The Las Vegas Raiders are about to break for the summer with the majority of their loose ends tied up. However, the Raiders do have one major knot to tie before the start of training camp, figuring out what to do with Josh Jacobs’ contract situation.
Back in March, the organization slapped the franchise tag on Jacobs to buy some more time for a contract extension, but the only updates since then have been that there are no updates. There still is time for both parties to reach an agreement as the deadline to do so isn’t until July 17, but the clock is ticking and the situation became more concerning after last weekend.
The 2022 rushing champ sent a cryptic tweet stating: “Sometimes it’s not about you. We gotta do it for the ones after us,” which was seemingly in response to the Minnesota Vikings releasing fellow running back Dalvin Cook. That, plus a few other comments that Jacobs has made/tweeted during the offseason, has led to some speculation about him holding out for the 2023 campaign if he and the club don’t agree to a long-term extension.
So, in a worst-case scenario where the four-year pro isn’t donning the silver and black this fall, what are the Raiders' best options?
As referenced above, Cook was recently released from the Vikings in an effort to save cap space as he was owed $14 million and unwilling to take a pay cut or restructure the deal. So, the issue wasn’t about the back’s abilities on the field and was more of a financial decision.
Cook has rushed for over 1,100 yards in each of the last four seasons—1,557 yards in 14 games three years ago—as well as amassing 300 receiving years three times. For the latter, the only year he didn’t cross that threshold was 2021, when he had 283 yards as a receiver. In other words, he has the track record to replace Jacobs’ production.
The former Viking is also a shifty runner who forced 51 missed tackles (MTF), according to Pro Football Focus, during the 2022 regular season. While that falls short of Jacobs’ league-leading 90 MTF, Cook still ranked inside the top 10 among running backs for the metric.
All of that being said, there are two major issues with the four-time Pro Bowler; his health and contract demands. Last year was the first season he played in every game, missing at least two contests in the previous five campaigns. As far as money is concerned, he’s reportedly looking for something close to the $10.4 million Minnesota would have paid him and likely won’t settle for a $4 to 5 million deal, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
If the Raiders aren’t willing to pay the 2022 rushing champ that kind of money, does it really make sense to give a similar contract to someone else who has a long injury history?
Similar to Cook, the Dallas Cowboys decided to move on from Ezekiel Elliot this offseason as his contract became far too expensive. However, the difference is Elliot’s production had started to decline.
After racking up over 1,000 rushing yards in four out of his first six seasons, and 983 and 979 in the other two, the seven-year veteran posted a career-low 876 yards in 2022. Even more concerning is his dip in yards per attempt, going from 4.2 to 3.8 over the last two campaigns. For reference, his career average is 4.4 ypa.
However, Elliot can still be a chain-mover with 52 first-down runs a year ago, tied for 10th among his peers. He also was tied for fourth—with Jacobs—in rushing touchdowns after scoring 12 times. So, if the former Cowboy is willing to take a cost-effective or team-friendly deal, Las Vegas could add him to their stable of backs as a two-down and short-yardage runner.
He would be in a position battle with second-year players Zamir White and Brittain Brown for that role, but Zeke could be a good compliment to receiving backs Ameer Abdullah and Brandon Bolden if he wins the job.
Over the past four years with the Cleveland Browns, Kareem Hunt formed one of the league’s best running back tandems with Nick Chubb. While Hunt never eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in Cleveland, topping out at 841 in 2020, he did prove to be a versatile weapon out of the backfield.
He totaled over 2,800 yards from scrimmage as a Brown—1,874 rushing and 973 receiving—and 23 touchdowns—16 as a rusher, seven as a receiver. That’s something Josh McDaniels could certainly take advantage of as he was known for getting running backs involved in the passing game during his time as the New England Patriots’ offensive coordinator.
Hunt also likely wouldn’t carry a heavy price tag as he’s been available since the beginning of free agency and is still looking for a new home, meaning his market has dried up.
Back in April, Cleveland.com’s Terry Pluto said the back “should be thankful” to receive a one-year, $4 million offer. Pluto also reported that the reason the Browns didn’t retain Hunt’s services is that they feel he’s lost a step which is supported by his career-low 3.8 yards per carry last season, over a full yard lower than the year before.
But, if the soon-to-be 28-year-old is willing to sign a cheap deal, the risk might be worth the reward for Las Vegas.
James Robinson might have the most interesting career arc in recent memory. As an undrafted rookie in 2020, he ran for over 1,000 yards and added 344 more as a receiver while scoring 10 touchdowns from scrimmage. His production dipped the following year—989 scrimmage yards and eight scores—as he missed four games after tearing an Achilles.
Robinson returned to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting lineup the following season—playing in seven games, starting five—but wasn’t quite the same as Jacksonville ended up trading him midseason to the New York Jets to make way for Travis Etienne to take over. Robinson barely saw the field with the Jets, receiving only 31 total touches during the four games he was active in New York.
That brings us to this offseason when he signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the New England Patriots only to get cut about three months later during OTAs.
McDaniels can reach out to his old comrades to get the inside scoop on the fourth-year back out of Illinois State and that conversation would likely determine the team’s interest level. If the coach likes what he hears, Robinson would be worth taking a flier on as a potential Jacobs replacement.
At this time last year, it felt like the Raiders were preparing for this exact situation; fielding a backfield without Jacobs in the rotation.
After declining the 2019 first-round pick’s fifth-year option, they signed veterans Abdullah and Bolden while spending a third of their draft capital on running backs White and Brown. Then Jacobs won the rushing title and that plan didn’t seem like a good one anymore.
However, McDaniels could stick to the script and form a one-two punch with the backs who are currently under contract.
Abdullah—who had 25 grabs for 211 yards and a score last year—and Bolden—nine, 57 and one—could battle it out for the third-down/pass-catching role while White and Brown fight for the first- and second-down carries.
The problem is Bolden is seemingly past his prime, and the two second-year rushers are unproven commodities who got little to no playing time last season. The 33-year-old has amassed more than 200 yards from scrimmage once since 2015, White only had 17 carries for 70 yards and Brown didn’t even take an offensive snap during the regular season.
Also, while White’s 4.1 yards per carry look good on paper, one 22-yard rush is inflating that number as he averaged 3.0 yards per tote outside of that outlier. Sure, maybe he’s better in year two with more experience under his belt, but that’s a gamble.
This could be the route Las Vegas ends up going with if negotiations go south or don’t progress with Jacobs, however, it would seem like a futile effort if they don’t at least kick the tires on one of the options above. With the exception of Cook, they should be able to bring in one of the other three backs on a team-friendly deal and at least intensify the training camp battle.