Chester Taylor is entering the final year of his contract and, in an era where skill-position players have been known for being divas, Taylor has done his job with a quiet dignity that belies what has to be professional frustration. Taylor is one of the untold stories that has seemingly been pushed to the back burner and not discussed all that much, although it is a story that deserves to be told.
His NFL career has seemingly denied him a chance to be a superstar. Drafted in the sixth round of the 2002 draft by the Baltimore Ravens, there were no guarantees that Taylor would make the Ravens roster, much less be a factor. He was playing behind Jamal Lewis, one of only a handful of players to ever post a 2,000-yard rushing season. Taylor's role was to be a special teams player and part-time change-of-pace back for Lewis. But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity. Taylor became a valued member of the team.
While he never got the chance to be a full-time starter, thanks to injuries to Lewis and Taylor's ability to excel, when he got his chance to play the Ravens were faced with a dilemma after the 2005 season – either sign Lewis to a new contract or sign Taylor. The chances of signing both was virtually none, since Lewis was already commanding a huge salary and Taylor had earned his right to get a starting job – whether in Baltimore or somewhere else. The Ravens made their decision and re-signed Lewis, pushing Taylor aside and allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent.
Taylor became one of the first signings of the new Brad Childress regime and was entrenched as the team's starting running back. For the first time in his career, Taylor was going to be "the man" and he responded above and beyond expectations. He set a franchise record with 303 rushing attempts, gaining 1,216 yards, catching 42 passes and scoring six touchdowns. He had been forced to wait four years before he could show what he was capable of and, when the opportunity came, he made the most of it and appeared destined to be the featured back of the future for the Vikings.
But, as fans know by now, that all changed in April 2007 when the Vikings had the opportunity to draft Adrian Peterson with the seventh pick in the draft. A proven gamebreaker in college, A.D. was a logical choice and one that was lauded by both fans and media alike. He was too good to pass up. Although fans were happy, it would be understandable that Taylor would be resentful, since any time Peterson would get as a rookie would come at his expense – and it did.
With Peterson on his way to winning the Rookie of the Year, Taylor's role got stunted. His carries dropped by 50 percent, down to just 157 rushing attempts, but he made the most of it – rushing for 844 yards (a 5.4-yard average) and scoring seven touchdowns. His role was even more diminished last year, as his rushing attempts again dropped by 50 percent – carrying 101 times for 399 yards, catching 45 passes for another 399 yards and scoring six touchdowns. While still a valuable member of the team, Taylor's role has been worn down to a nub. The drafting of Percy Harvin and the plan to get him involved in the running game as well has threatened to cut even deeper into Taylor's playing time.
But has he complained? Has he held out and demanded a trade? Has he vented to the media about the scaling back of his playing time? The answer to all those questions has been a resounding "no." Taylor has taken his demotion with class and dignity. He hasn't complained about being phased out despite showing he can more than handle the workload of being a starting running back in the NFL. He has been transformed from a featured back to a third-down and blocking back and has done so without public complaint or feeling sorry for himself.
At a time when marginal players are demanding trades and bad-mouthing the organization that gave them a chance, Taylor has remained silent and not only accepted his diminished role, but excelled when given his rare chance to be a full-time offensive contributor.
It's unlikely the Vikings will be able to re-sign Taylor following this season. As was the case in Baltimore, his value around the league will likely be higher than what the Vikings can afford to pay him to be a backup. If, as the Vikings say, they will do what it takes to make the team better, they may want to seriously consider re-signing Taylor. While it won't make nearly the impression that signing someone like Favre would make, if you're looking for a consummate team player willing to do whatever the team deems necessary to win, you couldn't find a better example than Taylor.