Raiders And GM Dave Ziegler Should Call Josh Jacobs’ Bluff

The Raiders Should Call Josh Jacobs’ Bluff

The Las Vegas Raiders and Dave Ziegler are locked in a stalemate with All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs. Should they call his bluff, though?

The running back position is often scrutinized for the short shelf life of its players. Most ball carriers fall off a cliff into their late 20s, with only a select few who last until age 30. This puts the shelf life of an NFL running back somewhere in the ballpark of 4-6 years. Jacobs aims to be the exception.

It is an important number because rookie contracts last four seasons for players taken after Day 1. First-rounders receive a fifth-year option, too. Teams get caught between a rock and a hard place at the negotiation table, as even the best of the best at the position are risky investments for a second deal in the league.

Is Josh Jacobs Worth A Market-Setting Contract?

Which brings us to the topic of discussion today: the Raiders’ 2022 First-Team All-Pro. Since arriving to the franchise at No. 24 overall in 2019, Jacobs has maintained a bell-cow role in the offense.

He logged 1,150 rushing yards as a rookie while chipping in seven touchdowns. The following season, his efficiency dipped, but the ascending talent still found the end zone a career-high 12 times. They used the 25-year-old sparingly in the passing game his first two years, but that began changing in 2021.

Jacobs only caught 53 footballs through two seasons, but 2021 saw him haul in 54 passes. He followed that up with a 53-catch campaign this most recent season, showcasing his ever-growing ability to be a difference-maker in the passing game.

He Cemented Himself As A Top RB In 2022

Rather than exercising Jacobs’ fifth-year option on the rookie deal, the Raiders declined it, making the star running back an impending free agent following the 2022 season. As you’d have it, the former first-rounder not only put up the best numbers of his career; he also earned the NFL’s rushing title.

Jacobs Reaches Heights Only Marcus Allen Has Reached

Even when the Raiders’ offense hit roadblocks, Jacobs was always there to right the ship. His 2,053 all-purpose yards rank second in franchise history behind only the legendary Marcus Allen. The Hall of Famer brought home an NFL MVP award following his 1985 breakout.

While Jacobs didn’t receive that type of attention from voters, he cemented himself as a top running back on Sundays. Now, the fifth-year player is positioning himself for a new contract. He is refusing to play on the franchise tag after going through the 2022 season without any job security.

The $10.1 million tag is nothing to scoff at, especially at a position that rarely sees players approach double-digit millions per year. However, the second contract is often the only lucrative deal a running back signs in their career. Meaning: Jacobs wants to break the bank because he may never get another chance to.

All it takes is one injury to kill any chance at his dream payday. Jacobs is well aware of the strain put on his body, as he only appeared in every game once in his NFL career—in 2022. Missing action in a contract year is a massive “no-no”.

It is hard to blame the gifted runner for wanting to lock in generational wealth. He showed up and showed out for the Raiders last season, turning a “prove it” year into an “I told you so” year. Jacobs has been vocal about not playing without a new deal, and with training camp beginning next week, push has come to shove at the negotiation table.

The Las Vegas Raiders Put Themselves In This Situation

General manager Dave Ziegler could have easily avoided this issue. All he had to do was exercise the option year of Jacobs’ rookie deal, and these contract talks could have waited until next offseason. Although Ziegler didn’t make the selection himself, having the ability to keep a player for a fifth season is kind of the entire point of taking a player on day one. Unfortunately, the front office painted itself into this corner.

And Jacobs knows it. A source close to the situation has said that Jacobs will not report to training camp without a new contract. The clock is ticking.

I’m not here to say that Jacobs should shut up and take whatever deal is offered. He should do whatever it requires to secure a contract that sets him up for life. But, from a business standpoint, Vegas should call his bluff.

Dave Ziegler, Josh McDaniels Should Call Jacobs’ Bluff

Why? A few things are working against Jacobs.

First is the recent shift in the organization. A new general manager and head coach is not the best recipe for negotiations for Jacobs. Dave Ziegler and head coach Josh McDaniels didn’t draft him, plain and simple. They have no real loyalty to Jacobs, nor do they feel responsible for keeping him around if the price is too high.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, the devaluation of running back league-wide. I mean, just take a look at some of the ball carriers that recently netted market-altering deals.

Recent RB Contracts Paint A Bleak Picture

Alvin Kamara
•5 years, $75 million
•Missed at least one game every season
•Went from 5 YPC to 3.9 YPC under new deal
•Lost explosiveness after age 25

Ezekiel Elliott
•6 years, $90 million
•Missed games in 2/3 seasons under new deal
•Averaged 400 fewer yards after signing a new deal
•Descent began at age 25
•Released by Cowboys this offseason

Dalvin Cook
•5 years, $63 million
•Missed 7 games under the new deal
•Limited touches to keep him healthy
Vikings released him this offseason to save money

Joe Mixon
•4 years, $48 million
•Missed 13 games under the new deal
•Efficiency dipped, sub-4 YPC in 2022
•Had to restructure to stay with the Bengals

These outcomes are pretty damning for Jacobs’ aspirations of breaking the bank. A deal like Joe Mixon’s — which was team-friendly when he signed it — resulted in a restructuring. Ezekiel Elliott and Dalvin Cook were focal points of their respective offenses, much like Jacobs, and even they were not safe.

The final point: The Raiders are not ready to win a division title in 2023. One could argue that extending Josh Jacobs to a long-term deal would hurt the team’s ability to continue adding pieces to the roster while only minimally helping their chance to win next season.

Verdict: The Las Vegas Raiders Are Justified

This is a rare instance where I feel both sides are justified for standing firm in negotiations. Jacobs plays a position with the least amount of security (financially and health-wise). Vegas has holes all over the roster that a running back will not fix.

It may not be a popular decision. Given how often Las Vegas Raiders fans get the rug pulled out from under them, I can see why it would look like a foolish move. However, with Jacobs hitting age 25 and looking back at how other running back deals turned out, it makes sense if you remove emotion from the decision.

The Silver and Black are a better football team with Josh Jacobs on the roster. There is no debate. But what happens if he is the next ball carrier to fall off the face of the Earth in his upper 20s? Would Dave Ziegler and Co., along with the rest of the Raiders, be able to recover from that?

*Top Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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