He’s playing one of the finest seasons in Raiders history. NFL history, really, considering the statistical pace Josh Jacobs has set.
But the jovial fourth-year running back from Alabama insists he doesn’t set goals — focusing instead on processes instead of outcomes.
“I know a lot of people say it’s important to have goals … but I don’t really believe in that,” the 24-year-old said Wednesday, three days after recording 303 yards from scrimmage and scoring the game-winning 86-yard touchdown in a 40-34 overtime road victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
“I believe in you coming into work and you work each day and you work to the best of your abilities and everything will take care of itself.”
Including a new contract.
Jacobs is poised to become a free agent following the 2022 season after the Raiders declined the fifth-year option valued around $8 million that was built into his rookie contract. He’s responded by rushing for a league-high 1,159 yards while averaging a career-best 5.4 yards per carry. He’s also averaging 134.9 yards from scrimmage and is on pace to tally 2,293 such yards, which would fall in the top 15 all time among single-season totals.
And position Jacobs for a lucrative payday from the Raiders — or another of the 31 franchises.
“You’ve still got six more games left,” said Jacobs, also on track to eclipse Marcus Allen’s single-season franchise rushing record of 1,759 yards.
“Still got to maintain a high level of play. They only remember you for your last (game). We’ll see how this next one comes out.”
Long-term contract extensions are a rarity for running backs, reserved for the elite of the elite like Jacobs is proving to be.
Ezekiel Elliott signed a six-year deal in 2019 with the Dallas Cowboys worth $15 million per season. Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers), Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans), Joe Mixon (Cincinnati Bengals) Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints) and Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings) signed extensions worth $12.5 million or more annually before the 2020 campaign.
Nick Chubb (Cleveland Browns) and Aaron Jones (Green Bay Packers) signed contracts before the 2021 season valued annually at $12 million to $12.2 million.
Elliot is the second-leading rusher this season for Dallas, trailing 2019 fourth-round draft pick Tony Pollard, also eligible for free agency in 2023. McCaffrey played a total of 10 games in 2020 and 2021, leading the Panthers to trade him this season to the San Francisco 49ers. Mixon helped the Bengals reached the Super Bowl last season, but has averaged 3.9 yards per carry since signing his contract and ranks 20th this season in rushing.
Cook has remained available and productive since signing his deal, averaging 93.6 rushing yards in 38 games. As has Henry, who has averaged 114.6 rushing yards since 2020 — topping the 2,000-yard mark that season and driving the Titans to the top of the AFC South the past four seasons.
But Kamara’s output has dwindled the past two seasons without retired Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Jones, though productive, is mired in a timeshare with AJ Dillon on a team likely to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2018.
No other running back makes more than $7.8 million annually, and the mixed results — plus the inherent injury risk that accompanies one of the sport’s most physically demanding positions — illustrate the gamble a franchise must accept when offering a back a long-term deal.
“The couple deals that are bigger contracts, the Elliott deal, the McCaffrey deal, they’re all terrible contracts,” said salary cap expert Jason Fitzgerald, who founded OverTheCap.com, a website that logs, tracks and analyzes NFL salary caps and contracts.
“Most of the guys, it’s all, like, interchangeable. You throw somebody else in there, and the results are basically the same, and you’re paying $13 million, $14 million a year less for those guys you’re slotting in there,” Fitzgerald added.
That said, the Raiders are positioned to possess about $35 million in cap space in 2023 — a figure that could increase amid cuts and the restructuring of other contracts. They could thus elect to sign Jacobs to a long-term contract, guaranteeing his prime years are spent in Las Vegas.
But other options are available.
The Raiders could use the franchise tag, a designation that would allow them to extend Jacobs for one year for a salary equivalent to the average of the top five at his position based on April of the current season — or worth 120 percent of his current salary. Whichever is more lucrative for Jacobs.
Each team is allowed one franchise tag per year, and there are two iterations: the exclusive and the nonexclusive.
The exclusive tag would give the Raiders’ exclusive negotiating rights to Jacobs. The nonexclusive tag would allow him to negotiate with other clubs while allowing the Raiders to match any offer, or receive draft compensation should they elect not to.
The franchise tag in 2023 could be worth from $12 million to $13 million for running backs.
The Raiders haven’t used the franchise tag since 2012.
Another designation called the transition tag would allow the Raiders to offer Jacobs a one-year deal worth the average of the top 10 salaries at his position. It would also guarantee the Raiders the right to match another offer, but they wouldn’t receive draft compensation should he depart.
The transition tag, Fitzgerald thinks, is sensible for the Raiders.
“I don’t know if they would really want to do a bigger offer on him,” Fitzgerald said. “I almost think the right thing to do here is you just want to bring back Jacobs for a season, rather than really getting into anything longer term. If they do go down in 2024, and they’re looking to change things up, I don’t think you’d want a running back on like a $10 million contract.”
For what it’s worth, the Raiders drafted running backs Zamir White and Brittain Brown in 2022 and could decide to let Jacobs sign with another team should one extend a sizable contract offer.
Le’Veon Bell was the last high-priced running back to change teams via free agency, refusing the franchise tag with the Pittsburgh Steelers to sit out the 2018 season and return in 2019 with a four-year deal worth about $13 million per season with the New York Jets.
Bell, previously one of the league’s most productive running backs, played one year with the Jets, rushing for 789 yards on 3.2 yards per carry.
The contract morphed into an albatross, and Bell would gain 429 rushing yards the rest of his career.
“There’s no team that should be signing (Jacobs) for $12, $13, $14 million a year,” Fitzgerald said. “And if they do, more power to him. You shake his hand, let him move on and say ‘thanks for the four years.’”