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How the Las Vegas Raiders’ declining Josh Jacobs’ contract option became a career-changing moment

NFL players understand what it means when their team uses an early- or middle-round draft pick on a prospect at their position. In 2018, the then-Oakland Raiders selected Kolton Miller with the No. 15 overall pick. Needless to say, left tackle Donald Penn took umbrage with that selection, and he let Jon Gruden know about it. Josh Jacobs hasn’t said anything buzzworthy about the team’s decision to add Zamir White and decline his fifth-year option, but he’s in a good position on an expiring contract.

Jacobs isn’t ready to step aside and share the spotlight with a rookie. No, he’s not selfish, but the fourth-year pro has sent a message that his name belongs on the list of the top running backs across the league.

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After each of his first three years, Jacobs saw a drop-off in rush attempts per game. This year, he’s averaging a career-high 19.6 carries per contest and leads the NFL in rushing with 1,159 yards going into Week 13.

Raiders’ decision leads to career-best season

Last week, in a 40-34 overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks, Jacobs notched a couple of career highs in other aspects of his game. He caught six passes for 74 yards, which is his highest receiving yards total in a single contest and closed the game with his longest run (86 yards). In just 11 contests, Jacobs has already eclipsed his season-best in scrimmage yards (1,484).

As a complete workhorse running back, Jacobs has upped the ante at the negotiating table for his services beyond the 2022 season. While most people would think he’s running with some anger because the Raiders didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, that may not be the case.

Unless Vegas uses the franchise tag, estimated at about $12.6 million for running backs in 2023, Jacobs can hit the free-agent market and possibly command north of $15 million per year, which is nearly double ($8 million) what his fifth-year option would’ve been.

Interestingly, Jacobs’ $8 million fifth-year option seems like a bargain for a player with his current production rate.

Even if general manager Dave Ziegler uses the franchise tender, Jacobs would play out a year on a salary significantly greater than the amount of his fifth-year option. In hindsight, the Raiders did him a favor in their decision to chop a year off his rookie deal, which will allow him to capitalize on his most productive season.

Josh Jacobs’ importance to Raiders’ offense

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Seattle Seahawks
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Looking ahead, the Raiders must ask themselves, “how far are we willing to go to keep Jacobs?”

Even though Vegas fields the eighth-ranked passing attack, Jacobs has become a big part of the team’s winning formula. The Raiders are 4-1 when he’s cracked triple digits on the ground—all those victories in relatively competitive contests (even that Houston Texans game).

This past offseason, the Raiders signed Derek Carr, Davante Adams, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow to extensions, but one can argue they need Jacobs to complete this offense.

With a subpar defense, Vegas has to rely on its offense to close games. Carr and Adams have racked up big numbers, but their connection runs hot and cold at times. Waller and Renfrow have battled injuries, though neither of the two has looked impressive while on the field. They’re both averaging their lowest mark in yards per catch as Raiders.

While Ziegler chose not to keep Jacobs on the books for about $8 million in 2023, he may have to negotiate with the running back’s agent to close on a more lucrative deal if the team wants to retain its featured back.

Evaluating the Las Vegas Raiders’ RB options in 2023

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As a running back, a position with a short shelf life, Jacobs should push for a long-term deal that gives him financial security. He can make an attempt to squeeze the Raiders for a big payout because the team has no idea what it has in White, who’s only recorded 10 carries for 47 yards in 10 games. We can say the same for fellow rookie Brittain Brown (zero carries). Ameer Abdullah will become a free agent in 2023, and Brandon Bolden, who’s a special teamer, turns 33 years old in January.

Related: NFL injury report Week 13

As of right now, the Raiders don’t have a clear-cut in-house replacement for Jacobs, which increases the potential for the running back to stay in Vegas beyond the 2022 campaign.

Other than turn to a combination of White and Brown in the backfield, the Raiders can take a look at the free-agent running back class, which includes Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders, Tony Pollard, David Montgomery, Devin Singletary and Jeff Wilson Jr., though that’s not ideal when you have a ball-carrier who’s already producing at high level in head coach Josh McDaniel’s system.

In the event that Jacobs pushes to become one of the league’s highest-paid running backs on a deal that averages $15-16 million per year, the Raiders may use the franchise tag to buy themselves time to come to a middle-ground agreement with the Pro Bowl ball-carrier on a long-term contract. If not, the team can look at the $12.6 million franchise tender as a way to save about $3-4 million (for 2023) when compared to a market-setting deal for one of the league’s top running backs.

Maurice Moton covers the Raiders for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.

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