Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs … these running backs have been highly productive for their teams in seasons past — carrying the load at times offensively. They’re also all players who have seen their value plummet in recent seasons and weeks.
The narrative around running backs is they’re undervalued and underappreciated. Watching things unfold this offseason that’s hard to argue with.
Cook and Elliott remain without a team, and Taylor (along with many others) is without a new contract. The value of the running back position appears lower than ever.
What Happened to Running Backs’ Value?
There are two main reasons for the development. First and foremost, the NFL has become a passing league. You win in the modern environment by passing the ball and passing it well.
The NFL even changed rules to help offenses pass the ball. Quarterbacks can step back in the pocket and throw the ball, knowing they’re just not going to get hit like they might once have.
>>WANNSTEDT: Backs Must Make Best of Situations
In a league where you throw the ball to score points and run the ball to take the air out of the game, spending your money on the guys you think are going to put up the points makes sense.
The other development that hindered the running back market is that teams proved they can win with young running backs, who also happen to be cheap. Recently, teams found valuable contributors at the running back position later in the draft. This past season, the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl with rookie seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco as their primary ball carrier in the running game.
Teams are less likely to spend $15 or $16 million annually on a player whose production, some organizations feel, can be replicated by a late-round pick earning a fraction of that total. When resources are tight, having to sign franchise quarterbacks and other premium positions to the massive contracts we have seen as of late, resource allocation calls for these tough decisions to be made.
Taylor’s Character Can’t Be Discounted
As head coach in Indianapolis, I had a player in Frank Gore who gave us the best of both worlds in this regard. When we picked up Frank, he was a proven commodity on the field. He was valued in the locker room, and his resume spoke for itself. I was also lucky enough to have had a relationship with Frank from our time at the University of Miami. In the end, many factors helped us succeed. But at that time, the market was different; we were able to negotiate a deal with Frank that didn’t break the bank on our end, and still, we got a warrior every Sunday.
That is part of what makes Taylor’s situation in Indianapolis so surprising. Talk to anyone in the building, from the ownership group and the coaching staff, and you will hear that Jonathan is as high-character an individual as they come.
I know about JT and his heart first-hand. A few years ago, we held our annual ChuckStrong Gala, and that year it got pushed back into mid-August — right in the heart of NFL training camp. Only four or five players could show up. Jonathan Taylor was one of them.
These players had practice in the morning, meetings all afternoon, and still used their precious evening time off to help us. I had the opportunity to shake Jonathan’s hand and get to know him a bit. I wasn’t surprised to learn what an outstanding young man he is, both in terms of his football IQ and personality.
I’m not the only person who can see that. Jim Irsay, Chris Ballard and Shane Steichen — the owner, general manager and head coach, the three pillars of leadership in Indianapolis — know just as well as I do what an impressive person we’re talking about. They know how much he wants to succeed and how much he wants to win. Put simply, Taylor embodies everything the horseshoe represents.
Taylor Would Help Richardson’s Development
It’s also somewhat surprising, from a football standpoint, to see a team with a rookie quarterback potentially strain its relationship with its star runner. There are a couple of things we all know a team can do to help out a new, young quarterback. Those are have a great defense, and run the rock. The Colts could lean on Taylor to help in Anthony Richardson’s development and open up the passing game for him.
I don’t envy coach Steichen’s position during his first camp in Indiana right now.
The media will push Steichen for answers regarding his star running back’s situation. And it will be on the Colts’ first-year head coach to show he’s up to it at the podium, day after day, keeping fans informed and hopeful while also keeping his team’s attention on winning games.
And I know everybody in that locker room is saying the same thing: JT is a top-notch human, football player and teammate.
We can’t afford to lose this guy.
>>BENOIT: What Are Taylor’s Chances of Cashing In?
Chuck Pagano is a former NFL head coach and assistant. He is best known for his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts where he won two straight AFC South titles.