Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Fred Taylor deserves a better exit, and I hope he gets to make one.
The Jaguars officially put him on injured reserve Thursday with a thumb injury, and they could decide they want to turn more over to Maurice Jones-Drew and pair him with a younger back next year.
Taylor is a class act and a real pro. Way back in 1999 and 2000, when I covered the Titans for the Tennessean, he repeatedly gave us fodder on conference calls because he could just not get himself to admit the Titans were the better team in Tennessee's Super Bowl season, when they handed the Jaguars their only three losses. Samari Rolle and Jevon Kearse and Keith Bulluck always joked about that unwillingness to concede and talked about him with the sort of cross-rivalry affection that made us figure he had to be a special kind of guy.
This year, my first tracking the entire division, I got to have a couple of long talks with him during training camp and I visited with him after wins and losses. He's a stand-up, no-excuses, candid guy who front office types, coaches, the media and fans wish would rub off on a larger percentage of the NFL player pool.
He's been something to watch, too.
This year, when I've had the good fortune to see a good share of the work of Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton, Taylor's ridiculous 34-yard run in Week 3 at Indy may still rank as the best I have seen live.
Here's what I wrote in my game-column blog that afternoon:
• Taylor's third-quarter 34-yard run that set up Jones-Drew's second touchdown was something to behold.
He started right, benefited from a block in the pack that kept Marlin Jackson from getting his hands on him, bounced backwards and headed left. As he turned the corner, he unsuccessfully tried to set up a block by Garrard, then just flew past him and found room up the left sideline where you would have expected there was none.
"That's how long it was?" he said when asked about it. "It felt like it was about 150. Foremost, they slanted that way. Naturally if I see a lot of the different color going that way, I've got to go opposite.
"Fortunately the linemen kept pushing, I was able to hop out of an ankle tackle, went around. David was trying to lead me, that didn't work, and then I just put my foot down and went North and teammates, they just kept coming, showing great effort. Next thing you know I am 34 yards down the field."
Matthew Willis of ESPN Research helped me out with these numbers:
Career rushing yards: 11,271 (3rd active, 16th all-time).
Among the top 20, he's one of five players who has spent his entire career with one team. The quality company: Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown and LaDainian Tomlinson.
His 62 rushing touchdowns are fifth among active players.
His 4.6 yards per rush in his career is fifth among players with at least 2,000 carries.
Jack Del Rio said nice things in the press release announcing the team had placed Taylor on IR and re-signed running back Alvin Pearman.
"Fred is one of the all-time great Jaguars," Del Rio said. "He's been terrific on the field. In my entire time here, in the six years I've been here, he's been a stud. He's been really good. So I have a lot of respect and admiration for him, and so long as he is healthy and so as long as his body is in shape the way it is, I mean he's defying Father Time a little bit here and at some point it'll catch up, but we don't think it's caught him yet. I'd like to see him retire a Jaguar."
Taylor turns 33 on Jan. 27 and his current contract doesn't help his chances to remain.
He's due a $1 million roster bonus and a $5 million base in 2009 and a $1 million roster bonus and a $6 million base in 2010. If the Jags cut him after the season, they'd save all $6 million of his scheduled cap hit, as there is no prorating left to accelerate from old bonuses.
It's becoming a league of one-cut-and-go runners, and Taylor is best when making several cuts. He won't likely be looked at as a third-down option by other teams because he hasn't caught the ball much. It sounds like he'd consider revising his deal in order to stay a Jaguar. We can hope.
Here's some of what he told Jacksonville media earlier this week:
On salary conditions aside, Jack Del Rio commented that he wants to see you back next year and hopes to see you retire as a Jaguar: "We spoke yesterday a little bit, kind of a preview of what we'll maybe speak about this offseason. Granted, the organization has to do what is best for them. I am an investment and I have to do what is best for myself as well and what is best for the organization. So we'll try to come to a conclusion with the financial part of it, with how we're going to handle my entire situation. Right now, it is kind of early in the season to speculate on any of that. Because I am getting up there in age and I've been around for awhile, it has been good stories for you (guys) to write, trying to figure out what is going to happen with me. I am going to play football. You (guys) have been doing a pretty good job, it's kind of entertaining. So I guess I am doing something right. I don't know but my plans haven't changed. I've planned on what I have to find out about this thumb first, doing the necessary things to get that right. I am going to play football. I am going to play here."
On getting the feeling a couple of weeks ago that this could be his last season as a Jaguar: "I didn't necessarily say a hundred percent that I wasn't going to be back. All of that still has to handle itself. I don't know how it is going to play out. Nothing really changed because I never really wanted to be away from here to begin with. I just said I'm going to play football whether it's here or not. I see the fans on the street, I see people out. They said, 'Fred don't go, we want you to be here,' and I'm like, 'I'm not going to go but there's a business side of it.' I don't want to go is what I'm saying. It is my plea, I don't want to go."
On him expecting this offseason to have a conversation abou
t a change in salary and in role: "It's possible. It's possible, it happened in the presidential race. Anything is possible. Change is good sometimes. I don't know. I kind of sit back and kind of think of the different scenarios of what might be possible or what might happen with the conversation. I try to go into every meeting prepared. I think too much a lot of the time so who knows what they're going to say, I don't know."
On when the conversation might take place: "I'm waiting on a call. I mean, my phone number hasn't changed in ten years so they know how to get in touch with me. I don't know, whenever it happens, we'll sit down eye to eye, man to man and try to map something out. The Weaver family, they've been good to me. (The) Jaguars, they've been gracious, they've been good to me. I don't think that it'll be a situation where either party feels somewhat ... is disrespected the right word to use? Because I want to be here, on the right terms I guess. We'll work it all out, I'm sure we can."
On needing 1,042 yards to pass Jim Brown on the all-time list being a goal: "Always. Won a championship. If I was a big stat guy, I probably would have tried to do something with this team, not even considered the future, try to finish this year out and pass as many guys as I could. But I'm not a big stat guy, that stuff comes. One of my goals is to definitely try and pass Jim Brown because he is the best running back ever to play the game. Out of respect and admiration, I'd like to be in front of him so hopefully one day a little kid can say the same thing about me but I just got to keep pushing."
On his legacy In Jacksonville: "What is most important to me is, when I go out on the town, I just be myself. The fans, they admire and respect what I do and I try not to sell them short. They work hard for their money. I try to go out there through my God-given ability and talent and just play. I just go and lay out. I have fun doing what I do. I've never really worried about a legacy. I've never really even cared about all that stuff. I've only cared about playing football, making some money to help my family out and pay some bills. I just go out and I just try to be myself on an everyday basis. I treat nobody differently, everybody is the same. Fans come up to me all the time, [I] talk to them like I'm talking to you, like I'm talking to anybody in the building. That is the only thing that I am concerned about, just being a person to a person. That's it."
On whether he's lost a step: "I can't do some of the things as well as I could. That is just a part of it. That happened a couple of years ago. I've had to alter my running style a couple of different times, through coaching, through physical ability, injuries. I see certain cuts I want to do but I'm not going to attempt it. It depends on the team that we are playing. You don't have to try and threaten the defense. If the cut back is there, I've got to take it. If it is front door where it is time to get three or four yards a carry, then I'll try and take that. For example last week against Chicago, field conditions, the weather, running efficiency was about three yards a carry. Get it to third and short and try and convert on third and short whether it is run or pass. I've gotten smarter in that aspect. It really depends on the team a lot of the time. Three-four versus four-three teams, certain styles of the linebackers. Some linebackers are stiff in the hips and that way if you roll it and get them running, you know that the cut back is going to be there because they can't turn direction as well."