With Jonathan Taylor prepared to come off the PUP, things are poised to get even uglier
The ball's in Taylor's court; does he return to the football field, or does he get suspended by the Colts for conduct detrimental? Stay tuned. Bring popcorn.
Now it’s time for the Colts to play hardball.
Since Jonathan Taylor started his “hold-in,” claiming he was struggling with a bum ankle while demanding a trade out of Indy, the Colts have played nice-nice. They put him up the PUP list. They didn’t fine him. They didn’t suspend him. All they did, basically, was buy time and put more pressure on Taylor and his agent, Malki Kawa.
Monday, the day Taylor comes off the PUP list, there’s a very good chance all of that changes. No more Mr. Nice Guy from the Colts. And maybe – likely -- no Taylor on the football field.
As ESPN’s Dan Graziano reported this week, “From what I understand, (Taylor) still doesn’t want to play for the Colts, and they still don’t want to give him a long-term contract…”
It’s a stalemate. The dynamic hasn’t changed. Everything is as it was in late July, when the Colts reported to camp and Taylor walked the perimeter of the fields with a hoodie and a grim look on his face.
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So what happens next? I reached out to a current general manager and a former general manager, two men who’ve been through their fair share of holdouts, and they offered roughly the same approach if Taylor refuses to honor his contract.
First, there’s the issue of the physical. Taylor has to pass it in order to be activated. Obviously, the Colts are going to clear him. Physicals are highly subjective, and the team has every incentive to force Taylor’s hand here.
Anyway, Taylor doesn’t want to go back on PUP because he’d miss the entire season and lose a full year’s accrual on his contract. (Not gonna happen)
If the Colts say he is healthy – and hell, Taylor posted an Instagram video of himself running routes, and his agent (sorry, a league source) told the NFL information guys that Taylor is healthy and cleared to play – Taylor will have no choice but to make a decision:
Does he play or start taking hits to the bank account?
Clearly, it looks and sounds like he’s dug in, as the Graziano report re-confirmed. He doesn’t want to play for a team that refuses to give him a long-term extension, or take the possibility of the franchise tag off the table. My best guess is he feels like he’s being held hostage after the Colts turned down any and all trade proposals to move him. The animus is deep, and it’s real.
There’s this goofy idea out there that the Colts are not completely against the notion of giving him an extension, but first want to see if he’s healthy and if he fits into the Shane Steichen offense.
Wrong. They are completely against it.
If they had any inclination to extend him later on, they wouldn’t have let this thing turn as ugly as it’s become. Jim Irsay made it pretty clear on numerous occasions; he does not want to re-set a depressed running back market. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.
Wait until he’s healthy? How obtuse can you be? He had a minor ankle procedure eight months ago. It’s a 2-to-4 week recovery. Same thing E.J. Speed had, and he’s starting every game and playing almost every snap. This is a classic “hold-in,” and Taylor should consider himself fortunate the team went along with this PUP ruse. Of course he’s healthy. It’s not like he’s coming off a torn Achilles, for crying out loud. It was a minor procedure, nothing more. Did I mention he’s 24 years old?
Second, this idea that they have to wait to see if Taylor fits into Steichen’s offense? Show me one team – one – that wouldn’t greatly benefit from having one of the two or three best running backs in the league in their backfield? What kind of exotic offense is Steichen running that wouldn’t be better with a homerun hitter like Taylor? Zack Moss rushed 30 times last week, so apparently, this weird, never-before-seen offense utilizes the running back now and again.
So what’s next?
If Taylor refuses to budge, the Colts could either start fining him for conduct detrimental to the team, or they could suspend him and send him home for conduct detrimental. Both GM’s agreed the Colts would be more likely to suspend him because you could get the roster spot back. Now, he would be missing game checks – roughly $240,000 per game – which has a way of getting a player’s (and agent’s) attention.
The Colts have Taylor where they want him, between a rock and a hard place, left with two choices, neither of them good for the player.
So then we’re right back where we were when the Colts gave Taylor and his agent the freedom to pursue a trade. Does anybody really think the Colts had any intention of making a deal? Hell, no. They intended all along to wait this out and put Taylor in this corner.
And it’s not like teams are lining up to make a Taylor deal. Miami was the front-runner all along, but the way they’re playing, dropping 70 on the Broncos, how much are they going to be willing to trade away at this point? It’s still early in the season, but they look like a Super Bowl-quality team even without Taylor (and it’s not like former Purdue back Raheem Mostert is a slug, either).
I’ve actually heard some fans suggest that Zack Moss’ two strong performances make it less important the Colts bring Taylor back.
Moss’ best numbers don’t even compare with Taylor’s worst. Taylor averaged 4.5 yards per carry last year while dealing with injuries and playing behind a lost offensive line. Moss is averaging 4.4 and everybody thinks he’s Jim Brown.
Yes, he’s run well the last two weeks and he’s a good guy with a great story, but he’s not a star in this league. Taylor, who set the Colts single-season rushing record two years ago, is an absolute stud, an All-Pro, all-everything. People talk about last year being a down year, but he still finished with 861 yards while playing hurt and missing six games.
It's the story that won’t go away, and it’s going to get uglier after Sunday’s Rams’ game than it ever was before. The ball’s in Taylor’s court. If he refuses to honor his contract, it’s going to go from really bad to even worse. We’ve reached the inflection point. Stay tuned.