The preseason line is used so often it’s cliché: They’re developing chemistry together.
Each year, we hear about new teammates synchronizing in training camp, longstanding teammates developing new ways to connect and rosters generally finding paths toward unity they can’t wait to use during the season.
That’s not the case right now with the Indianapolis Colts’ two biggest stars.
Quarterback Anthony Richardson and running back Jonathan Taylor are heading in opposite directions. One has been ushered immediately into the starting role, while the other will not play a game for the first month of the 2023 season — and may not play again for the Colts at all.
The Colts failed to find a trade offer they deemed acceptable for Taylor before Tuesday’s roster-cut deadline. So the 2021 rushing champion remains under contract in Indianapolis — while also remaining on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, meaning he will be sidelined for at least the first four regular-season games. This deadline resolution, or lack thereof, gives the Colts neither a clean slate nor an offense lining up with arguably their most ready-to-add-value weapon.
And while we shouldn't expect the Colts to pivot from the rookie fourth overall draft pick they named QB1, Taylor’s lingering isolation leaves us asking: What does this and what should this mean for Richardson?
Colts may need Richardson to get even more creative than planned
When the Colts named Richardson their regular-season starting quarterback on Aug. 15, the move was not surprising. Richardson isn’t necessarily, or even likely, the Colts’ best chance to win Week 1. But Indianapolis essentially Anthony Richardsoned the start of Anthony Richardson’s career, which is to say they prioritized a high ceiling over concern of a low floor. They considered what they could achieve in the next few years rather than in the next few months.
When the Colts selected Richardson with the fourth overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, making him the third quarterback to come off the board, they knew he had started just one season in college at Florida. Richardson passed for 2,549 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 12 games last season. He completed just 53.8% of his passes.
But the athleticism that some of those completions did show, paired with the 654 yards and nine touchdowns he contributed rushing, compelled the Colts.
“Of course you wish he started 30 games in college,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard told Yahoo Sports during training camp. “But the upside of the kid, we just thought, ‘OK if we're gonna bet on one, let's bet on the one that we think we can really hit a home run with.’
“We’re willing to live with the bumps that he’s going to take. I think we’ll see a lot of good, too.”
So the Colts eschewed reliable veteran quarterback Gardner Minshew for the opening-day nod even as Minshew boasts prior experience in head coach Shane Steichen’s scheme. The Colts believe Richardson needs to play to improve, and they’re transparent about how they’re stacking priorities.
“With any quarterback, it takes time. And he’s got to play,” Ballard said. “You just have to stick with them and let them learn and grow and don't jump off the abyss and lose yourself.
"We're just starting the process so we have a long way to go and [it will] be fun to watch.”
Richardson’s long-term potential is firm. But how much can he reach his short-term potential without a back as talented as Taylor easing his introduction to the pro level? Richardson’s mobility threat was key to his success in college. Without an elite running back in play-action work, can the Colts sell their plans as convincingly?
Richardson, for his part, has pleased the Colts in his early development. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter marveled to Yahoo Sports how “there’s not a lot of plays we can’t draw up that we think we’ve got a shot to execute,” while former Colts receiver-turned-receivers coach Reggie Wayne said “at the end of the day, we wall want to play Sandlot Football. This is our opportunity to do it.”
The Colts have preached a dose of creativity around Richardson, believing too much structure will interrupt his natural ability to extend plays and create in real time.
“You can’t be so structured that you’re rigid,” Cooter told Yahoo Sports. “Sometimes, if [read] 2 is not there, it might be time for Anthony to create a little bit.”
For a minimum four weeks, one of Richardson’s best options will not be there. It’s time to create.
What’s next for Colts, Taylor?
Predicting Taylor’s next step is tricky. His ask is not equivalent to that of fellow running backs Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs, whose teams each recently agreed to pay them slightly more than the value of the franchise tags they’d received. Taylor is not tagged; he’s entering the final season of his four-year rookie contract.
And unlike Ezekiel Elliott, a full-training-camp-holdout at the position in 2019, Taylor reportedly does not have a deal on the table. Colts owner Jim Irsay has said they did not offer their running back an extension. While the Cowboys gave Elliott a $90 million extension the Wednesday before the season opener, Elliott negotiated after three straight years without missing a game due to injury. Taylor, meanwhile, is coming off a limited season and subsequent ankle surgery. It’s unclear how much his PUP list status reflects his recovery vs. how much it reflects the barriers between him and the Colts.
League sources thought the Colts envisioned two possibilities when allowing Taylor to seek a trade partner last week: They’d either receive helpful team-building draft capital, or Taylor would realize that the Colts are not alone in assessing his contract value more conservatively than he does. The expectation then was that either way, Taylor was content and ready to produce for Week 1. That chance has passed.
Taylor could still head to a trade partner before the Oct. 31 deadline, his stint on the PUP list intentionally or unintentionally protecting all parties from losing a key trade asset to early season injury. Perhaps a contender loses a running back to injury in the coming weeks and is willing to up their price for Taylor’s game-changing talents. Or perhaps the Colts realize how much Taylor’s presence influences Richardson’s early development, prompting an in-house resolution.
It’s not too late for Indianapolis to save this and create a tantalizing quarterback-running back duo. Maybe Richardson and Taylor will eventually find themselves back on the same field and proverbial page, the clichés about their quicker-than-expected acclimation returning to us.
But as the 2023 NFL season starts, the Colts’ top stars are headed in different directions.