Colts' Jonathan Taylor 'looks great' in workouts, eligible to return Monday

INDIANAPOLIS – One of the NFL’s most electric players, one who ranks among the league’s biggest game-breakers, could be making his season debut in the very near future.

From all indications, Indianapolis Colts All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor appears ready to return to the playing field -- whether that happens in Indianapolis or elsewhere.

“He looks great. And I can’t wait to actually physically get a chance to work with him, see him move around, see that speed and feel that speed,” Colts running backs coach DeAndre Smith said.

The ongoing feud between Taylor and the Colts is nearing its next stage with Taylor becoming eligible next week to practice and/or be activated from the reserve-physically unable to perform list. Players on reserve-PUP are not permitted to practice or play with the team for at least the first four weeks of the regular season.

The Colts (2-1) conclude Week 4 on Sunday by hosting the Los Angeles Rams (1-2) at 1 p.m. on Fox.

In Taylor’s case, there is added complexity because of his discontentment over the Colts’ denial of his request for a contract extension. Taylor reacted by requesting a trade from the Colts when he reported to training camp, a request that was initially denied.

But after weeks passed with no progress toward reconciliation, the Colts allowed Taylor’s camp to gauge interest and seek out a trade partner. Indianapolis ultimately passed on dealing Taylor despite overtures from the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers.

Placing Taylor on the PUP list prior to Week 1 was, essentially, a timeout. He’s spent the past four weeks continuing to prepare for the season and rehabbing a right ankle injury that required surgery after last season. Taylor’s workouts have intensified, something he seemed to want to demonstrate when he posted a clip on Instagram of him doing position drills at the team’s practice facility earlier this month.

Those workouts were the basis for Smith’s assessment of the running back, who led the NFL in rushing in 2021 with 1,811 yards with a league-high 18 touchdowns. Only Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry have more explosive runs (10 yards or longer) since Taylor entered the league in 2020.

“He bounces a run and it might go for 60 [yards],” Smith said. “That’s what you need, those chunk plays. When [Colts running back] Zack [Moss] gets off a 20-plus yard run, those things are huge. So, if you get a guy who might be able to double that, it just makes the offense more explosive.”

Smith added, “He’s a big dude (5-10, 226) and he’s lean, so, he’s a good-looking football player… And I love the lateral movement. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance here real soon” to work with him.

Which brings us to the next question: What now? There are a few possible outcomes.

For one, the Colts could deem Taylor physically fit to practice and ask him to return to the field. At that point, the team would have a 21-day window to activate him, allowing Taylor time to practice and play his way into football shape. A player can be activated at any time during that three-week window.

The Colts could also do nothing and leave Taylor on PUP for the time being. He can be activated from PUP at any point in the season. As for the impact on his contract if he does not eventually play, Taylor’s contract can only toll under one specific scenario: If he is physically unable to perform by Week 6 and remains on PUP through the season. Taylor’s post and Smith’s observations suggest he’s checked the box of being physically able to perform.

Another possible path is Taylor being traded, seeing how he has not rescinded his trade request and would still prefer to be moved. But that option feels less likely now than it did before the season.

Miami was one of the most interested suitors in August but is now enjoying a record-breaking offensive season. Its interest has likely cooled. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns lost Chubb to a serious knee injury but addressed the need by signing free agent Kareem Hunt. Whether Taylor’s return to health sparks interest elsewhere remains to be seen.

A variable in all of this is Taylor’s mindset. Things got so icy between the parties that there was an agreement in place for Taylor to leave the facility after his morning rehab sessions. He also has not attended the team’s games, including its lone home game.

But general manager Chris Ballard, in his last public comments about the situation, held out hope a resolution could be reached.

“I’m not going to sit here and give you some rosy picture,” he said on Aug. 30. “It sucks for the Colts. It sucks for Jonathan Taylor. And it sucks for our fans. It just does. It’s where we’re at and we’ve got to work through it and we’re going to do everything we can to work through it. Relationships are repairable.”