When the Raiders drafted running back Josh Jacobs in 2019, they did so with the hope of bolstering their anemic offense. This selection did that and then some. While Jacobs isn’t the best player on the offense, he has been the Raiders lead back since the moment he was drafted. However, Las Vegas will have a difficult decision to make in regards to Jacobs next off-season.
In the NFL a player on a rookie contract is eligible for an extension at the end of his third season. Due to Jacobs’ status as a first-round pick, the Raiders will have to decide on his fifth-year option after this season. In a perfect world, the Raiders would simply pick up the fifth-year option and discuss a new contract with Jacobs in two years. However, this is unlikely for a variety of reasons.
No Time To Wait
Josh Jacobs’ upbringing is no secret. The star running back was, at one point, living in his car. As such, he knows the type of life-changing money he could be in line for. Due to this, he is unlikely to wait any longer than he has to. As mentioned, Jacobs’ will be eligible for an extension at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. Unlikely to receive a contract extension before then, Josh Jacobs could elect to hold out. This would be done to force the Raiders’ hand.
Based on the Raiders’ recent history and personnel decisions, they are likely to extend their former first-rounder. If they choose to do so, it will be in their best interest to do it after this season as well. Simply, the cost to retain him will only get higher.
In 2020, Josh Jacobs rushed for 1,065 yards, 12 touchdowns, and made the Pro Bowl. If he were to repeat this again in 2021, he will likely be looking for top-five running back money. To get in this selective group, he would need to surpass the 4-year, $50 million dollar contract owned by the Titans Derrick Henry. This contract also included $25 million guaranteed.
That contract could be soon surpassed by a different runner, the Giants Saquon Barkley. A certainty to become a top-five highest-paid back, Barkley will only raise the price for the Raiders.
Lots of risk involved
This is, in a word, bad. While Jacobs is one of the best running backs in the NFL, he does not play a premium position. This makes the allocation of resources a difficult one. Las Vegas has already spent a first-round pick on a running back, now they’re going to give him a contract north of $50 million?
It is ill-advised in a league where running back talent is bountiful. The Raiders themselves have two starting running backs. The second of which being Kenyan Drake, whom they signed in the 2021 offseason for 2-years, $11 million. Drake’s contract was widely ridiculed when signed.
Teams do not have to pay top dollar to acquire ball carriers. They also do not need to spend premium draft capital. Of the ten highest-paid running backs, seven were not first-rounders.
Not only can talented running backs be found easily and often, but their shelf life is short. As most NFL fans know, once a running back reaches 30 years old (and often earlier), his production often dips. Oftentimes, this is due to wear. In his two years in the NFL, Josh Jacobs has taken 515 carries. In 2021, he will likely see close to 180, which will put him at 695 over three years. To put it in perspective, Darren Waller has 197 touches over the same time frame. All these carries pile on and often lead to injuries, which leads to diminishing returns.
However, once those returns slow down, the guaranteed money does not go away. Due to this, the horror stories involving running back contracts are numerous. Todd Gurley, Devonta Freeman, Le’Veon Bell, and David Johnson are all former star tailbacks who inked big-money deals that either hamstrung the team’s ability to retain talent, or didn’t even play on the team for the length of the contract.
Too Much At Stake
So why do teams continue to sign running backs in the face of all the evidence that they shouldn’t? A few reasons. One reason is misplaced confidence. Teams love their guy and think he will be the one that bucks the trend. Two, they have to prove a point. For the Raiders, both of these likely apply.
The Raiders love Josh Jacobs. Jacobs is the bell cow of the offense and team morale would certainly take a hit if he was traded or allowed to leave. Secondly, Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock selected Jacobs in the first round. The pick used to take him was acquired by trading Khalil Mack. They simply cannot allow their most successful first-round pick to leave the building. A move like that could cost them their jobs, especially if he finishes the 2021-22 season healthy.
So while the Raiders front office probably will extend Jacobs after this season, they really shouldn’t. The examples of disaster far outnumber the unexplainable longevity of a guy like Adrian Peterson. For a team with as many holes as Las Vegas, they can ill afford to pay top dollar on the most replaceable position in the sport.
Jon Gruden has seen this first hand when he was in Tampa Bay. He drafted running back Cadillac Williams in the first round. Williams would enjoy two very successful seasons to start his career before tearing his patellar tendon twice, sapping his playmaking ability. An extreme case, but it provides a cautionary tale. The backup plan in Tampa Bay to replace Williams? Undrafted free agent LeGarrette Blount.
Josh Jacobs is an immensely talented running back. However, when it comes to a Jacobs extension, the Raiders should spend their money elsewhere.
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