Why Raiders should mold offense around RB Josh Jacobs in QB-rich AFC West

With Josh McDaniels in search of a franchise quarterback after moving on from Derek Carr, the Las Vegas Raiders should make All-Pro running back Josh Jacobs the engine of this team’s offense moving forward. 

McDaniels coaches in a division with ultra-talented throwers in Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson, the latter of whom has a new head coach in offensive guru Sean Payton now with the Denver Broncos

The Raiders last won the AFC West in 2002. The Chiefs have won the division for seven straight seasons. Something needs to change for Las Vegas to consistently compete for a postseason berth in this division dominated by the defending Super Bowl champs.

After releasing their underperforming franchise quarterback (Carr signed a four-year, $150 million deal with the New Orleans Saints), the Raiders will now try to find a new QB in free agency or through the draft. There’s speculation that McDaniels has interest in veteran Jimmy Garoppolo, whom McDaniels coached with the New England Patriots, or will try to re-sign backup Jarrett Stidham in free agency.


The Raiders also hold the No. 7 overall pick and are doing extensive background work on first-round QB prospects like C.J. Stroud, Will Levis and Anthony Richardson

“We’re going to do everything we can do to evaluate every player at that position, both in the draft and free agency and try to do what we can do to improve the room,” McDaniels said at the combine about finding a new quarterback. “I mean, there’s certainly going to be a number of players added at that position. Right now, only Chase Garbers is under contract. So we’ll look at everything we can look at, but the goal eventually is to try to have a young player here, one that’s going to be a Raider for a long time.”

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The Raiders will likely have a second-tier veteran or perhaps the least-experienced quarterback in the AFC West for the 2023 season. That’s why, if you are McDaniels, you build your offense — at least in the short term — around the most complete back in the league. 

Jacobs led the NFL in rushing (1,653) and total yards from scrimmage (2,053) in 2022, earning first-team All-Pro honors. That’s after McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Jacobs’ rookie deal last season.

So this week Las Vegas put the non-exclusive franchise tag on Jacobs. The two sides now have until July 17 to reach a long-term deal, which would be smart for the Raiders. Let Jacobs, who’s only 25 years old, carry the offense for a couple seasons while McDaniels and Ziegler figure out the quarterback position.

In a division in which the rest of the teams want to air it out, the Raiders can compete with an old-school offense led by Jacobs and a defense led by Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones that can get after the quarterback. The Raiders can control the tempo and clock, playing keep away from talented signal-callers like Mahomes and Herbert. 

Leaning into that philosophy would require a change of approach for McDaniels. As the longtime offensive coordinator in New England, he always had balance but never really relied on one running back to carry the load for the Patriots.

But as McDaniels experienced in the second half of last season, letting Jacobs set the tone can lead to winning football. After starting the season 2-7, the Raiders finished the year 4-4. Over those last eight games, Jacobs averaged 104 rushing yards a contest, including a franchise-record 229 rushing yards in an overtime win on the road against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12. 

Jacobs is one of three running backs to receive the franchise tag from NFL teams this offseason, along with Saquon Barkley by the New York Giants and Tony Pollard by the Dallas Cowboys. If the sides don’t come to terms, the franchise tag for running backs results in a $10.1 million one-year deal. And NFL teams are wary of giving aging backs long-term deals on a second contract because of durability concerns, along with the plentiful amount of talented rushers available in the upcoming draft.

For every Ezekiel Elliott selected in the first round, teams can find an undrafted gem like Austin Ekeler who can provide valuable production at a discounted price.

However, the Raiders have perhaps the best runner in the NFL in Jacobs, who also can catch the ball out of the backfield. Jacobs is different. He gives the Raiders an identity on offense and is one of the hardest workers on the team. 

Last year Las Vegas traded for star receiver Davante Adams and signed him to a lucrative extension, so he will continue to get a lion’s share of the touches in the passing game. The Raiders also have playmakers in tight end Darren Waller and Pro Bowl slot receiver Hunter Renfrow.

Las Vegas has about $39 million in cap space according to Over the Cap, so the team can make some moves in free agency while also offering Jacobs some piece of mind in the form of a contract extension. 

The Raiders have the potential to flourish on offense. They just need an efficient quarterback to serve as a distributor, getting the ball to the team’s playmakers.

And the main playmaker should be Josh Jacobs.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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