Just about everything that could go wrong has in 2021 for the Indianapolis Colts. Beset by injuries on both sides of the ball, the Colts are a winless football team sitting in last place in the AFC South.
Now the Colts have another problem to deal with. After being relegated to irrelevance by youngster Jonathan Taylor and passing-down back Nyheim Hines, veteran tailback Marlon Mack has requested a trade—a trade the Colts are apparently amenable to pursuing.
While many of the Colts' issues in 2021 don't have an easy answer, trading Mack shouldn't be difficult. With injuries at running back mounting across the league, multiple teams should be willing to part with draft capital to acquire the 25-year-old.
It wasn't that long ago (March) that Mack inked a one-year, $2 million deal to stay with the Colts. At the time, he said there were other suitors for his services, but he wanted to stay with the team he spent his first four seasons with.
"There was interest from a few other teams," Mack told reporters. "Indy was always a place that I would like to come back to. It was just being patient out there and listening to what teams had for me. Indy was the best place for me."
Of course, it also wasn't long ago that Mack was an important part of the Colts offense. In 2019, he functioned as the No. 1 running back, gaining 1,091 yards on 247 carries (a 4.4-yard average) with eight scores. But come the following year, the Colts used a Round 2 pick on Taylor, and Mack made it four carries into the season before tearing his Achilles tendon.
Just like that, his days as a significant contributor in Indy were finished. Through three games this season, Mack has carried the ball five times for 16 yards and played just 13 snaps. He was a healthy scratch in last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans.
He may well have been a healthy scratch because the wheels were in motion for him to be dealt. Per Tom Pelissero of NFL Network, when the Colts inked a three-year contract extension with Hines this month, it served as writing on the wall that Mack wasn't part of Indy's offensive plans any longer.
Mack asked to be traded—and the team agreed to look into it.
Fortunately for both player and team, interest in his services may be higher than it was in March. Through training camp, the preseason and the first three weeks of the regular season, multiple teams have seen injuries in the backfield that could lead them to kick the tires on Mack—including more than one playoff contender.
No team in the league has had worse luck with injuries at running back this year than the Ravens. First, J.K. Dobbins went down in the preseason finale with a torn ACL. Then backup Gus Edwards followed suit on the practice field shortly thereafter. Pass-catching back Justice Hill also suffered a season-ending torn Achilles.
The Ravens have taken steps to address those injuries, combing through veteran castoffs and signing Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman. But Mack would be a different type of acquisition. Bell and Freeman are aging players whose best days are long behind them. Assuming he's healthy, Mack is a talented ball-carrier with a 1,000-yard pedigree in his prime.
Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta has shown a willingness to make in-season acquisitions, whether it was cornerback Marcus Peters two years ago or edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue in 2020.
Mack wouldn't be as expensive as either of those additions. A conditional Day 3 pick would probably get a deal done. But after watching youngster Ty'Son Williams manage just 22 yards on the ground in Week 3, it can be argued that landing Mack would be the biggest get of the lot.
The first three weeks of the 2021 season have featured good news and bad news for the Carolina Panthers. The good news is the team's first 3-0 start since 2015. The bad news is that in last week's victory over the Houston Texans, star running back Christian McCaffrey suffered a hamstring injury that is expected to sideline him multiple weeks.
The team drafted running back Chuba Hubbard to serve as McCaffrey's No. 2 in 2021, and head coach Matt Rhule expressed confidence that the team can rally around the injured star.
"Obviously, you can't replace the production of Christian McCaffrey,'' Rhule told reporters. "But those other players, they've been waiting for their opportunity. Who knows what they can do when given an opportunity. I don't think it's fair, right, to Sam [Darnold] and to the offensive line to go away from what we've been doing. We've been working on it for a long time."
Hubbard has talent, to be sure. But early in his pro career, he has shown issues with dropped passes, and like most rookies, his pass protection is a work in progress. Mack would offer a more proven commodity who can help keep things afloat until McCaffrey returns.
The Philadelphia Eagles are an outlier among the teams listed in that they aren't a playoff contender if last week's loss to the Dallas Cowboys is any indication.
Of course, the way the Eagles lost that game is part of the reason they might be interested in Mack. In that game, the Eagles rushed for just 64 yards as a team. Philadelphia running backs carried the ball all of three times. Three.
A simple and apparent fix would be for the Eagles to use third-year running back Miles Sanders more. But for whatever reason (perhaps durability concerns), Sanders' carries have dipped in every game this season, from 15 in Week 1 to 13 in Week 2 to just two last week.
The Eagles have also made an effort to procure a veteran complement for Sanders, taking a flier on former Lions running back Kerryon Johnson and stashing Jordan Howard on the practice squad. Mack would be an upgrade over both of those backs, and with a number of coaches in Philadelphia with ties to the Colts (including head coach Nick Sirianni), there's a level of familiarity.
If the Eagles hope to be a threat in the NFC East, the run game has to improve—in a hurry.
San Francisco 49ers
Like the Ravens and Panthers, the San Francisco 49ers are off to a good start this season and fashion themselves players in the postseason race. And like the Ravens and Panthers, the 49ers have been hit hard by injuries in the backfield. Raheem Mostert is out for the season after yet another knee injury. Jeff Wilson Jr. is out indefinitely after offseason meniscus surgery. Rookie Elijah Mitchell missed last week's loss to the Packers with a shoulder injury. Fellow first-year pro Trey Sermon has spent time in the concussion protocol.
It's a sobering set of developments for a team that relies heavily on the ground game and saw its 2020 season wrecked by injuries. Zach Hickssep of Horseshoe Huddle believes this puts the Niners squarely in play for Mack.
"Mack's fit in the offense would be outstanding," Hickssep wrote. "His vision and tendency to hit jump cuts would be a perfect fit in Kyle Shanahan's zone-running scheme. I absolutely love this fit, and I personally think swapping Mack for a mid-to-late Day 3 pick with the 49ers makes the most sense out of any mock trade scenario."
The biggest question may be the willingness to part with more draft capital. Niners general manager John Lynch just drafted Mitchell and Sermon and mortgaged the future to move up for quarterback Trey Lance. That said, Lynch has shown he'll be aggressive.