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Raiders face huge decision on Josh Jacobs’ future this offseason

Updated February 22, 2024 - 6:00 pm

The NFL’s franchise tag window opened this week. That raises the question of what the Raiders will do with star running back Josh Jacobs.

Jacobs, 26, is a pending free agent after playing on a one-year, $11.79 million contract last season. Raiders coach Antonio Pierce has said often Jacobs is the team’s heartbeat. Pierce will no doubt pound the table for Jacobs’ return.

It’s complicated, however.

Jacobs is coming off a down season. He missed four games with a quadriceps injury. His 805 rushing yards were less than half of the 1,653 he gained in 2022. His 3.5 yards per carry average was the lowest of his career.

Meanwhile, second-year running back Zamir White stepped up when Jacobs was hurt. White had 397 rushing yards the Raiders’ final four games. He could take on a larger role next year at a fraction of Jacobs’ expected cost.

That means the Raiders have a decision on their hands.

The immediate question is whether to use the franchise tag on Jacobs. They did so last season, though the two sides ultimately worked out a one-year contract.

The Raiders have until March 25 to decide if they want to use the franchise tag again. If they do so, Jacobs’ salary would rise to $13.67 million.

That would be a significant number for a running back. Only three in the NFL — San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey, New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara and Indianapolis’ Jonathan Taylor — have contracts that average more money per year, according to the website Over the Cap.

That makes it seem unlikely the Raiders will go in that direction.

Another option is working out a long-term deal with Jacobs. That would let the Raiders keep Jacobs around and give them the flexibility to structure his salary-cap hits as they see fit.

The team has exclusive negotiating rights with him before the start of the NFL’s legal tampering period March 11. Free agency begins March 13.

Don’t expect the Raiders to negotiate against themselves.

New general manager Tom Telesco was measured when it came to paying running backs during his 11 seasons with the Chargers. The largest running back contract Telesco gave out was a four-year, $24.5 million deal for Austin Ekeler in 2020.

Telesco even held firm when Ekeler balked at playing for $6.5 million the final year of that contract and demanded a trade. The two sides ended up agreeing to an amended deal before last season that added $1.75 million in reachable incentives.

Expect Telesco to be just as disciplined with Jacobs.

A more likely scenario would involve the Raiders allowing Jacobs to test free agency with an understanding they can match any offer he gets.

The plan carries risk. Jacobs doesn’t have to check in with the Raiders before signing with another team. But White does give the club an insurance policy.

A key part of negotiations will be determining how much guaranteed money Jacobs wants and what the structure of the contract looks like.

Taylor agreed to a three-year, $42 million extension last season that included $20.3 million in guarantees. The Raiders could look at that and see if something similar could work with Jacobs.

The team may also decide White — whose 2024 salary is $985,000 — is ready to become a lead back in the NFL. That would give the Raiders extra cash to shore up other areas of the roster.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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