The Detroit Lions made some significant improvements to their running back room heading into the 2023 season. They signed David Montgomery to a three-year, $18 million contract, and in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, they took running back Jahmyr Gibbs, surprising people around the league with the move. Now, after signing a free agent—and getting one early in the draft—could the Lions trade for a running back and make their room the best in the NFL?
If you are unaware of who I am talking about, let me fill you in. On Saturday, July 29, Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor formally requested a trade. This sent a shockwave around the NFL as there have been a lot of conversations about running backs not getting their fair share of payment. Taylor is in the last year of his rookie contract and with him being a second-round pick, he doesn’t have a fifth-year option for the Colts to pick up.
Back in April, Taylor had this to say about his contract:
More from Jonathan Taylor: “It wouldn’t be a distraction to me (to not get an extension before the season). I’m under contract here for four years. I put the pen to the paper … I made an obligation to them. They made an obligation to me. But things will happen naturally.” #Colts https://t.co/gd3uNRImPS— James Boyd (@RomeovilleKid) April 19, 2023
Three months later, Taylor wants out and all 31 teams should be interested in trading for Taylor, right? Well, that is where you’re wrong, at least when it’s regarding the Lions.
The Lions already have plenty of talent at the running back position in Montgomery and Gibbs. Even signing running back Justin Jackson last month has improved the room enough that it’s highly likely Jackson makes the 53-man roster. Also, the players who were fighting for the number three role originally, are now fighting even harder to make the team as either running back option four, or a special teams player. If the Lions traded for Taylor, there would be massive competition for a spot that might not even see the field.
Another thing is if they traded for Taylor, how do you split the carries between all three running backs? Is Gibbs exclusively a receiving back? Do the Lions look to trade Montgomery away despite signing him almost five months ago? There is just no way to have three starting running backs on one roster without someone losing touches.
Finally, it’s the contract situation. The Lions have just under $18 million available in cap space right now, and they have more important players to try and re-sign like offensive guard Jonah Jackson—and soon enough—quarterback Jared Goff, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, offensive tackle Penei Sewell, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Adding Taylor to that mix is too much for them to deal with and with how cheap Montgomery and Gibbs would be compared to Taylor’s next contract, it’s a no-brainer.
The running back room would be the strongest in the NFL hands down. You would have your three-down back in Taylor, the power/goal-line back in Montgomery, and the receiving back in Gibbs. You could also use Gibbs in the kick return game if you wanted to use his speed in other ways besides the passing game. With how good the Detroit offensive line is, it could be the best line Taylor has played behind and it would certainly put the Lions among the favorites to win the NFC, let alone the NFC North.
In the end, it’s a very easy decision to make for Detroit to not trade for Taylor. They will be just fine without Taylor, and another team could use him more. If not a Super Bowl contender, a rebuilding team could decide to build around Taylor and draft a rookie quarterback in the 2024 NFL draft to pair with him. Detroit isn’t in the right spot yet to make win-now trades, they aren’t in the beginning steps of a rebuild, and running back is extremely low on the priority list.
The biggest takeaway I got from this whole situation between Taylor and the Colts owner Jim Irsay is I am glad that the Lions don’t have Irsay as an owner and that they have Sheila Hamp controlling the team. Imagine saying that just a few years ago. That would have been something met with boos. Now, Detroit fans are grateful for ownership that cares about winning and its players, and one that isn’t driving them away.