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Jonathan Taylor trade fits: Dolphins, Patriots among five teams that should pursue Colts RB

The Jonathan Taylor situation remains strained in Indianapolis.

The star running back is the latest at his position to dig his heels in on an extension commensurate with his perceived value, and the Colts -- like many other teams in similar situations -- don't appear eager to offer a long-term deal while Taylor still has a year left on his rookie contract.

Now the two sides find themselves at loggerheads, with Taylor requesting a trade and Colts owner Jim Irsay saying he has no intentions of dealing the back.

But could Irsay's stance change if the team feels it can't keep the All-Pro long term? Would the organization be willing to listen to other teams for a swap?

I think many teams would love to have Taylor's talent. But how many would be willing to offer the 24-year-old back the kind of contract he's seeking?

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Tuesday -- after talking to multiple NFL general managers -- that there is expected to be interest from teams in Taylor and that there are clubs "willing" to give him the kind of contract he desires.

While I don't yet know which teams would target Taylor, I can certainly think of some that should reach out and see what it would take -- both in terms of a trade and what Taylor wants in a contract -- to land one of the best young runners in the game today.

One team I didn't list here: the Jets. They might be all in on Dalvin Cook as a free agent, but the idea that they would trade for Taylor with Breece Hall under contract for three more years just feels like a stretch.

Any team interested in Dalvin Cook probably would be interested in trading for Taylor, so the Dolphins certainly fit in that regard. Miami’s backfield might be in decent enough shape now with Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, rookie De'Von Achane, Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin, but the Cook interest suggests they might want some more juice out of the position.

Does Taylor fit in a Mike McDaniel offense? Well, sure. Speed is the name of the game in Miami, and Taylor has plenty of it, turning in the fastest run from any ball-carrier during the 2021 season. And even if Taylor might not be a perfect fit from a third-down standpoint, the Dolphins would appear to have enough other options to fill that role if needed.

The question is whether the Dolphins are spread too thin, resource-wise, to pull off such a move. They might have the immediate cap space to afford Taylor, but long term could be a wholly different story. They’re currently at more than $30 million above the projected 2024 salary cap, per Over The Cap, and that’s with Tua Tagovailoa set to make $23.171 million on his fifth-year option and other big-name players such as Christian Wilkins hitting free agency. Could they extend Tua, keep their core in place and sign Taylor long term?

Plus, on the one hand, a trade-assets-for-veterans approach would fit the Dolphins' modus operandi if they really desired Taylor. But they’ve already spent quite a bit to land vets such as Tyreek Hill, Jalen Ramsey and Bradley Chubb, among others. It’s not clear if they’d use more non-monetary assets on a running back, even for a franchise that feels hellbent on making a Super Bowl run.

The Patriots kicked the tires on wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins before he signed with the Titans and recently hosted free agent Ezekiel Elliott on a visit. So I think they’re open to adding established skill-position talent to an offense that struggled mightily a year ago.

Bill Belichick has a history of adding players who have stung him previously -- Matthew Judon most recently -- and Taylor was an absolute monster against the Patriots in Week 15 of the 2021 season, running 29 times for 170 yards, including a 67-yard TD -- one of the longest TD runs against a Belichick defense in recent years. When Taylor missed the Week 9 matchup in New England last year due to an ankle injury, the Patriots held the Colts to 121 total yards in Frank Reich's final game as Indy's head coach.

Still, the most Belichick has paid a back in recent years was James White, who never earned $5 million in a season. Would Taylor be the kind of back they’d be willing to go above that for? I can’t definitively say no, but I'm also not hammering the “yes” option either.

There are a few reasons why the Bears might make sense. They have the salary-cap space -- for now -- to get a deal done, currently sitting more than $28 million in the black. Head coach Matt Eberflus saw up close as the Colts’ defensive coordinator just what Taylor can do for a team in 2020 and 2021, when Taylor ran for a combined 2,980 yards and 29 TDs and caught 76 passes for 659 yards and three TDs over 32 games.

But there’s also the question of just how much interest the Bears would have in dealing for Taylor. Chicago possess a potentially solid RB trio in Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman and Roschon Johnson, and the Bears have Herbert, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry last season, on a cheap deal for two more seasons. Plus, if things go well with Justin Fields this season, the lion’s share of remaining cap space could go toward a potential extension for Fields next summer when he would be first eligible for one.

GM Ryan Poles has been aggressive in his role of reshaping Chicago’s roster, and Taylor’s name no doubt could be brought up in meetings. But if the Bears weren’t willing to match David Montgomery’s contract offer from the Lions at $6 million APY, would Taylor be too expensive? That’s my biggest hang-up right now with this possible connection.

I'm just spit-balling here: Last month, I suggested the Cardinals’ biggest goal this season should be to identify as many young building blocks as possible with the 2024 season in mind. I stand by that, and Arizona just happens to be a team for whom adding a young (but expensive) back could make some sense.

James Conner is the Cardinals’ workhorse back now. But at 28 years old and with a history of injuries, what is his future in the desert? Conner also never has had more than 215 carries in a season -- Taylor has exceeded that number in two of his three seasons -- and is under contract through 2024.

There would be a $11.75 million dead cap hit if they moved on from Conner before the season started, but the Cardinals should be able to stomach such a move -- or even keep him on board this year -- if they saw the wisdom of a Taylor trade. 

New head coach Jonathan Gannon has talked openly about wanting to huddle more, which would slow down the tempo from what Kliff Kingsbury ran previously in Arizona. A grinder such as Taylor, who has had 15-plus carries in 30 of his 50 NFL games, could be exactly what a ball-control offense is seeking.

New offensive coordinator Dave Canales takes over the NFL’s worst rushing attack from last season at 76.9 yards per game on the ground. Granted, a lot of that had to do with having Tom Brady at QB in a pass-centric offense. But even so, it’s not as if the Bucs appear to have a sleeping giant in their run game without some upgrades.

Second-year pro Rachaad White certainly appears to have some promise, and it might be too soon to give up on Ke'Shawn Vaughn after 79 rush attempts in three years. But White might be best in a complementary role, and Vaughn has had plenty of chances to earn a significant role in Tampa's offense.

Canales has spent the past 13 seasons in Seattle, where running the ball was a central component in the attack. The Seahawks have continually replenished the backfield during the Pete Carroll era, and sometimes they seemed to have more options at the position than they needed. For an offense expected to be led by either Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask, beefing up the run game with a workhorse star such as Taylor makes a ton of sense on the surface.

One immediate roadblock is cap space. The Buccaneers currently sit with just $388,808 in space, per Over The Cap, although we all know teams can get creative to clear room when needed. Besides, they’re in good 2024 cap shape with more than $27 million currently available.

Adding Taylor would add a dimension to an offensive core that also currently includes Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Tristan Wirfs.

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