It’s been nearly a week since the ongoing Jonathan Taylor saga appeared to have reached a breaking point. News of Taylor’s trade request — an ask that the Indianapolis Colts have maintained they will not honor — leaked on Saturday after the fourth-year running back met privately with team owner Jim Irsay.
But is a potential trade impossible? Now that the Colts have publicly stated they won’t offer Taylor a contract extension before his rookie contract expires next spring, no clear solution has emerged. New reporting from ESPN’s Stephen Holder and The Athletic’s Jeff Howe suggests that while a trade remains unlikely, it’s not entirely out of the question.
Will the Colts Trade Jonathan Taylor?
After Taylor’s trade request (reportedly made several days before he met with Irsay) was made public, Irsay told Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated the Colts would not deal their star running back.
“We’re not trading Jonathan,” Irsay texted. “End of discussion. Not now and not in October!”
While Irsay’s stance remains Indy’s only public comment on a potential Taylor trade, the concept of moving Taylor “has not been totally dismissed at Colts headquarters,” according to Holder. Multiple sources told Holder that Taylor “remains steadfast in his desire to play elsewhere.”
However, the Colts’ “preferred scenario” is to retain Taylor, as Howe reported on Thursday. Taylor is scheduled to make $4.304 million in 2023 while counting $5.1 million on Indianapolis’ salary cap.
“You see why guys, they request trades,” Taylor said in June. “They just want to feel valued, not only by their coaches, but the organization as well, and I think it’s something you’ve got to continue to do.”
What Is Taylor’s Injury Outlook?
Taylor is currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery. He’s attending practice sessions but cannot participate until he’s removed from the PUP list.
On Sunday, Mike Chappell of FOX59 reported the Colts were considering placing Taylor on the non-football injury (NFI) list after he reportedly suffered a back injury while working out on his own. NFL teams can put players on the NFI list if they are hurt outside of a club-sanctioned session.
While Taylor has indicated he never had or reported any back pain to the Colts, Holder’s sources say otherwise. Per Holder, Taylor discussed back pain and hamstring tightness when he arrived at camp that could have been related to his ankle injury.
Were Taylor to remain on the NFI list for the entire season, Indianapolis could withhold his salary. Additionally, Taylor’s contract would toll, meaning he would reach free agency in 2024.
However, the NFL Players Union would likely fight any attempt by Indy to place Taylor on the NFI list. Such a move now appears unlikely, according to Holder.
How Much Would Taylor Cost To Acquire?
If the Colts change their tune on trading Taylor, they would likely have a market. Two NFL executives told Holder that rival teams would be interested in acquiring Taylor, while Ian Rapoport of NFL Network recently indicated several teams planned to call Indianapolis about Taylor’s availability.
But any Taylor market that forms is likely to be limited. Plenty of serviceable running backs — including Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, and Leonard Fournette — remain available on the open market. And any club that trades for Taylor would likely need to be willing to offer him an extension, potentially at a rate of $15+ million per year.
In terms of a trade package, the 49ers’ acquisition of Christian McCaffrey at last year’s deadline serves as a potential reference point. San Francisco sent second, third, and fourth-round picks in 2023 and a 2024 fifth-rounder to Carolina in exchange for CMC.
But the Panthers had already paid McCaffrey’s signing bonus and much of his guaranteed money before he was shipped to the 49ers. San Francisco inherited three years and change of CMC’s contract at roughly $37 million, while the only remaining guarantee was a $1 million injury guarantee for 2023.
A team that acquired would need to be amenable to a contract that offered Taylor a significant salary and guarantee structure. As one NFL general manager told Howe, that seems unlikely at this stage.
“Too pricy on both fronts,” the executive said, noting the cost of a trade and an extension.
Taylor correctly assumes that, without a contract extension in place, he could be franchise-tagged in 2024, just as Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard were this offseason. A trade and a new contract would eliminate that possibility, but for now, it’s anyone’s guess as to how Taylor and the Colts will handle their strained relationship.