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Does increased cap space mean an increased chance for a new Josh Jacobs deal?

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By: Ray Aspuria

The Las Vegas Raiders could assign running back Josh Jacobs the franchise tag again or try to lock him up with a new contract. Either that, or the talented tailback hits unrestricted free agency. | Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Another record ceiling in spending means Las Vegas Raiders are one of a few teams flush in coin

Just over $52 million or just under $43 million.

That’s the estimated cap space the Las Vegas Raiders have to work with after the NFL announced another record salary cap ceiling of $255.4 million last Friday. That $30.6 million boost in spending represents a 13.61 percent increase in the previous record of $224.8 million set just last season, meaning business is booming in for the National Football League.

The higher-than-expected cap number leaves several teams with ample operating room even more flush with coin and the Silver & Black is one of those teams. Depending on which group you look at, Las Vegas’ projected cap room varies. Spotrac has the Raiders at $52.296-plus in space while OverTheCap (OTC) slates the team with $42.936-plus million. Either way, that gives general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Antonio Pierce some spending money if they choose to use it when free agency begins mid-March.

Telesco told reporters at the NFL Combine this week the Raiders will try to extend Jacobs, but the team isn’t expected top use the franchise tag.

Yet, one of the must-answer-questions regarding roster building lies with an in-house free agent: Running back Josh Jacobs. Does the increased cap space mean an increased chance for Jacobs to land a new deal with the Silver and Black?

Just as the talented tailback is apt to use this euphemism: It’s wishy washy. Let’s start with the news item on Jacobs from Monday:

That’s about as good as a tell we can get regarding not only the Raiders and Jacobs, but the running back market, as a whole. That tweet by ESPN’s Adam Schefter was one of a string regarding the position group. According to him, the Dallas Cowboys won’t play tag with Tony Pollard and the Tennessee Titans (Derrick Henry), Los Angeles Chargers (Austin Ekeler), and New York Giants (Saquon Barkley) aren’t expected to apply the franchise tag to their halfbacks.

The deadline to tag a player is March 5, and it goes to show that the $14 million-plus one-year pact is too rich for the Raiders’ blood.

Fiduciary responsibility and being fiscally sound does dictate that $14,149,200 cost to apply the franchise tag to Jacobs again an exorbitant and irresponsible maneuver. The aforementioned teams above felt similarly as the Cowboys tagging Pollard would’ve been a $12,109,200 number — ditto for the Giants and Barkley. The series of news drops by Schefter represents the soft market for running backs, which is unfortunate for all the players listed above.

Let’s call that above wishy. Let’s move over to washy.

Pierce hasn’t been shy about just how vital Jacobs is to his Raiders. The head coach dubbed the tailback the ‘heart and soul of the team’ this past season.

“AP said, ‘You’re the heart and soul of the team. Nothing happens unless it comes through you first. We can’t throw the ball if you’re not running good,’” Jacobs told the media during a November press conference after a resurgent performance in a win over the Giants. “All those types of things. He just told me the way I play the game with passion, it ignites the guys.”

“It’s what we talked about, he’s the heartbeat, he’s a Raider,” Pierce said of Jacobs during the coach’s media availability. “When you watch Josh run, he runs angry and he got back to that running style we saw last year so it was just feed him, just go.”

Was that merely lip service?

With how transparent Pierce tends to be, I’d lean towards that not be hyperbole and being the stone cold truth. Thus, let’s take a glance at what the negotiations with Jacobs could look like.

Both Spotrac’s and OverTheCap’s valuation on Jacobs is a fair amount of coin, even though the group’s respective projections differ. OTC projects an annual average of $11.791 million while Spotrac proports an annual average of $10.6 million. The group’s projection of four years, $42,721,176 million is based on the comparable contracts of Aaron Jones (four years, $48 million), Nick Chubb (three years, $36.6 million), James Conner (three years, $21 million), and Jonathan Taylor (three years, $42 million).

Taylor most recently signed his extension on Oct. 7 after a holdout and likely represents a good starting point for Jacobs and his agent when it comes to negotiating with the Raiders or anyone else if the tailback were to reach unrestricted free agency. Taylor’s pact included $20.304 million guaranteed at signing and per-game bonuses tied to being active and uninjured. Yet, there’s been plenty of cautionary tales on giving running backs deals beyond the three-year mark.

But one can’t ignore how vital Jacobs is to the Raiders’ intentions.

Las Vegas appears intent to showcase a domineering and physical run game that harkens back to The Autumn Wind poem. Pierce wants to knock opponents ‘round and upside down, and laugh when his Raiders have conquered and won. It’s that brash and in-your-face playstyle that netted the head honcho a big win in Kansas City on Christmas day.

But one can justifiably ask: Where was Jacobs in that victory in Arrowhead?

He was out injured and second-year tailback Zamir White was at the forefront of Las Vegas’ smashmouth ground-and-pound effort to close out the important victory. The 24-year-old has a miniscule $1.101-plus cap number for 2024 (and an equally small $1.1-plus million number in 2025 — the final year of his rookie deal) and made the most of his opportunities with a 451-yard output with one touchdown on 104 carries.

Which again highlights the conundrum Telesco will find himself in as he navigates a new deal with Jacobs and how wishy washy the situation can be. Las Vegas is apt to have a number it won’t go above an beyond and the team could roll the dice on White and perhaps dig into the Telesco well and make a play for Ekeler. The dual-purpose back can both carry and catch out of the backfield and his valuation from OTC and Spotrac are much smaller at $6.125 million and $7.4 million annually, respectively.

Perhaps going with White and an experienced veteran maybe the play if the Raiders can’t strike a deal with Jacobs?

But dollars have to make sense in the NFL and the expected none-tagging of tailbacks across the league is the frigid splash of water on the face of the aforementioned talented running backs.

Originally posted on Silver And Black Pride