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Raiders Offseason: Running back primer

Zamir White showed improved vision, production, but decision on Josh Jacobs will shape things up

Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders running back Zamir White (35) walks off the field with teammate and starter Josh Jacobs after the team’s 27-14 win over the Denver Broncos to close out the regular season on Jan. 7.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

One big decision on the Las Vegas Raiders’ slate was made on Friday afternoon as Antonio Pierce is the new permanent head coach. His tag team partner of a general manger is the other looming choice that will shape the franchise in 2024 and going forward.

From there, the eventual duo navigate a plethora of tasks from coaching staff before jumping right into the fray of roster decisions. That’s where, Pierce and the GM must decide on the fate of the Raiders’ biggest in-house free agent: Running back Josh Jacobs.

The soon-to-be 26-year-old did have a down year in 2023 rushing for 805 yards and six touchdowns on 233 carries. The yards and end zone visits were half of what Jacobs produced in 2022 when he was the NFL’s rushing champ with 1,653 yards and 12 touchdowns. Despite the dip in production, Jacobs is likely seeking both coin and long term security on a new deal after playing on the franchise tag tender of $11.791 million this past year.

Pierce sung Jacobs’ praise over the course of the season after ascending to the interim head coach role noting the 5-foot-10, 223-pound Alabama product is the “heart and soul of the team”. The admiration was reciprocal.

Jacobs was one of the Raiders’ premiere players to express their support for Pierce landing the head coach gig.

Current State

There’s only two running backs under contract that have prior experience with the Raiders in Zamir White and Brittain Brown. Both were 2022 NFL Draft picks with White selected in the fourth round (122nd overall) and Brown picked in the seventh (250th overall). Entering the third year of their four-year contracts, White and Brown are supremely cheap at just over $1 million.

Las Vegas did ink Tyreik McAllister to a reserve/future contract this past week who was a standout in the CFL as a return specialist.

Veterans Ameer Abdullah and Brandon Bolden are unrestricted free agents. While it isn’t outside the realm of possibility for one or both to be signed cheaply this offseason by Las Vegas, at age 30 and 33, respectively, turning the page on Abdullah and Bolden appears int he cards. Especially with an anticipated new offensive coaching staff likely to be installed by Pierce.

Future State

The decision to re-up Jacobs or let him walk will shapes not only the running back room, but the offense as a whole.

While we’re not sure exactly what kind of system Pierce has in mind for his Raiders, we were given plenty of insight on what type of football team his rendition of the Silver & Black are going to be: Physical and violent. It’s no wonder why Pierce tabbed Jacobs as the heart and soul of the team. The tailback is pure physicality and violence and that epitomizes what the head coach wants out of his Raiders.

But coin plays a big part in the future decision. Las Vegas will have cap space to work with and Jacobs is likely looking for a pay day with multiple years on a new contract. He did note he loves the team and city and wants to be back.

“100 percent,” said Jacobs when asked if he wanted to remain a Raider during locker room media access after the Raiders season finale win over the Denver Broncos. “However it play out, it play out but 100%, especially with AP (Antonio Pierce) as the head coach.”

White provides an intriguing case. Showcasing improved vision and decision-making when Jacobs was lost to injury, the Georgia product galloped for 397 yards and a touchdown in the final four games as the starting running back. He totaled 451 yards rushing in 2023. White showcases the same power-running style with a little more speed when compared to Jacobs.

“He’s earned playing time, that’s not going to change if 8 (Josh Jacobs) is good or not. 8 is our starting running back, that’s not even a question. But Zamir is opening up some eyes,” Pierce said of White after the Raiders topped the Kansas City Chiefs Christmas day. “I think he’s taking advantage of the opportunity and that’s the National Football League, right? You give him a play or two, or several weeks to make the most out of, and he’s done just that. And I think he’s earned the trust, the belief with our offensive staff and our o-line. I mean, I think that’s huge when you get in the game the way he did last week.

“And his style of running, I mean, it’s an explosive running back coming downhill. So, a good change of pace back between him and Josh Jacobs.”

If the Raiders and Jacobs can’t come to terms, having White become the lead back is in play and based on his improvement in Year 2, that wouldn’t be detrimental to the offense.

Jacobs departure would leave a void in the running back room, but White has appealing promise. And he, along with a free agent tailback or a draft pick or undrafted free agent can create a competition to bring out the best in all the halfbacks.

Las Vegas can bank on Jacobs and see if he returns to his 2022 form or they can go with the youngster in White and find out if he’s indeed the impressive late four-game starter on a prolonged basis or not.