Jim Irsay made his thoughts known about paying NFL running backs while his own running back, Jonathan Taylor, was due for an extension. Apparently, those thoughts weren’t meant for Taylor at all.
The Indianapolis Colts owner attempted to clarify his comments about the running back market through an interview with ESPN on Thursday, as the discourse around the position continued to rage. The conversation around Taylor had become particularly contentious, with the running back’s agent tweeting he doubted the relationship between owner and player could be fixed.
Irsay said his initial tweet, in which he said players calling for a CBA renegotiation would be “inappropriate” and that some agents were negotiating in “bad faith,” was meant as a more general read on the situation. He also revealed the Colts and Taylor hadn’t begun contract negotiations, despite Taylor being extension-eligible this summer.
“The comment wasn’t really directed at Jonathan,” Irsay said in a phone interview with ESPN. “We haven’t exchanged any contract numbers with each other or anything like that. So, it’s not like we’re in the midst of that. I think we had a tough season last year. Didn’t win a lot of games. This is a year about coming back together and having a great year and we’re really depending on Jonathan to team up with [quarterback] Anthony Richardson to try and pull together to have a great year.”
Irsay might insist that all is fine on the Taylor front, but an NFL team not even making an extension offer toward a former NFL rushing leader might say a lot more about where things are than he wanted to admit.
Of course, Irsay was also effusive with his praise for Taylor:
“We love Jonathan, we need Jonathan,” Irsay said. “Our hope is Jonathan has an outstanding year and that we have a good year as a team and then we get his next contract done. That’s the hope. We think the world of him as a person, as a player. It’s just timing. When your time comes to get paid, then you get paid.”
Those are Irsay’s words. His actions over the next year or so will show how much he and the Colts actually care about Taylor.
Why Jonathan Taylor and other NFL RBs are crying foul
Taylor is entering the final season of his four-year rookie deal and could face a situation very similar to the one currently involving Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard. All three running backs were hit with the franchise tag after productive seasons, preventing them from hitting the free market and leaving them one serious injury from massive financial repercussions.
Pollard signed his tag, Barkley negotiated a separate but similar one-year deal and Jacobs is still holding out.
The Colts have very little reason to give Taylor a deal right now, thanks to the way the system is set up. If he has a good year in 2023, they can franchise tag him. If he has another good year in 2024, they can franchise tag him again. If he’s good after that, he’ll be 26 years old and facing the end of his prime.
Everyone involved knows this, but there’s little the running backs can do beyond posting about it on social media and holding Zoom calls.
The NFL Players Association agreed to these rules in the latest CBA negotiation in 2020 and the complaints of one position group likely aren’t enough to force drastic actions when seemingly every other position is signing record deals. The current CBA expires in 2030.