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Josh Jacobs has more leverage than you might think

RB could hold out of training camp

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Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders
Josh Jacobs
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

The biggest storyline surrounding the Las Vegas Raiders right now is the contract negotiation between the club and running back Josh Jacobs. Since the Raiders applied the franchise tag to Jacobs, the deadline for the two parties to reach an agreement on a long-term deal is rapidly approaching; Monday, July 17 at 1 p.m. PST.

On Wednesday night, Paloma Villicana of Fox 5 News reported a source close to the running back told her that Jacobs will not show up to training camp if he and the Raiders cannot agree on a multi-year contract by the deadline.

As is customary with any negotiations in the NFL, this story sparked a debate on Twitter about leverage. I received one reply that argued Jacobs has none, which simply isn’t true. However, it was difficult to effectively articulate my point in 280 characters (sorry Elon, I’m not paying for Twitter), so I figured I’d use this forum to expand on my thoughts.

[Side note: Green Bay Packers and New York Jets writers and fans, after walking a mile in your shoes, I now understand your pain!]

The reason the 2022 rushing champ has leverage is rooted in two simple facts; the Raiders can’t punish him for not showing up to camp and the franchise tag is a fully-guaranteed contract.

Since Jacobs hasn’t signed the one-year tender, he isn’t under contract which means he cannot be fined for missing practice. In fact, he’s not even allowed to show up at the team’s facilities, per league rules, until ink meets paper.

So, holding out and not showing up to training camp won’t take any money of out his pocket. This isn’t like the Khalil Mack situation in 2018 where Mack was supposed to play on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal and racked up fine after fine for not showing up to work.

Now, one could argue that if Jacobs misses camp the coaching staff will reduce his playing time during the season, but that brings up the second fact mentioned above. Since the franchise tag is fully-guaranteed, he’ll make $10.1 million in 2023 regardless of whether he breaks Reggie Bush’s record of negative three rushing yards or Eric Dickerson’s of 2,105.

Literally, all Jacobs has to do is sign the tag and show up for the regular season to get his bag.

I’ve seen some people argue that if he doesn’t play and his stats take a hit, then he won’t get as big of a contract next offseason, which is a fair point. But, at the same time, a lack of tread left on the tires is often what prevents or makes teams more hesitant to give running backs a lucrative deal.

So, what’s more valuable? Another productive year or preserving himself after logging nearly 400 touches from scrimmage last year? That’s the multi-million dollar question and anyone who says they have a definitive answer is lying.

In my opinion, Jacobs can afford to have a down year statistically and still be in a decent spot for contract negotiations next offseason. He’d still be just a season removed from winning the rushing title and racking up over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Also, he’s rushed for over 1,000 yards in three of the first four years of his career and is averaging 10 rushing touchdowns a year, so he’s been plenty productive.

Another argument others have made is he runs a higher risk of suffering an injury by skipping camp and jumping right into the season. Sure, but he also runs the risk of suffering an injury in practice if he shows up. Just two years ago, we saw the Baltimore Ravens have three running backs suffer season-ending injuries in camp.

The reality is, every time someone steps on a football field there’s a chance they get hurt. Hence why sometimes it’s just smarter to limit a player’s time between the white lines, especially when there are millions of dollars on the line.

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders
Josh Jacobs
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

So, what is Jacobs’ negotiation tactic here? Essentially, he’s saying to the Raiders, “Pay me or you’ll be without one of your best players on the roster during the most crucial month of practice of the entire season.” And the organization has to decide what’s more valuable for the long-term health of the team.

Now, this isn’t to say that Las Vegas has no leverage in this situation because they do, too.

They’ve clearly thought about and prepared for this situation by bringing in four running backs last offseason; Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah, Zamir White and Brittain Brown. And the team’s decision-makers seem perfectly fine turning over the reins to one of the young backs, as The Athletic’s Vic Tafur said as much in his recent article.

“The Raiders won’t use the “rebuilding” word out of deference to [Davante] Adams and defensive star Maxx Crosby, but Ziegler and owner Mark Davis have both said they won’t judge the 2023 season on the number of wins,” Tafur wrote. “They are looking for improvement from what they hope is a young core of players … including second-year running back Zamir White. So, you can see the reluctance to give a veteran running back $30 million guaranteed (or somewhere in that ballpark).”

But there’s one last element of this situation that I think works in Jacobs’ favor and Vic mentioned in the same piece referenced above.

“And I think Ziegler is aware that Jacobs would not be a happy camper — or a non-camper in this instance — and has to be considering the spillover to the rest of a locker room that is doing its best to put an ugly 2022 season behind it.”

Part of this whole deal is a matter of respect. Josh McDaniels and Dave Ziegler essentially told Jacobs to “prove it” last offseason when they declined his fifth-year option, and he went on to have the second-best season of any running back in franchise history.

Now it’s time for McDaniels and Ziegler to hold up their end of the bargain and pay him or let him go get his money elsewhere.