Colts GM Chris Ballard is in a delicate situation, and he knows it.
Whatever he does to resolve the impasse with running back Jonathan Taylor, Ballard’s hands are tied with the fact that owner Jim Irsay is, after all, in charge.
That was the general feeling from the moment Irsay started to stir things up with Taylor. It started with Irssay’s fight tweet regarding a declining market and general efforts to improve it for the men in the job. The situation quickly degenerated into chaos involving Taylor and Irsay meeting on his bus. Taylor’s business request soon came to light after that meeting, and Irsay then insisted on Taylor. It will not be traded!and someone (Irsay, presumably) telling several reporters that the Colts would likely change Taylor’s designation from physically unable to perform (which would result in a paycheck) to a non-football injury (which would have allowed the Colts to stiffen him).
Ballard, through it all, has remained largely calm and utterly dignified, maintaining the league-wide reputation he’d spent his career earning.
If there was ever any doubt that Irsay turned the offer on Taylor, that doubt was cleared on Wednesday, when Ballard was pressed by reporters on a simple question about why the Colts aren’t extending Taylor’s contract now.
Via Zack Keefer of TheAthletic.com, Ballard kept saying, “You pay the great players.” This prompted James Boyd of TheAthletic.com to ask Ballard a simple question: “Then why don’t we pay him?”
Said Ballard,”We won four games last year. We won four games“.
The number of wins in a season that included Matt Ryan being benched (presumably for the rest of the year) followed by the sacking of Frank Reich followed by the hiring of an inexperienced and woefully overrated interim coach clearly doesn’t diminish Taylor’s greatness. . But Ballard was in a box, so he cited his win-loss record rather than resorting to candor.
The blunt response was this: We’re not paying Taylor because the guy writing the checks doesn’t want to.
This is how the Colts have handled great running backs for over 20 years. They traded Marshall Faulk to the No. 1 spot in 1994 rather than sign him to a second contract. They traded Faulk by drafting Edgerrin James in the first round. They let James out as a rookie, flagged him down once, and then let him leave via free agency. (They replaced James by drafting Joseph Addai in the first round.)
With Taylor, Irsay wants to let Taylor complete his rookie deal, tag him once or twice, and then assign him a replacement after he leaves. That is the plan, based on the authority vested in IRSAI under the collective bargaining agreement.
Taylor tries to short-circuit this plan. While he should have held out, the Colts (or at least Irsay) seem to think he’s holding out, and he counts on his surgically repaired ankle as his reason not to play until he gets a contract Irsay won’t give him.
But Ballard can’t say that. He had to say something else. Rather than saying something like, “Well, Taylor wasn’t great last year,” Ballard pointed out a lack of greatness on the part of the team.
Again, Ballard is the one who can, if allowed to, properly resolve this mess. But Irsay, by all appearances, wants to take full advantage of the terms of the CBA, pay Taylor one year at a time, and move forward without ever giving him the contract he got.
This is the heart of the problem. Their only way out at this point is to trade it in, either before the October 31 deadline or after they tick it off in 2024.
The better course for Irsay would be to let Ballard take over, let him mend relations with Taylor, and let Ballard give Taylor the contract Irsay refuses to give.
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