Never Pay a Running Back
Conventional wisdom says “definitely not”, but you can’t call a team who started Jarrett Stidham in weeks 16 and 17 “conventional”. History suggests the Raiders will, but should they re-sign Josh Jacobs?
From Pete Banaszak to Marcus Allen the Raiders have a history of rewarding running backs who perform with loyalty. It seems likely Mark Davis wouldn’t think twice about offering Jacobs a new contract after his 2023 season. 25-year-old Jacobs ran for 1,653 yards and scored 12 rushing touchdowns, his best season tallies for both.
Spotrac calculate Jacobs “market value” at $12.8 million. With the 2023 Salary Cap set at $224.8 million $12.8 million seems manageable. That number also seems like a bargain compared to the salary a quarterback who had just lead the entire league would garner. $12.8 million also supports the idea that wage suppression for running backs is a real thing but there’s a good reason for that.
According to Statista.com numbers from August 2022 on average no position group has a shorter career than running backs. So, in a league with a hard cap, owners are incredibly reticent to offer backs valuable, long-term contracts. The average career length for an NFL running back is 2.57 years, overall, the average career of an NFL player is 3.3 years!
The Raiders do have form for flying in the face of conformity when it comes to keeping running backs for longer than 3 years though. Going all the way back in the mists of time to the 1980’s (ok, it wasn’t that long ago) to Marcus Allen’s tenure as their lead back. Allen played for the Raiders from 1982 to 1992 and over the course of 145 games became their all-time leading rusher. Allen is 14th in the NFL’s all-time leading rushers ahead of legends like John Riggins and Thurman Thomas so his may be an exceptional circumstance. Jacobs, however, is on pace to rush for almost 3,000 more yards than Allen did as a Raiders so his circumstance may too be exceptional.
Stop Living In The Past
In more recent history both Justin Fargas (although Fargas featured as a full-back and running back) and Darren McFadden played out multiple deals for the Raiders. Fargas signed a 3-year contract extension after his initial 5-year entry level contract and McFadden signed a 1-year contract after his 6-year entry level deal ended.
Both Fargas and McFadden feature on the Raiders all-time yardage list like Allen, but both are below Jacobs. The financial investment in both differed drastically though. As the 96th overall pick of the 2003 draft Fargas’ rookie deal was worth $2,615,000 for 5 years, McFadden was a highly touted prospect out of Arkansas and was drafted fourth overall in 2008. His rookie deal was for the princely sum of $42,043,750 over the 6 years. Three years after McFadden was drafted the NFLPA and league agreed to a “rookie wage scale” to curb unsustainable wage inflation. Although how unsustainable that inflation was when the total revenue of all teams has increased from $4.28 billion to $17.9 billion since 2001 appears questionable.
Jacobs, also a first round pick, was taken with the 24th pick in 2019. The wage scale meant his rookie deal was worth $11,933,398 but, unlike his predecessors he did receive a $6,698,836 signing bonus. So, in three seasons Jacobs has recorded more rushing yards than McFadden and cost $23,411,516 less (and in 2008 when McFadden signed his first contract the salary cap was $116,000,00 not $224,800,000). From that perspective the Raiders can probably justify re-signing Jacobs after he lead the league in 2022.
It’s generally believed that a running back’s production significantly declines at the age of 28, a study at Bryn Mawr College suggested that age isn’t as important as wear and tear. They concluded that after 1,750 touches a back’s productivity begins to decrease. Jacobs currently has 1,232 touches in his 4-year career so he’s on course to reach 1,750 touches midway through 2024.
How long his next contract will be is fascinating. If the Raiders try to re-sign Josh Jacobs on a short-term deal he will probably move on to a team who has more cap space and fewer gaps to fill. Expect Jacobs to be battling with Nick Chubb and Austin Ekeler for the rushing title in 2023 too.