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Colts HC Shane Steichen on Jonathan Taylor: When medical staff clears him, he'll play

The relationship between the Indianapolis Colts and running back Jonathan Taylor appears to be disintegrating at a remarkable rate.

After landing on the physically unable to perform list at the start of camp, it took less than a week for Taylor to go from what many expected to be a short stay on the PUP list to wanting out of Indianapolis entirely.

On Sunday, multiple local beat writers reported that the Colts were weighing potentially placing Taylor on the non-football injury list -- a move that could potentially cost Taylor six game checks -- due to a back issue that came up during his pre-training camp physical.

Following the reports, Taylor vehemently denied any back issues. Colts head coach Shane Steichen declined to elaborate on Taylor's status during his Monday media session.

"He's just dealing with something right now, and I'm going to refrain from getting into that," Steichen said, per The Athletic.

Steichen added, per the Indy Star: "Right now he's on this football team, and when the medical staff clears him, he'll play"

Despite Steichen's comments on Monday, it seems as if both sides could be nearing a point of no return in Indiana. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport provided the latest update on a developing situation that is apparently only worsening with each day:

"It's clear the Colts believe there is some sort of back pain -- Jonathan Taylor certainly does not," Rapoport explained on Monday's edition of Inside Training Camp Live. "If the team was going to retroactively put him on the non-football injury list, they would have to do so with a failure to disclose the injury. They would have to allege that Taylor lied to them and did not disclose a non-football injury, and to my knowledge that does not seem to be what happened.

"But that is how complicated this has gotten. This is how nasty this has gotten. There aren't too many instances of teams going so public with essentially a campaign against their best player. There's not a lot of precedent for this. ... We'll see where this goes from here, but these bridges are burning."

Because nothing happens in a vacuum, Taylor's status cannot be viewed without also considering his role in this summer's ongoing saga regarding the devaluation of running backs. Taylor is entering the final year of his rookie contract -- due to make $4.3 million this season -- and after injuries limited his effectiveness last year, 2023 is shaping up to be a crucial year for a running back who vaulted into the elite class at his position in his first two seasons.

As the best offensive player on a Colts team that certainly needs him, Taylor knows he'll likely never have more leverage than he does now. An unfortunate bit of Monday news only strengthened Taylor's standing: Fellow Colts running back Zack Moss suffered a broken arm during practice, NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo reported. Moss is expected to miss six weeks, which would leave the Colts even thinner at the position.

But it's a bit of a precarious situation.

As this offseason proved, running backs aren't seen as essential commodities in today's pass-first NFL. Clubs have come to realize they can fill the depth chart with a committee, or draft a younger talent and rely on that player at a cheaper rate before repeating the cycle when said player is due to be paid. Instead of handing out lavish deals to young stars -- as was the case with Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman and Ezekiel Elliott -- teams are instead opting to stay younger at a position that has become notorious for lacking longevity, resulting in the use of franchise tags on a trio of stars (Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard), and a lack of work for a number of other quality players.

Taylor also needs to prove his health issues were just a product of bad luck, and not a sign of things to come. After rushing for 2,980 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first two years, Taylor's 2022 season (861 yards and four touchdowns on 192 carries) underwhelmed, calling his future into question.

With plenty of recent data discouraging it, it's understandable for any team to be wary of paying a running back, especially as contract totals rise at other key positions. Managing an NFL salary cap is a delicate balancing act, and running back continues to occupy less and less of the total pie.

But the fashion in which the Colts are handling this situation isn't exactly savvy. Owner Jim Irsay inserted himself into the conversation regarding running backs last week, inevitably leading him to reveal the Colts had not engaged Taylor in long-term talks, which resulted in Taylor and Irsay having a meeting on Irsay's bus Saturday.

That meeting apparently did not go well. Shortly thereafter, Rapoport reported that Taylor had requested a trade, news to which Irsay did not take kindly.

"We're not trading Jonathan ... end of discussion," Irsay texted Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. "Not now and not in October!"

Taylor is attempting to take control of the situation by requesting a trade with the hope he'll be sent to an employer that is interested in keeping him for years to come. So far, it seems as if these equally firm stances taken by both the Colts and Taylor have only increased the gap between both sides. It might take a while to bridge that gap -- if there are any bridges left.

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