a first round pick or its rough equivalent in exchange for a player he’d deemed unworthy of a market value contract extension. Then, when the Miami Dolphins emerged as one of few suitors in need of a running back, the asking price got even more lopsided.
As @HolderStephen reported, Packers were mystery bidder for Jonathan Taylor, besides the Dolphins. And can confirm through Dolphins person, as reported by Indy media, that Colts made wild requests from Miami, including Waddle & more.
— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) August 30, 2023
This is, again, a wild interpretation of running back value from a franchise insisting it does not value running backs. Jaylen Waddle is coming off a 1,356-yard season in which he led the league in yards per catch (18.1). He was fundamental to Tua Tagovailoa’s growth as a quarterback. He’s a top 10 wideout, which places his annual average value at roughly $24 million (and rising) even though he’s scheduled to count just $16 million against the NFL’s salary cap over the next two seasons.
This is all a long way of saying that deal was never going to happen. While the defense from Indianapolis’s camp may be “it never hurts to ask,” it’s similarly true you can ask questions to which you already know the answer. Miami was never going to meet that asking price, especially with veteran tailbacks — inferior to Taylor, certainly, but significantly cheaper in every regard — dotting the open market both before and after cutdown day.
Reports broke Wednesday that the other team in the bidding was the Green Bay Packers. With Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon already in the fold, it’s easy to see why general manager Brian Gutekunst wouldn’t meet the Colts’ demands just to add a third safety valve behind Jordan Love’s passing offense.
This is all bad news for Taylor. Indianapolis priced out the one contender who really needs him and blocked a move back to Wisconsin. While he theoretically remains available up until the October 31 trade deadline, it’s hard to imagine any team getting desperate enough to pay the king’s ransom needed to sate Irsay’s front office.
That was the intent. Allowing Taylor to seek a trade was lip service, a concession in an ongoing negotiation that ultimately meant nothing. The Colts are utilizing their leverage, knowing they have their star running back under contract through 2023 and have the option to franchise tag him for something approaching $13 million in 2024 — and could tag him again in 2025 for roughly $16 million. Those are big numbers, sure, but it would be years before he’d even match Christian McCaffrey’s annual average salary in San Francisco thanks to an extension he signed in 2020.
Taylor is left with a choice. He can remain entrenched in his entirely logical and reasonable stance that he deserves a rich contract extension — the Colts made him play with Carson Wentz and the ghost of Matt Ryan, for god’s sake — and stare down the myriad options Indianapolis can weaponize against him to keep him in the fold. Or he can show up and play football for a team and owner that doesn’t value him, putting his future earnings at risk in hopes of eventually breaking free and finding a franchise that might actually value the running back position.
It’s a difficult decision, but one thing is clear. The Colts aren’t serious about trading Jonathan Taylor. Not when they’re asking the moon for a player they don’t even care enough about to sign to a contract extension.