One of the NFL's best running backs wants out of Indianapolis.
Colts running back Jonathan Taylor has made his desire to move on from the Colts clear when he demanded a trade in late July. Taylor’s trade request comes after the Colts declined the star running back’s request for a contract extension in May. The Colts have not shown a willingness to budge on that position. Taylor is slated to make $4.3 million this season, the final year of his rookie contract.
Colts owner Jim Irsay initially held his ground, saying they he no intention of trading Taylor. But the Colts appear to have budged on that stance as ESPN’s Stephen Holder reported that the Cotls have given Taylor until Aug. 29, the NFL’s cut-down day, to find a suitable trade partner. The Colts reportedly are looking for a first-round pick or the equivalent of a first-round pick in exchange for Taylor.
According to Holder, six teams have reached out to the Colts to inquire about Taylor. Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald recently reported that the Bears, along with the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos, are among the interested parties.
Taylor is a 24-year-old star who led the league in rushing in 2021. On paper, he’d be a perfect fit in the Bears’ wide-zone scheme, and the thought of a Justin Fields-Taylor backfield would keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
But the Bears finding a way to strike a deal to bring the All-Pro running back up I-65/90 to Chicago wouldn’t make a ton of sense.
This offseason, the Bears allowed workhorse running back David Montgomery to walk in free agency, allowing him to sign a three-year, $18 million contract with the Detroit Lions. That number was strikingly low for Montgomery, but the Bears decided to opt for a value-based, running-back-by-committee approach.
If the Bears weren’t willing to pay a low price for a productive halfback like Montgomery, why would they break the bank – both in the draft assets needed for a trade and a lucrative extension – for Taylor?
The pieces don’t fit.
Moreover, the Bears’ running back room for the Bears is stocked with upside. High upside that should be able to give them 80 percent of the yards that a healthy Taylor is capable of amassing.
Following Montgomery's departure, the Bears signed D'Onta Foreman and drafted Roschon Johnson. Foreman put up great numbers with the Carolina Panthers last season, and really took off once Christian McCaffrey was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. Foreman rushed for 914 yards while playing in just 35 percent of offensive snaps for the year.
While Johnson was drafted in the fourth round, he is one of the most highly-touted running back prospects from the 2023 NFL Draft class. Many believe that if Johnson didn't play behind Bijan Robinson, who was selected with the No. 8 pick, he would've been a high-quality Power 5 starter elsewhere in college. He averaged 6.21 yards per attempt last season, which ranked 21st in FBS, and 0.01 yards behind the No. 12 pick, Jahmyr Gibbs.
Another reason the Bears are unlikely to trade for Taylor is the opportunity cost. When you spend $16 million per year on a top-tier running back, you're taking money away from other positions – ones that might be more valuable in the modern NFL.
Using a chunk of the future salary cap on a non-premium position, even for a player as talented as Taylor, takes money off the Bears’ ledger that they have earmarked for a different position.
"There is a salary cap and when other positions explode and expand fast in the market, it has to be taken from somewhere," Bear general manager Ryan Poles told Rich Eisen. "Maybe it's multiple positions. I think we've seen the quarterback positions, the defensive tackles, the pass rushers exploded."
Using valuable draft capital to acquire Taylor and then having to pay him $13-16 million a year would likely hamper the Bears’ rebuild efforts. They still have massive long-term needs at edge rusher and offensive line, two positions you need to draft, develop, and extend in today’s NFL.
Given the trade price and long-term price tag, the opportunity cost to acquire Taylor would likely be high for the Bears.
The modern NFL has also, for the most part, shifted away from using high draft picks on running backs who you then sign to long-term extensions. It’s not hard to find a quality running back in the mid-to-late rounds of the NFL draft.
Those backs are cheap and allow general managers to allocate their finite resources to premium positions.
Poles understands this thinking. He grew up in a Kansas City Chiefs organization that has been highly successful at finding productive, low-cost running backs.
The need for a big-money running back is going the way of the dinosaurs.
The modern NFL is a passing league at its core. The Bears did their best to get with the times this offseason by trading for star wide receiver DJ Moore, drafting speeding wideout Tyler Scott, and signing pass-catching tight end Robert Tonyan.
But while it looks like the Bears are trying to keep up with the Jones’, they are, at their core, a smashmouth football team that wants to line up in a two-tight-end set and punch other teams in the mouth.
Would Taylor fit their style? Absolutely. But the Bears were the best rushing team in the NFL last season despite Montgomery averaging 3.1 yards per carry behind a horrid offensive line.
That success came via the electric legs of quarterback Justin Fields, who ran for over 1,000 yards last season, and Khalil Herbert, who rushed for 731 yards as Montgomery’s backup. Without a "star" running back on their roster last season, the Bears racked up the most rushing yards in the league.
The Bears need stars at other positions. An elite edge rusher, top-tier three-technique, or good No. 2 receiver tops the list. It would be blatantly irresponsible to trade valuable assets for Taylor and sign him to one of the league's most lucrative running back contracts.
Their running game will be just fine without him.
The NFL is heading in a different direction, and if the Bears want to take strides toward winning the NFC North, they need to spend every dollar in the smartest way possible.
Taylor wouldn't fit that line of thinking. And the Bears likely see it that way, too.