Colts RB Jonathan Taylor willing to play without new deal: 'It wouldn't be a distraction to me'

After next week's draft, which the Indianapolis Colts hope will bring a new franchise quarterback, one of the critical tasks on general manager Chris Ballard's to-do list presumably would be a new contract for star running back Jonathan Taylor.

The former second-round running back enters the final year of his rookie contract but didn't let on Wednesday if the team's already approached him about a new deal.

"I don't even know that goes," Taylor said, via the Indy Star. "You always just see that, but not until you're really in that situation, to where you're like, 'OK, (this) is what happens.' … I'll keep you posted."

Taylor is one of the few workhorse backs in the NFL, entering the league in 2020 with back-to-back 1,100-plus-yard seasons. He led the league in rushing in 2021 with 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns. However, he missed six contests in 2022 due to injury, earning career lows across the board with 192 carries for 861 yards and four scores.

Taylor's contract will be an interesting one. He's clearly a playmaker on a club currently barren on the offensive side of the ball. Given the expectation that a rookie quarterback will be brought in next week, it would make sense to ensure Taylor is saddled next to said signal-caller for years to come as the offense grows under new coach Shane Steichen.

And, yet, Taylor is still a running back in a market that's been brutal to the position.

The top free agent this offseason was Miles Sanders, who signed for just $6.35 million annually on a four-year deal with the Panthers. Taylor is set to make $4.304 million in base salary in the fourth year of his rookie contract. The Packers' Aaron Jones elected to take a pay cut rather than test the market. The futures of Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry -- paid the second- and third-highest among RBs -- remain in limbo.

Teams decided it was more prudent to use the $10.091 million franchise tag on RBs than pay them long-term money this offseason -- Tony Pollard, Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley. While it's a good one-year payday, it's not long-term security for a grinding position.

If Taylor and the Colts can't come to a long-term solution, he'd be a prime candidate to be tagged next offseason. Indy could use the tag again in 2025, essentially giving the team leverage for the next three seasons.

Taylor could sit out offseason work in search of a new deal, including taking on fines for missing mandatory work. But he's shown up for the early voluntary portion already and insisted his contract isn't on his mind.

"It wouldn't be a distraction to me," Taylor said. "I'm under contract here for four years, I put the pen to the paper, so that's where I'm at right now. I have an obligation to them, and an obligation to me, but things will happen naturally."

The Colts generally get extensions done before July training camp kicks off. So if they're to extend Taylor's contract, that would be a sensible time. If not, we could be at the start of a game of tag with the former NFL leading rusher.

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