Two weeks ago, during the Colts’ preseason opener against the Bills, Anthony Richardson’s first drive as a professional football player ended in an interception. Coach Shane Steichen and wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, the intended receiver on the play, described it as a miscommunication.
Later in the first quarter, Richardson put a little too much mustard on a routine short pass to tight end Kylen Granson, who couldn’t make the difficult catch for a first down. Later in that drive, with Indianapolis in plus territory, the No. 4 overall pick threw a dime to receiver Alec Pierce on a corner route, but the latter dropped the potential touchdown.
The Colts’ passing miscues in that preseason opener — whether the fault lay with Richardson, the intended target, Steichen or some combination of the three — accentuate the challenges of possible life without Jonathan Taylor in Indianapolis.
In wake of his contract stalemate with the franchise, Taylor has now been given permission to seek a trade, according to a report Monday from ESPN. The star running back had requested a trade at the end of last month, a source confirmed to FOX Sports, but owner Jim Irsay told reporters after the news broke that he had no intention of dealing Taylor.
Irsay also expressed optimism that Taylor, who’s currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list, would be back with the team in comments on the Colts’ broadcast during Saturday’s preseason game against the Bears.
“I know these things are always difficult,” Irsay said, via Indy Star. “I respect any time people are trying to fight for their position, for their families and all those things. And I’ve been around it so long, I just think that the biggest thing that I preach is just OK, ‘Timing is everything.’ We’re really looking forward to him playing his way into being the Jonathan Taylor he was.”
Now, that apparently might not happen in Indianapolis.
And the biggest loser is Richardson.
The Colts drafted Richardson knowing that he could take multiple seasons to come into his own, that his growth as a passer could come through a bumpy road.
In 2022, his lone season as Florida’s starter, he completed just 54% of his throws. Having an effective run game has been viewed as the Colts’ path to finding success offensively this season; to easing the dual-threat Richardson into an offense that has been built to accentuate his strengths.
“Let’s not crown him yet,” general manager Chris Ballard said April 27, after Richardson was drafted. “He’s a young player. He’s got work to do, but we like his talent. We like what he can be. I don’t think Shane (Steichen) could tell you either, but what I can tell you is we drafted him for what we think he can really be in the future.”
Would a Taylor-less Colts offense truly hamper Richardson’s development? It’s difficult to say. It’s possible that Richardson’s skillset and an option-based offense could actually mitigate the loss of a player of Taylor’s caliber. But missing Taylor certainly does the team no favors. A healthy Taylor is one of the NFL’s best running backs. He earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2021, when he registered 332 carries for 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns — the most prolific rushing season in Indianapolis’ history.
The Colts’ running back group behind Taylor is uncertain at best. The No. 2 option, Zack Moss, broke his arm early in training camp and isn’t expected to be available by the start of the regular season. The other notable backups are Deon Jackson — who had 68 carries for 236 yards and a touchdown with the Colts last season — fifth-round rookie Evan Hull and veteran Kenyan Drake.
Chiefs, Bengals, Chargers and more: Who should trade for Jonathan Taylor?
The difficulty projecting Taylor’s trade value
The Colts’ apparent decision to allow Taylor to seek a trade partner shows just how bad things have gotten. But they won’t give him away.
ESPN reported the Colts are seeking a first-round pick — or equivalent package of assets — for Taylor. It’s a steep price for a running back (even for one as good as Taylor), which could speak to Indianapolis’ preference to keep him.
The Panthers didn’t even net a first-round pick for star running back Christian McCaffrey, sending him to the 49ers for a package of Day-2 and 3 picks: a second, third, and fourth-round pick in 2023, plus a 2024 fifth-rounder.
The murkiness of Taylor’s health is another factor in this situation.
He’s been on PUP since the start of training camp to rehabilitate his surgically repaired ankle. He was sidelined for the entire offseason program. It stems from a high-ankle sprain suffered last season, which forced him to miss six games and limited his effectiveness when he did play. He hurt the ankle three times between Weeks 4 and 15. Taylor in 2022 was held to career-lows across the board, in carries (192), rushing yards (861), yards per carry (4.5) and rushing touchdowns (4).
[Arthur: What could Colts’ running game look like without Jonathan Taylor?]
Taylor is 24 and one of the most skilled offensive players in football. When he’s healthy, he’s a force to be reckoned with. But the devalued state of running backs in the NFL coupled with the uncertainty around his health complicates his market.
It feels unlikely that the Colts will get their request met in a potential deal for Taylor.
And maybe that’s the point.
“Look, you have these problems,” Irsay said of the Taylor situation on the broadcast over the weekend. “You never go in with no problems at all. These days, you hope you have less contractual problems because of the way the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) is and they work a lot of things through. But you have them. I know Chris Ballard is going to work hard and get the waters as calm as they can and go forward.”
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more