Following a report on Wednesday from ESPN’s Stephen Holder saying that the Packers expressed “legitimate interest” in Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, Josina Anderson reported on Thursday that Green Bay was also willing to give Taylor a deal that would make him one of the highest-paid running backs in football.
Currently, Christian McCaffrey is the highest-paid running back in football, with an average annual value of $16 million. Alvin Kamara is second at $15 million, and Derrick Henry is third at $12.5 million per year.
It’s difficult to determine how deep these discussions between the Packers and Colts have actually gone. Would it have gotten to the point where the foundation of Taylor’s next deal was laid out? To a degree, this could be both parties – the Colts and Taylor – jockeying for position within the media.
Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette would report on Wednesday that talks between the two organizations never went beyond the scout level, although the reports mentioned above suggest otherwise. What we do know is that, at some level, conversations happened. When meeting with reporters on Wednesday, Brian Gutekunst was asked about trading for Taylor and never denied that the Packers looked into that situation.
"“I don’t know how these things get out there,” said Gutekunst. “I don’t particularly care, either. You guys know how business is run here. That’s just not how we do ‘em, and I don’t really want to react to them. We have conversations about players throughout the National Football League, players on our team with other teams, all the time. People ask about our guys all the time. That’s just part of it. I can’t be worried about what our players think every time somebody calls and asks us because it might get out in the media. Not really too concerned with that.”"
From a pure football perspective, adding the 24-year-old Taylor, a 2021 All-Pro, to the mix makes perfect sense. This is a Matt LaFleur offense where a balanced run-pass mix is key, as is utilizing play-action. With a first-time starting quarterback and a young skill-position group, a consistent run game is a must because, without it, this offense will be put into predictable passing situations, which is not a recipe for success for any offense, let alone an inexperienced one. An effective run game can shoulder some of that workload and take some of the playmaking burden off the quarterback.
However, with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon already on the roster, not to say that Taylor wouldn’t upgrade the unit, but the Packers already have a top running back duo. So instead, this trade would more so be about the future. Looking ahead to 2024, Dillon is a free agent, while Jones turned 29 later this season and comes with a cap hit next year of over $17 million.
There is a lot of overlap at times between Green Bay and San Francisco, given the LaFleur offense has roots in Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. Last season, we saw the 49ers make a big move to acquire McCaffrey, who played a key role in helping Brock Purdy and the offense make it all the way to the NFC Championship Game—perhaps creating a blueprint for the Packers to attempt to do something similar.
From a financial standpoint, the Packers could fit Taylor’s $4.3 million base salary for this season on their 2023 cap sheet by either extending Rashan Gary or trading Yosh Nijman. Taylor also signing an extension right away would lower his current cap hit as well. Looking ahead to 2024, the Packers’ cap situation is still somewhat tight but does improve with Aaron Rodgers’ contract coming off the books. This is also a very young roster, with an average age of 24.9 years old, which means there are quite a few inexpensive rookie deals on the books as well, making it easier to absorb Taylor’s extension.
But with that said, just because you can do something doesn’t always mean that you should. Giving up potentially a premium draft pick, along with possibly a player, to then have to pay top-of-market value for a position that has shown to be replaceable through the draft doesn’t seem like a prudent use of resources–at least not in today’s NFL. That draft capital and cap dollars could instead be used elsewhere.
For now, discussions have seemingly cooled off, with the Colts ending conversations on Tuesday and placing Taylor on the PUP list to begin the season, meaning he will miss at least the first four games of the season. But just because Taylor hasn’t been traded yet doesn’t mean he won’t be. The NFL’s trade deadline isn’t until October 31st. However, if a trade is going to happen, the Colts are going to need to lower their asking price because if the reports of what they want in return are accurate, Taylor is staying in Indianapolis.