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The Colts signed star running back Jonathan Taylor to a reported three-year, $42M contract extension with $26.5M guaranteed, ending a somewhat contentious stalemate. With a division matchup against the Titans looming, Indianapolis activated Taylor from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, a designation that may or may not have been a negotiating ploy. But that's water under the bridge now; Taylor slots in third in average annual value (behind Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara) and fourth in total dollars (behind McCaffrey, Kamara, and Derrick Henry) among running backs.

Taylor enters his fourth year at only 24 years old, but running backs tend to age in dog years. Analysis by Pro Football Focus found running backs generate 58% of their value before age 25—the most of any position—and just eight percent after age 30—by far the least. Arguably, Taylor showed signs of slipping last year, missing six games and declining from 5.5 yards per carry and 18 touchdowns in his 2021 All Pro campaign to just 4.5 and four in 2022.

Teams and players both understand this dynamic. The declining interest in extending even very good running backs like Taylor and Saquon Barkley of the Giants has created chatter that the "running backs don't matter" movement has gone too far. Players, aware they have brief careers in which to get paid, will likely target extensions earlier, as Taylor did here. 

Running backs have historically been among the game's biggest stars, but the game's trend towards more and more passing has dimmed that star at least somewhat. But I do think some of the RB "hate" has gone too far. Many of the criticisms of running backs—they're replaceable, they rely on teammates for production, they can be drafted later—apply to most other positions on the football field as well. I'm not too keen on extending running backs because of the short shelf life of the position, but this Taylor deal strikes me as a pretty reasonable compromise on both sides.

Over The Cap projects the 2024 running back franchise tag at just north of $13M, so two franchise tags would cost about $29M (the second tag gets 120% of the first). With the guarantee coming in under that figure, this looks like a reasonable deal for Indianapolis. The third and final year of the deal likely will contain little in the way of guarantees, making this effectively a two-year commitment. I should add the caveat that we don't know the true terms of the deal yet. Money initially reported as "guaranteed" often turns out to be guaranteed for injury only.

The agreement here, as in the case of Lamar Jackson's extension in the offseason, serves as a reminder that no matter how acrimonious negotiations get, money has a way of smoothing over differences of opinion.

Ultimately, this deal probably doesn't move the needle in terms of the broader running back negotiations. It's good money for Taylor but not a big commitment from Indianapolis, which to my eyes makes it pretty fair. As long as running backs are constrained by rookie salary structure for their first four years—when they generate most of their value—they'll continue to be disadvantaged in the NFL contract landscape. We will likely see players like Taylor push for new money as early as they can, and for teams to push back.

If you liked this article, you will enjoy Chapter 4: The Salary Cap, and Chapter 7, where I get more into running back value, of my new team-building book The Inches We Need.