WESTFIELD – No one’s ever told him how to run his life, let alone how to handle his business during an 11-year NFL career that ended with a place in the Indianapolis Colts’ Ring of Honor and a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.
Edgerrin James has followed his heart and mind. Hence the title of his book.
Gold Teeth to Gold Jacket
“I’m never going to speak for somebody,’’ he said.
In this case, that somebody is Jonanthan Taylor.
As training camp continued to unfold at Grand Park Sports Campus Sunday afternoon under overcast skies, it was status quo for the Colts’ best offensive player. Standing and watching in his hoodie – occasionally interacting with the other running backs – after opening camp on the physically unable to perform list (PUP).
At some point, something’s got to give. The Sept. 10 opener against Jacksonville gets nearer with each passing day.
Perhaps Taylor softens his stance. He wanted an extension, which the Colts denied.
Maybe after the season.
He requested a trade, which owner Jim Irsay quickly dismissed.
Not now and not in October. That is a certainty.
So we wait. For something.
James has watched the drama unfold and escalate from afar. That was from Canton this weekend as he attended induction ceremonies for the Class of 2023. He has a deep relationship with Irsay, who presented James for enshrinement as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020.
But not recently. Not while Taylor and the Colts are immersed in their messy impasse.
“Those conversations are better in person,’’ James said. “I just hope none of this gets JT off his game because it’s a big distraction.’’
He stressed once, twice, three times that it isn’t his place to steer Taylor on a certain path moving forward even though James would be a voice of experience. He played out his six-year, $49 million contract in 2004, then reached a stalemate with the franchise the following offseason.
“I wanted a long-term resolution,’’ James said. “It didn’t happen.’’
Instead, the Colts used the franchise tag to retain him for a seventh season. He did what was best for him. He signed the $8 million tag which the team sweetened with roughly $1 million in incentives.
“I like the game and that’s a tough one to say, ‘I’m not going to play,’’’ he said. “I can’t speak on what I would advise JT to do, but when I was in that position, I just played.
“I didn’t get what I wanted, but I still was able to go and get what I deserved.’’
James burst on the scene like a supernova – NFL rushing titles in his first two seasons with 1,553 and 1,709 yards – and still was ultra-productive at the end of his contract. He recovered from a torn ACL in 2001 and piled up 1,548 yards in ’04, then added 1,506 while playing on the tag.
As a free agent after ’05, he signed a four-year, $30 contract with the Arizona Cardinals.
Clearly, James’ approach worked for him.
He and Taylor might play the same position and at a high level, but their situations are dissimilar.
James wasn’t constrained by a Collective Bargaining Agreement that has reined in skyrocketing rookie deals. The timing of his entry into the NFL and his extended excellence resulted in $68.909 million career earnings. Among backs, only Adrian Peterson ($103.2 million) and Ezekiel Elliott ($70.668 million) have amassed more.
As a second-round pick, Taylor was slotted into a four-year, $7.829 million contract that included $4.829 million guaranteed. He’s due a $4.3 million base salary this season.
Taylor wants more, although it’s anyone’s guess the magnitude of extension that would satisfy him. San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey is tops among running backs with a $16 million per-year average. Green Bay’s Aaron Jones ranks No. 5 at $11.5 million.
Again, being a financial advisor isn’t among James’ many post-NFL roles.
“I can’t tell him what to do,’’ he said. “I’d just say, ‘This is what I did.’ He’s got to do what’s best for him. For myself, I went out and balled. There was nothing I could do about the franchise thing, so I went out and played.
“However it goes, you still have to play. You don’t want to be in a situation where it affects you going forward. That’s the thing. Those are the type of conversations I would have, like, ‘Man, regardless, you still gotta play at a high level. I would train. I would practice hard.
“Just go out and try to kill it again. Just go out and ball. Just go out and lead the league in rushing again, try to have a great year and hopefully things work in your favor.’’
“Hopefully the decision he makes turns out to be everything he expects,’’ he said. “But I can’t tell him what to do. I wouldn’t do that.
“I just know we’re all on a biological clock. It’s gonna end at some point. He has to do what’s in his heart. It’s his life.
“All I would say is understand the risks of what you’re doing. Every decision you make is a gamble.’’
Taylor’s situation involves the short-term financial well-being of a 24-year old who already has two 1,000-yard seasons on his resume. His signature moment came in ’21 when he led the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 1,811 yards. It was James’ record (1,709) he surpassed.
While interested in how Taylor’s situation is resolved, James is more concerned with the long-term viability of running backs. He’s seen the downturn of the market of the position that’s impacted Dalvin Cook, Elliott, the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley, the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, Dallas’ Tony Pollard, the Chargers’ Austin Ekeler . . . and Taylor.
“I like the fact this is bringing it to everyone’s attention,’’ James said. “Now there’s got to be a call to action.’’
James points out his tag in ’05 was $8.08 million. The tag for backs this season is $10.01 million. The only position with a cheaper price: kickers/punters at $5.4 million. It cost $14.46 million to tag a safety.
“It’s something that needs to be addressed,’’ James said.
James and fellow Hall of Famer Terrell David broached the subject this weekend in Canton. Davis’ idea is to have a cap within the salary cap for each team. It would budget a certain amount for quarterbacks, another for offensive linemen, another for running backs, etc.
“Right there you would take care of everybody,’’ James said. “It would be fair and balanced among teammates.’’
We won’t get into the pluses and obvious minuses of that other than to point there would be inherent imbalance between a team with a top-5 quarterback (Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes, etc.) and one with perhaps a rookie (the Colts and Anthony Richardson).
The real issue working against running backs is they aren’t able to make their financial mark until they secure that second contract. In some cases, a player could make an immediate impact, but be viewed as having too much wear and tear on his body to warrant a hefty second deal. The CBA doesn’t allow a draft pick to sign an extension until after his third season.
Ideally, according to James, find a way to funnel money quicker to backs.
“We have to figure out some way,’’ he said. “The running back is a guy that’s coming out (of the draft) and is ready to play. They need to be compensated.
“If you’re going to use the guy up and the system says after so many years they’re going to get a new guy, what about that guy who put in all the work? It starts with the CBA, then you go from there.’’
There’s one other issue in play.
“You’re dealing with business people and business is business,’’ James said.
“I really don’t think the owners have a problem paying. They’re going to spend money. It’s just the business within the rules. So the rules have to be changed. That’s the only way you’re going to fix the problem.
“In this league, we’ve always improved for the better. They’ve always found common ground. You can fix the long term when you’re talking about the short term.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.