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Colts GM Chris Ballard says Jonathan Taylor situation 'sucks,' but 'relationships are repairable'

The Jonathan Taylor situation evolved into a saga this week when the Colts were unable to move him before Tuesday's roster cutdown deadline.

Taylor ended up on the physically unable to perform list to start the year with the same ankle issue that prevented him from participating in training camp, meaning he will miss at least the first four games of the 2023 season. But this is about more than just an ankle injury. It's about a frayed relationship between star and club over a potential contract extension.

Colts general manager Chris Ballard -- the frontman for the club -- spoke on the matter Wednesday, telling reporters, quite simply, "it sucks."

"It sucks for the Colts, it sucks for Jonathan Taylor, and it sucks for our fans," Ballard admitted bluntly.

"It's where we're at, and we're got to work through it, and we're going to do everything we can to work through it. Relationships are repairable. They're repairable. When guys get emotional and take a stance, you've got to be able to work through those.

"We've got work to do. We got work to do on the relationship. We got work to do to find a solution to the problem and what we're gonna do."

The saga truly began when Colts owner Jim Irsay commented on the deflated running back market and changes proposed by running backs in the NFL, including adjusting the franchise tag to remove position-specific pay scales. In that, it became evident Indianapolis had not yet engaged Taylor in talks regarding a contract extension, leading to a July meeting between Irsay and Taylor on the owner's bus, which produced Taylor's trade request.

At first, the Colts were adamant they wouldn't trade Taylor. Even Wednesday, Ballard said the club wasn't "just going to let him walk out of the building."

Ballard's front office did eventually grant Taylor permission to seek a trade last week, but after eight days of availability, the Colts didn't field a strong enough offer to consider sending him elsewhere. That left them with only one option: Start 2023 with Taylor on PUP as the running back continues to rehab an ankle injury the necessitated offseason surgery.

"It's when you're still having effects from last year's surgery, and still having pain and not 100 percent," Ballard explained on Wednesday, "we're not going to put a player on the field that's still complaining of pain in the ankle. I wouldn't do that to any player, wouldn't treat anyone differently. So what Jonathan will do is he will rehab his butt off and try to get himself ready to go."

Ballard repeatedly pointed to the ankle injury -- not the contract dispute -- as the reason for starting the campaign with Taylor on PUP. It is notable that Taylor will rehab at the team facility, as Ballard confirmed Wednesday.

But that doesn't mean their relationship is suddenly fixed. If anything, it sounds as if both parties understand that if they're ever to collaborate on the field again, they'll have to find common ground.

"I felt I was very honest with all my discussions, and I've thought through what we could have done differently -- I'm sure both sides would probably tell you, 'man I wish I had done something a little bit differently," Ballard said when asked if there was anything he could have done to resolve the situation before it got to this current point.

"But the one thing I do know, it doesn't do me any good -- anybody any good -- to sit up here say it's somebody else's fault. That's not productive. It doesn't help you find a solution."

The solution could still be a trade. Multiple teams were interested, including the Green Bay Packers, as NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday. Extenuating circumstances could prompt a team to increase the value of a potential offer for Taylor. Conversely, further damage to the relationship between Taylor and the Colts could lower their asking price.

Right now, though, it appears as if the Colts understand the gravity of the situation in which they've played a part in creating. What they won't accept, though, is having their reputation for retaining valuable players -- which Ballard on Wednesday described Taylor as being -- maligned because of this situation.

When asked why Indianapolis didn't want to pay Taylor, Ballard pointed to a lack of team production last season.

"I think you can look this up. We've given guys early extensions. We've given guys extensions before they went into their fifth year. ... I think every situation is a little bit different. And I explained this during camp: Coming off last season, it's tough. You won four games. You've got a brand-new coaching staff, all the circumstances surrounding it. So I think every situation is different."

At this point, one of two outcomes is most likely: Either the Colts find a proper trade partner with satisfactory compensation offered, which Ballard declined to discuss Wednesday, or they work on the relationship with Taylor while he's rehabbing -- possibly reaching an agreement on an extension during this time -- and find a way to work together when he's ready to play.

"I'm disappointed because we've never dealt with this before. That's why it sucks," Ballard said. "We've done a good job making sure to communicate, making sure the player knew where they stood, what we were going to do going forward.

"There's always a first. This happens from time to time. It's just something we work through."

Until such a time arrives, this will continue to be a notable storyline worth tracking. Time heals all, and the Colts have the benefit of at least some time on their side.

Ballard won't drag Taylor's name through the mud at this juncture -- not when there's a chance to make everything right, both in relationship and possibly in compensation.

"I want everyone to know Jonathan is a well-respected, and a really good human being and a damn good football player. I think we all know this, all right?" Ballard said at the beginning of his news conference on Wednesday. "Things like this happen. I tell every rookie that comes in, there's going to be a point when we disagree and it's usually about money and it's going to be hard. Just know that doesn't change my care level for you.

"I care deeply for Jonathan Taylor. I have great respect for Jonathan Taylor. My relationship, I would tell you, look even when it gets hard I won't quit on the relationship. I won't do it. I think too much of the young man. I think too much of what he's given our organization and how hard he's played for us."

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