Jim Irsay is clearly calling the shots on Jonathan Taylor

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Colts G.M. Chris Ballard is in a delicate spot, and he knows it.

Regardless of whatever he would do to resolve the impasse with running back Jonathan Taylor, Ballard’s hands are tied by the fact that, in the end, owner Jim Irsay is calling the shots.

That’s been the general sense from the moment Irsay began to stir things up with Taylor. It started with Irsay’s combative tweet regarding the running back market and the general efforts to improve it for the men who play the position. The situation quickly devolved into a mess that included Taylor and Irsay meeting on his bus, Taylor’s trade demand promptly coming to light after that meeting, Irsay then insisting Taylor would not be traded!, and someone (Irsay, presumably) telling multiple reporters that the Colts would possibly switch Taylor’s designation from Physically Unable to Perform (which results in his salary being paid) to Non-Football Injury (which would have permitted the Colts to stiff him).

Ballard, through it all, has remained largely quiet and entirely honorable, keeping with the league-wide reputation he has spent a career earning.

If there was any doubt Irsay is running the show on Taylor, that doubt was erased on Wednesday, when Ballard was pressed by reporters on the simple question of why the Colts won’t extend Taylor’s contract now.

Via Zak Keefer of TheAthletic.com, Ballard kept saying, “You pay great players.” That prompted James Boyd of TheAthletic.com to ask Ballard a simple question: “Then why not pay him?”

Said Ballard, “We won four games last year. We won four games.”

Obviously, the number of wins in a season that included a bizarre Matt Ryan benching (supposedly for the rest of the year) followed by the firing of Frank Reich followed by the hiring of a woefully inexperienced and overmatched interim coach does nothing to diminish Taylor’s greatness. But Ballard was in a box, so he cited the won-loss record in lieu of resorting to candor.

The candid response would have been this: We’re not paying Taylor because the guy who writes the checks doesn’t want to.

That’s how the Colts have handled great running backs for more than 20 years. They traded 1994 first-rounder Marshall Faulk in lieu of signing him to a second contract. They replaced Faulk by drafting Edgerrin James in round one. They allowed James to finish his rookie contract, tagged him once, and then let him leave via free agency. (They replaced James by drafting Joseph Addai in round one.)

With Taylor, Irsay wants to let Taylor finish out his rookie deal, tag him once or twice, and then draft his replacement after he leaves. That’s the plan, based on the power vested in Irsay by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Taylor is trying to short-circuit that plan. While he arguably should have held out, the Colts (or at least Irsay) seem to believe he’s holding in, relying on a surgically-repaired ankle as the reason for not playing until he gets a contract that Irsay won’t give him.

But Ballard can’t say that. He had to say something else. Instead of saying something like “well, Taylor wasn’t all that great last year,” Ballard pointed to the lack of greatness on the part of the team.

Again, Ballard is the one who could — if allowed to — resolve this mess properly. But Irsay, by all appearances, wants to take full advantage of the terms of the CBA, to pay Taylor one year at a time, and to move on without ever giving him the contract he has earned.

That’s the heart of the problem. And their only way out of it at this point is to trade him, either before the October 31 deadline or after tagging him in 2024.

The better path would be for Irsay to let Ballard take over, to let him mend fences with Taylor, and to let Ballard give Taylor the contract that Irsay refuses to provide.

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