With the majority of NFL training camps kicking off this week, the league’s leading rusher is unsigned and residing in parts unknown.
Josh Jacobs, who carried the ball 340 times for 1,653 yards and 12 touchdowns last season for the Raiders, left Las Vegas on Monday morning, leaving behind his teammates who are readying themselves for training camp. Offered a contract with the franchise tag that would pay him a guaranteed $10.09 million this year, but provide no long-term security, Jacobs declined to sign on the dotted line. Therefore, without a contract, he’s able to skip mandatory minicamp without penalty. Jacobs, 25, reportedly is not planning to report to camp, or play in the preseason, which would mean his forfeiture of $561,111 game checks.
Jacobs’ situation is not unique. Giants back Saquon Barkley is also not planning to report to camp after receiving the franchise tag in New York. Other top backs, including Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook, Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt, have not been tagged, but remain unsigned and have generated tepid interest on the free-agent market.
Understandably, NFL running backs view this as a concern, and they held a Zoom call on Saturday night to discuss the state of affairs and what can be done to remedy the problem. According to The Associated Press, backs including Jacobs, Barkley, Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey and Nick Chubb were on the call.
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Chubb, who signed a three-year, $36 million deal in 2021 with Cleveland, and rewarded the Browns with a career-high 1,525 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, doesn’t feel safe even though he is his team’s best offensive weapon.
“We’re definitely in a tough situation. Next year it could be me,” he said. “There’s really nothing we can do. We’re kind of handcuffed with the situation. Our production hurts us the most. If we go out there and run for 2,000 yards with so many carries, the next year they’re going to say you’re probably worn down. That’s the biggest thing that I took from [the call]. It’s just tough. It hurts us just to go out there and do good. It hurts us at the end of the day.”
He’s got a point, but that won’t change a thing. Running backs, despite their clear and obvious value to the teams, are viewed as replaceable and most franchises have started to pay them accordingly. While the NFLPA could advocate on their behalf and attempt to develop some sort of unique contract for the running back position, any such negotiation would take place only when the CBA expires in 2030. When — or if — that happens, Jacobs, Barkley, Henry, McCaffrey, Chubb and any other NFL running back who was on the Zoom call will almost certainly be retired.
It’s a problem, but videoconference calls aren’t going to fix it. Time might, but it’ll be too late for Saturday night’s Zoomers.