The ongoing contractual battle between the Baltimore Ravens and J.K. Dobbins hasn’t become nearly as acrimonious or public as the standoff between the Indianapolis Colts and Jonathan Taylor, but the two running backs are in similar situations.
Both players are entering contract years and preparing to suit up at the NFL’s most volatile position — and both Dobbins and Taylor are nursing injuries that may or may not be related to their negotiations.
Baltimore Ravens, J.K. Dobbins Discussing Extension
But there is one key difference between Dobbins and Taylor. While Colts owner Jim Irsay has made it abundantly clear that Indianapolis does not plan to extend Taylor before his rookie contract concludes, the Ravens have shown a greater willingness to engage with Dobbins and his representation.
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) August 11, 2023
Dobbins is currently on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a knee injury, the same ailment that has dogged him throughout his NFL career. He can come off the list and practice at any time. If Dobbins stays on the PUP list into the regular season, he’ll have to miss at least the first four games of the year.
The Ravens have mostly played coy about Dobbins’ status throughout the offseason. Dobbins didn’t attend offseason workouts or Baltimore’s mandatory minicamp earlier this summer and admitted his absence was contract-related.
Asked about Dobbins status, Harbaugh said “that’s a J.K. Question.” Harbaugh said the situation is complicated and team is working through it.
— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) July 26, 2023
This week, head coach John Harbaugh said he expects Dobbins to return to the field soon, although he noted, “The ball is in J.K.’s court.”
The Lamar Jackson negotiations aside, the Ravens typically keep contract issues relatively close to the vest. Should Baltimore consider giving Dobbins an extension before the season gets underway?
Why a Dobbins Extension Doesn’t Make Sense
No reporting has suggested what type of payout Dobbins is seeking on a potential extension, and that question of value is obviously central to this discussion.
If Dobbins is willing to accept the $6 million annual salary that free agents like Miles Sanders and David Montgomery received over the offseason, that’s one thing. Baltimore likely would have already agreed to a deal if that’s all Dobbins is asking for.
But a contract worth more than $10 million should scare the Ravens for several reasons.
The RB Market Has Collapsed
The 2023 offseason has not been kind to veteran running backs.
Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, and Leonard Fournette were released and remain on the open market. The Chargers couldn’t find a taker for an extremely affordable Austin Ekeler. Aaron Jones and Joe Mixon had to accept steep pay cuts. Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard received the franchise tag in place of long-term deals.
And Taylor, who led the league in rushing yards and touchdowns while earning a first-team All-Pro nod as recently as 2021, can’t even get a whiff of extension interest from the Colts.
The 2024 free agent running back market could include many of these players in addition to Derrick Henry and serviceable options such as AJ Dillon, Antonio Gibson, and D’Andre Swift. And that’s without even mentioning the backs that will be available in the 2024 NFL Draft.
It’s hard to imagine Dobbins would have much of a market next offseason — unless he truly dominates in 2024. The Ravens should be willing to take that risk, especially given that the franchise tag always remains an option.
Dobbins Has a Lengthy Injury History
Dobbins has undoubtedly been a productive player when he’s been able to get on the field. He led the NFL in yards per carry (6.0) in 2021.
Last year, from Weeks 14-17, Dobbins took 57 attempts for 397 yards, ranking first in rushing yards and yards per carry over that stretch.
Despite his limited season-long touches, Dobbins remained as elusive and electric as ever. He finished second in the NFL in evaded tackles per touch, while PFF charted him with nine runs of 15+ yards. Dobbins ranked sixth in breakaway rate, the percentage of his rushing attempts that went for at least 15 yards.
But all of Dobbins’ impressive stats come with an obvious qualifier — he’s missed more games than he’s played in over three seasons in Baltimore.
Dobbins tore his ACL and damaged other knee ligaments during the 2021 preseason, and he wasn’t healthy enough to begin the 2022 campaign on time. Another knee surgery sidelined him from Weeks 7-12 last year.
Injuries are impossible to predict, but the Ravens can’t feel secure handing guaranteed money to a player with Dobbins’ track record.
The Ravens Don’t Need an Elite RB
NFL running game success isn’t predicated solely on running back production. Rushing success is often based on a host of other factors, including offensive line play, formations, and defensive box count.
Baltimore still has one of the best offensive lines in the league, even after losing left guard Ben Powers to free agency. And Jackson’s prowess as a rushing threat also allows the Ravens’ running backs to find holes, as his gravity tends to pull defenders toward him.
Baltimore has ranked as a top-three rushing team by DVOA in three of Jackson’s four full seasons as a starter. They finished first in rushing efficiency in 2019 when 30-year-old Mark Ingram was their lead back.
Would a running back committee of Gus Edwards, Melvin Gordon, and Justice Hill be as productive as a group fronted by Dobbins? Probably not.
But is the difference great enough that the Ravens should give in and shell out a significant contract to Dobbins? As long as Baltimore has Jackson and a top-10 offensive line, the answer is likely no.