The landscape of the running back position in the NFL has significantly changed in recent years, with teams placing less emphasis on investing big money in star running backs. The Indianapolis Colts, however, face a crucial decision regarding the value they assign to their standout player, Jonathan Taylor.
This article delves into the potential extension of Taylor’s contract and its implications for the present and future value of the running back position.
The Decline in Running Back Value
There has been a significant decline in running backs taken in the early stages of the NFL Draft. Since 2019, just two running backs have been selected within the first 23 picks. Between 2015-2018, there were six taken in the top-15. This trend may also be influenced by the NFL odds, as teams are increasingly valuing other positions and strategic approaches over investing heavily in running backs.
The running back position has experienced a decline in value, with many teams adopting a cost-effective committee approach or finding success with later-round draft picks, demonstrating that teams can succeed without overspending on running backs. Isiah Pacheco of the Kansas City Chiefs serves as a prime example, having been a seventh-round selection who thrived in the team’s offensive system under Andy Reid.
The Exceptional Running Backs
Despite the trend of devaluing the position, a handful of running backs continue to carry the weight of their respective offenses. Alvin Kamara, Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, and Taylor fall into this category. Taylor, in particular, stands out as the lone running back due for an extension, making his potential contract negotiation crucial for the position’s future.
The Significance of Jonathan Taylor’s Extension
Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus identifies Taylor’s contract negotiation as the most important one for the running back position. The value of Taylor’s extension, if he signs one, will serve as a watershed moment, shaping the NFL’s future and the running back market. Previous extensions, such as Christian McCaffrey’s four-year deal worth over $16 million per year, set a benchmark yet to be surpassed.
Since being drafted by the Colts, Taylor’s accomplishments include winning a rushing title and earning a first-team All-Pro nod in his second season. Unfortunately, injuries, along with terrible quarterback play and constantly being behind big in games, derailed his 2022 season quite a bit.
Although not as prolific a pass-catcher as McCaffrey, Taylor possesses the versatility of a three-down back and the ability to elude defenders in open space. As the franchise-tagged backs Josh Jacobs and Saquon Barkley face uncertainty in their contract negotiations, Taylor’s situation stands out due to the direct involvement of Colts general manager Chris Ballard in his drafting.
Potential Ramifications for the Position
Should Taylor fail to secure an extension in the range of $15 million per year, it would raise concerns for other running backs seeking lucrative contracts. Spielberger’s assessment holds merit; if Taylor’s extension settles in the four-year/$50 million range, it could set a precedent that affects the position for years to come. Despite Taylor’s exceptional talent, $12.5 million per year falls short of the superstar money some believe he deserves.
Reasons for Optimism
There is reason to believe that Taylor will receive a deserved extension. The Colts are well aware of his impact on their offense, particularly during the 2021 season. Despite playing with an underwhelming receiving corps and an average quarterback in Carson Wentz, Taylor emerged as an MVP-caliber player, leading the league in rushing in multiple categories.
Even in a down year like 2022, Taylor remained on track to accumulate impressive rushing yards and touchdowns despite having little help around him. Many believe it is likely that the Colts will recognize his contributions and offer him a significant contract.
A Reasonable Prediction
A reasonable prediction for Taylor’s extension is a four-year deal worth $64 million, matching McCaffrey’s average annual salary. This figure would not trigger a widespread shift towards paying running backs excessively but would reinforce the notion that superstar backs deserve substantial compensation.
Despite the NFL’s increasing focus on the passing game, certain teams continue to rely on the ground game, making the running back position vital to their success. Jonathan Taylor has established himself as one of the league’s most dangerous offensive weapons, and the Colts acknowledge his value.
General manager Chris Ballard understands Taylor’s crucial role in their new offensive system under Shane Steichen. As a result, Taylor’s contract extension is likely to be among the highest-paid at his position, solidifying his place as a top-tier running back in the NFL.