Raiders Making Mistake Messing with Josh Jacobs' Contract

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJuly 8, 2019

Oakland Raiders running back Josh Jacobs runs during an official team activity at the NFL football team's headquarters in Alameda, Calif., Tuesday, May 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Mike Mayock's first year as an NFL general manager has hit a rocky patch now that he's in a contract dispute with one of the Oakland Raiders' three first-round selections.

According to The Athletic's Vic Tafur, negotiations with running back Josh Jacobs "have not been going well" and a potential training-camp holdout looms. Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio posited the disconnect stems from differences in guaranteed money since all of the players drafted before Jacobs with the 24th overall selection received guarantees through all four years of their rookie deals, whereas those drafted after the running back didn't.

The organization can't allow a holdout to occur since it would send the wrong message for a franchise in the midst of a culture change. Supposedly, Jacobs will serve as the centerpiece of the Raiders offense. The situation could fester with the organization coming across as frugal.

The advent of the rookie scale has made holdouts rare, but a few examples have still occurred over the last few years. Similarly, last year's eighth overall pick, Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith, held out until August 14 because of offset language in his contract. Ultimately, Smith signed a fully guaranteed deal.

The Raiders shouldn't quibble here, because they didn't position themselves to do so.

Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden looked for specific traits to fit into their collective vision. Prior to the draft, the general manager described what being a "Raider star" meant.

Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayock
Oakland Raiders general manager Mike MayockJeff Chiu/Associated Press

"Simplistically, what we're looking for is big, fast guys that can run and love the frickin' game of football," Mayock told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "They love it. They're professional. They show up every day. They give you a full day of work and can't wait to compete and play on Sunday."

Furthermore, the group emphasized leadership characteristics, especially with prospects who produced in the biggest moments. The team lacked a direction and needed an infusion of talent that helped set the tone on the field and in the locker room. According to NBC Sports' Peter King, Jacobs and fellow first-round pick Johnathan Abram were the two prospects the Raiders wanted most after the team selected Clelin Ferrell with the fourth overall pick.

"We define 'foundation' as talent and character," Mayock told reporters after the first day of April's draft. "... I basically told them they have one obligation as a first-round pick and that's leadership."

While Gruden expects Abram to be the Raiders' defensive tone-setter, Jacobs will (eventually) serve in the same role on offense.

On the field, Jacobs presents a unique skill set as a powerful 219-pound runner who led all draft prospects by converting 41 percent of his rushes into either a first down or a touchdown, per Pro Football Focus. The 21-year-old back was simultaneously the most powerful runner in the class and one of the most elusive. He added 33 missed tackles forced and 493 yards after contract during his final season on campus.

Furthermore, Jacobs is a complete performer, which is why he was the only running back selected in this year's opening frame. The Alabama product wasn't even a starter, but he was on the field when it mattered. Jacobs is a natural receiver and route-runner out of the backfield with the fortitude to block in protection schemes.

"If you want to play for Jon Gruden as a running back, you gotta pass protect and you gotta catch the football," Mayock said. "This is a three-down back."

No impediment exists to keep Jacobs out of the lineup, and he will be a focal point of the scheme. Doug Martin is a veteran mentor, whereas Jalen Richard is a change-of-pace back. The Raiders coaching staff knows Jacobs must be ready for the regular season.

"We're fast-tracking Josh Jacobs to be ready," Gruden told reporters during organized team activities.

The statement came less than a month after the head coach told reporters: "If you're listening, Josh, I encourage you to get some rest. We're gonna run you a lot."

Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon GrudenEric Risberg/Associated Press

Usually, first-round picks, especially late first-round selections, hold little to no negotiating leverage. Jacobs' representation knows exactly how much the entire organization values the running back based on Gruden's and Mayock's comments.

At this point, the negotiation is not about slotting. It's now about maximizing the individual's value within established parameters after the front office and staff laid out plans to turn this year's 24th overall selection into a workhorse.

The difference between what could amount to less than $1 million on the back end of Jacobs' first professional contract shouldn't matter. A negative blowback could occur against the Raiders if they take a hardline stance considering the circumstances from which Jacobs arrived in Oakland. Currently, the organization is building toward its move to Las Vegas. The alienation of supporters is not in its best interests.

The Houston Texans signed the 23rd overall draft pick, offensive tackle Tytus Howard, to a fully guaranteed four-year, $12.225 million rookie deal. That Baltimore Ravens handed this year's 25th overall pick, wide receiver Marquise Brown, a four-year, $11.787 million deal with only $692,364 not guaranteed, according to Spotrac

Jacobs' inclusion to the Raiders lineup is about far more than improving the team's ground game. He can lead by example and help lift the team up from difficult times. His value exceeds what the rookie wage scale reflects. Bickering over a small amount of money (from an NFL standpoint) isn't prudent. The organization shouldn't have any reservations about placing guarantees throughout the entirety of Jacobs' contract if everyone involved is being honest.

A perfect storm of circumstances gives the player an advantage in these negotiations. The solution is simple: The Raiders should fully guarantee Jacobs' contract. 

The longer the standoff extends—especially with the Raiders appearing on HBO's Hard Knocks this summer—the worse the franchise will look. Mayock and Co. built goodwill this offseason by being aggressive in the trade and free-agent markets before adding three first-round draft picks. Yet, the handling of one of those top draftees could make the organization look like the same old Raiders in front of a national audience if a compromise isn't reached.

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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