J.K. Dobbins appears to be staging a “hold-in.” As he enters the final year of his rookie contract with the Baltimore Ravens, Dobbins is sitting out of mandatory minicamp. Nominally, he’s dealing with a soft-tissue injury. But it seems apparent that Dobbins wants an extension instead of playing out the 2023 campaign on a $1.4 million salary.
“The business side is very hard. It’s very different,” Dobbins told WJZ-TV on Thursday. “You saw with Lamar [Jackson] … It’s never just roses and daisies. It can be hard at times, and it’s business, though.”
J.K. Dobbins Wants a New Contract From the Baltimore Ravens
Since being selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Dobbins’ career has been defined by injuries. He tore his ACL, LCL, and meniscus just before the 2021 season got underway, and complications from those injuries lasted into the 2022 campaign. Dobbins underwent another knee cleanup last season before returning for the tail end of the year.
While he’s dealt with plenty of health issues, Dobbins has largely remained effective when on the field. He led all running backs in yards per carry during his rookie season, then thrived down the stretch in 2022 after coming back from a stint on the injured reserve.
From Weeks 14-17, Dobbins took 57 attempts for 397 yards, ranking first in the league in rushing yards and yards per carry over that stretch. On a season-long basis, Dobbins 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.
The Ravens appear to be at least somewhat interested in extending Dobbins. “We want him back (for 2024), but nobody knows the future,” head coach John Harbaugh said earlier this month.
“So, the thing I can say is: I would love to be a Baltimore Raven for the rest of my career,” Dobbins said, per WJZ-TV. “I would love to because I love the city, I love the people. It feels like family here. It feels like my second home. And I hope that happens.”
The RB Market Has Tanked, and the Ravens Have Other Obligations
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 had to take a pay cut from the Packers. And Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard all received the franchise tag in lieu of long-term deals.
The free agent RB market wasn’t exactly thriving this offseason either. Jamaal Williams, Samaje Perine, and Alexander Mattison all signed for $4 million or less. Devin Singletary and D’Onta Foreman got less than $3 million from the Texans and Bears, respectively. Damien Harris landed a deal near the league minimum from the Bills.
Dobbins isn’t the only back aware of the changing positional landscape. Earlier this week, Jonathan Taylor expressed his desire to land an extension from the Colts but lamented that he hopes Indianapolis “can see the value” of re-upping a running back.
The Ravens didn’t add any legitimate competition behind Dobbins this offseason, indicating they’re relying on him as their RB1. Baltimore could have pursued an extra runner, but they’ll instead bring back Gus Edwards (who accepted a pay cut) and third-stringer Justice Hill in 2023. The Ravens also signed undrafted free agents Keaton Mitchell (East Carolina) and Owen Wright (Monmouth), but those rookies are squarely behind Baltimore’s veteran trifecta.
Dobbins has been electric on the field, but it will be difficult for the Ravens to trust a running back who’s missed more games than he’s played in over three NFL seasons. And re-signing a luxury item like a veteran running back might not be possible for Baltimore now that they’ve extended Lamar Jackson.
Jackson has cap charges of $33 million in 2024 and $43.5 million in 2025. With far less cap space to work with now that their star quarterback is under contract, the Ravens may have to pare back at other spots on their depth chart and hone in on investing in premium positions.
The Ravens Don’t Always Make the Analytical Move
Baltimore is known as one of the more forward-thinking organizations in the NFL. On its face, that should indicate that the Ravens are unlikely to commit a significant contract to a running back, especially given that suitable options are so readily available on the cheap.
But Baltimore doesn’t only make analytically friendly transactions. Using a second-round selection on a running back like Dobbins may have ruffled some feathers, but that wasn’t the only non-premium position the Ravens focused on early in the 2020 draft.
Baltimore also spent its first-round pick on off-ball linebacker Patrick Queen that year. This past season, they traded a second-round selection for another non-rush LB in Roquan Smith.
In the 2022 draft, the Ravens used their first two choices on a safety (Kyle Hamilton) and a center (Tyler Linderbaum), positions widely viewed as near the bottom of the importance spectrum.
Still, running back is probably the least crucial position in the NFL, and given Dobbins’ repeated injury, it’s difficult to imagine them signing him to a long-term deal — at least before the 2023 campaign.
If Dobbins thrives in Todd Monken’s new scheme and stays healthy for the majority of next season, a new contract might make sense. But for now, the Ravens hold all the leverage, and a Dobbins extension would come with too much risk attached.