This offseason has been a very rough one for the running back position. It appears that the NFL as a whole is making a transition into phasing out the position as being one of the highest paid. Previously, running backs were well taken care of financially if they could prove themselves as a workhorse back, however, it appears that this will be a thing of the past.
With the league moving into a much more passing-dominant era, running backs are beginning to become less important to a team’s offense outside of catching dump-off passes. Along with this, with many teams transitioning their offenses to feature a two-running back rotation it has made it very difficult for them to justify paying big for a top back. The final nail in the coffin for running backs is the fact that they are one of the most replaceable positions in the league. With late-round picks proving to be more than capable of being featured backs in the league, teams have begun shying away from resigning backs to a big second contract when they could save cap space and bring in a rookie to fill the position.
Outside of a handful of backs that have already secured big contracts, every player at the position is struggling to find teams willing to sign them to deals the players have become accustomed to. Currently, players like Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, and Leonard Fournette are sitting in free agency with no teams seeming to be all that interested in them.
While Elliott and Fournette have taken a step back from their prime, the same can not be said about Cook. He is still in his prime and is coming off of his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. Along with this, two of the league’s top backs last season, Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs, are set to play the 2023 season on the franchise tag.
With all of this suddenly taking place, younger backs who are nearing their time for an extension have become weary. One of those players being Jonathan Taylor. In the 2021 season, Taylor was arguably the best running back in the entire NFL, and many believed that he was the future of the Colts’ offense.
However, last year, he would suffer through injuries that would keep him sidelined for six of the team’s seventeen games in the regular season. As a result of not being able to play a full season, Taylor’s stats took a big hit. He would finish the season with only 861 yards and four touchdowns while just one year prior he would pick up 1811 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. Pairing his injuries with the poor performance of the Colts’ offensive line, it was a recipe for disaster for Taylor.
With him set to get an extension in the near future coming off of an injury paired with the collapse of the running back market, there is a strong chance that Taylor ends up missing out on a lot of money he would have made if he joined the league just a handful of years prior. When asked about the situation, Taylor was quoted as saying, “We definitely have approached (contract talks). Hopefully, the Colts can see the value. Hopefully, we can explain the value, and not that it needs explanation, but we just want to be here, like I said, to help the team. To help the community and uplift the community”. When asked about the recent collapse in the market for running backs, Taylor said, “Specifically speaking for the running back position, I can just speak first hand we do a lot, and you just want to be treated fairly. And not even treated fairly, you just want to be appreciated for what you bring to the team. It’s never about yourself, it’s about the team, so “What do you bring to the team?”.
If Taylor fails to have a bounce-back season in 2023, there is a good chance that the Colts will let him walk in free agency or franchise tag him. If that ends up being the case, he will find himself in a very tough spot. While there is no chance that he goes unsigned, he is likely to fail to find a contract that matches what he brings to an offense. However, if he is able to come back healthy and play similarly to his 2021 campaign, the Colts may be forced to open up their pocketbook for the franchise back.
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