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Jonathan Taylor running past Patriots defenders

Source: INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – DECEMBER 18: Jonathan Taylor #28 of the Indianapolis Colts rushes for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 18, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The NFL world was surprised to learn that New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is signing a 1-year deal worth $11 million to remain with the team. 

The deal is slightly more than the $10.1 million Barkley would’ve received had he signed the franchise tender the team had extended to him earlier. It’s nowhere near the type of long-term contract Barkley, and other running backs like Josh Jacobs of Las Vegas and the Colts own Jonathan Taylor, are seeking.  

Jacobs has reportedly left Las Vegas as the Raiders begin training camp and is not expected to return for the foreseeable future. Jacobs has not signed his franchise tender, so he is not under contract with the team and thus is not in danger of being fined. Taylor, who is still under contract on his rookie deal for one more season, would be subject to fines had he decided to not report to camp on Tuesday.  

On the surface, it’s surprising that Barkley is back so quickly given how outspoken he has been on desiring a new contract, and on how the league’s treatment of running backs is unfair. However, when you dig in a little more, it becomes more understandable.  

To start with, Barkley had very little leverage. Sitting out actual games was not ideal; NFL running backs have a much shorter shelf life compared to other positions, so every game check matters. Getting some money, even if it’s not what Barkley was hoping for, is better than getting no money and being in the same position next season.  

There is also the recent history of running backs sitting out to consider. The last notable back to sit out actual games was Le’Veon Bell of the Steelers in 2018. It’s a move Bell would later say he regretted; after missing the entire 2018 season, he would sign a 4-year, $52.5 million deal with $35 million guaranteed with the New York Jets. That deal would average out to about $14.3 million per year; the best offer he received from the Steelers would’ve paid around $14 million. He would never come close to the success he had in Pittsburgh however, only appearing in 17 games for Gang Green, rushing for 863 yards and 3 touchdowns, before he was released in October 2020, in his 2nd season with the team. Ultimately, sitting out would cost Bell more than it would earn him, and would serve as a cautionary tale for other running backs.  

So what does this all mean for Jonathan Taylor? 

While Taylor is still under contract for another season, and he did report to camp, unless he and the Colts come to terms on an extension this year, this could linger over the Colts into next offseason. Theoretically, the Colts could then use the franchise tag on him, tag him again the following year, and then move on to a younger, cheaper option. 

That would, however, go against the precedent the Colts have established with their homegrown players under Chris Ballard. Under Ballard, the Colts have rewarded their own, including Quenton Nelson and Shaquille Leonard, with long-term deals. Ballard himself commented on his policy of extending his own players  

“You pay good players. You pay guys who are going to help you to win, regardless of the position.” 

One notable development in the situation emerged late Tuesday afternoon. The Colts announced that they had placed Taylor on the active/PUP list to start training camp. While Taylor did have offseason ankle surgery, there was no mention of him going on the list when Ballard and others met with the media. That raises the question; could this be related to his contract situation? 

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