So far, James Harden is playing nice for the Philadelphia 76ers at their training camp in Fort Collins, Colo. ESPN’s Tim Bontempts reported that he arrived on Wednesday, the second day of camp, and is “participating in practice.” The 76ers even posted photographs on social media of Harden high-fiving a 76ers employee. Another star professional athlete who made an appearance at practice on Wednesday after previously requesting a trade was Jonathan Taylor for the Indianapolis Colts.
Taylor was on the PUP list for the first four weeks of the regular season. However, he has also not been happy about his contract situation and requested a trade from the Colts during training camp. They gave Taylor permission to seek a trade after he left camp twice. Nothing has materialized and according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Taylor was healthy enough to play as early as Week 2.
While Harden may be in his eye-of-the-storm phase, Hurricane Taylor appears to have left Indianapolis. A first-team All-Pro performer in 2021, Taylor was not satisfied with the Colts not extending his contract, and also them having the option to franchise tag him for two more years after it expires at the end of this season.
As a second-round draft choice, he was slotted to a 4-year deal worth just under $8 million. If plays under the tag in 2024, he would likely be guaranteed around $11 million for a single season. He saw that happen to Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs this summer and tried to jump out ahead of that reality.
The problem for Taylor, he is a running back who entered the NFL with nearly 1,000 touches under his belt from his collegiate career at Wisconsin. In his third NFL season, after 372 touches in 2021, he was good but not great in 2022. Also, that season ended prematurely due to an ankle injury. Taylor failed his original Colts’ physical this summer with his ankle not fully healed, and he was also reportedly suffering from back pain — which he denied.
His return will absolutely be a boost to the team. They have begun the season 2-2, and host the Tennessee Titans in a big early inter-division matchup on Sunday. Even with raw rookie Anthony Richardson at quarterback, an AFC South title is not out of the picture for the Colts. Unfortunately for Taylor though, no matter how well he and the Colts play, he will not get anything close to what he wants contractually.
Harden can throw a 2009 Brandon-Marshall-type fit at practice if he so chooses, and his value as a player will remain the same. The temper tantrum would be a mess for the 76ers, and comic relief for the rest of us that would do his career no real harm. Harden has already called 76ers general manager Daryl Morey a liar verbally, and it was written on a nightclub sign.
If Taylor was sent home for refusing to catch passes at practice, he would be fined, and damage his future career earnings. He may be recognizable sans a helmet, but he does not possess even 50 percent of Harden’s stardom and value to a franchise. Their bodies probably have equal wear and tear, even though Harden is 10 years older than Taylor. What team would want a running back, with more than 1,800-touches since his freshman year of college, who is capable of an outburst?
Taylor is backed into a corner that his production cannot get him out of, while Harden is likely rubbing his beard and thinking of his next move to expedite his exit from the 76ers and receive another multi-year contract. This is reality even though Taylor can contribute far more to winning this season than Harden. Three years from now, however, that is no certainty.
Two players whose bodies have taken a beating, except for one player it began while playing for free. Harden is holding what is left of the 76ers’ 2023-24 season in his hands, following the recent trades by the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, while the rebuilding Colts are exceeding expectations without Taylor on the field.
Harden’s situation is a circus, while Taylor’s is a case study on the disposability of a football player who touches the ball more times than everyone on the team except the starting quarterback.
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