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Evaluating the pros and cons of signing RB J.K. Dobbins to a contract extension

There are solid reasons for and against giving the fourth-year pro a new deal sooner rather than later.

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns
Ravens RB J.K. Dobbins is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is seeking a new deal.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens have numerous players that will be either playing on the final year of their current contracts during the 2023 season. Fourth-year running back J.K. Dobbins is one of eight members of the team’s 2023 draft class remaining on the roster that is entering the last season of their rookie deal.

The former second-round pick made it known this offseason that he desires a new deal with his words and actions. He went on local CBS news station WJZ and said that he would like to finish his career in Baltimore, was absent from the voluntary portion of the offseason program, and reportedly “held in” during mandatory minicamp last month.

With training camps around the league beginning later this month and the 2023 season right around the corner, let’s examine the pros and cons of the Ravens potentially signing Dobbins to a contract extension.

The Pros:

Locking up one of offense’s best weapons

When healthy, Dobbins is one of the best running backs in the entire league and the Ravens’ second most productive rusher behind only quarterback Lamar Jackson. This makes him quite an appealing and valuable asset.

He led all players at his position in the league with 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie in 2020 according to Pro Football Reference. After receiving a midseason knee scope procedure last year, he averaged an impressive 6.9 yards per carry from Weeks 14-17. He then averaged 6.1 scrimmage yards on 17 combined touches in the team’s Wildcard round loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Dobbins possesses a complete skill set with his impressive vision, footwork, and elusiveness in the open field. He also has tremendous contact balance topped off by an ability to contribute in the passing game, both as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield.

Market rate for veteran running backs is low

Fortunately for the Ravens, but unfortunately for Dobbins (and other players of his ilk at his position who desire new deals), the market for veteran running backs is not fruitful. It hasn’t proliferated in the same way that other skill positions such as wide receiver, quarterback, and cornerback have in recent years. Even top and second-tier interior defensive linemen have high average annual salaries than running backs nowadays.

According to, the average annual salary for the top six contracts at running back is $13.2 million. Excluding the top two, Christian McCaffery and Alvin Kamara who signed their extensions in 2020, the average of the next four is even lower at $12.175 million. That range includes players that are much more highly accomplished than Dobbins such as two-time rushing champion Derrick Henry and Pro Bowlers Nick Chubb, Aaron Jones, and Joe Mixon.

Despite Dobbins’ age (24 years old) and obvious playmaking ability, his lack of durability and notable career accomplishments would slot him somewhere in the second tier of running back salaries.

The average annual salaries of the next five running backs in the group he’s currently slated to be paid comparably to is $6.3 million. It consists of Pro Bowlers James Connor and Miles Sanders, as well as fantasy football ace Austin Ekeler.

Possible discount before a potential breakout

After showing such tremendous promise as a rookie in a rotational role, many pundits believed Dobbins was destined to break out in 2021. That was before he fell victim to the injury bug that ravaged the Ravens roster for the entire year.

Now that he is two years removed from that injury and poised to finally break out as a featured piece in the Ravens new-look offense, Dobbins’ stock and price tag could skyrocket if he takes a significant jump in 2023. His tape and talent suggests he’s plenty capable of doing so.

If General Manager Eric DeCosta can get Dobbins signed to a new deal now while the price is lower and they team holds almost all the leverage, it could look like an absolute steal this time next year.

The Cons

Dobbins’ injury history

While Dobbins has been one of the Ravens’ most explosive weapons when on the field since 2020, he has not been consistently available over the past two years due to injury.

Dobbins missed the entire 2021 season after suffering a multi-ligament injury in the team’s final preseason game. In 2022, his debut was delayed by two games; then he was on the shelf for six games after a stint on injured reserve following a cleanup surgery.

Dobbins’ talent is undeniably elite but his durability will remain a question mark until he can prove he can stay on the field. For a player who publicly expressed his frustrations with his lack of consistent offensive involvement and is expected to be one of the focal points in Todd Monken’s scheme, availability is just as paramount as athleticism.

Devaluation of the running back position as a whole

One of the biggest reasons that veteran running back salaries are on a continual decline is the league-wide devaluation of the position as a whole. Most teams prefer to take the backfield-by-committee approach. They would rather draft a younger, more inexpensive running back for their rotations instead of paying a pending free agent seeking a new deal, even at the depressed market rate.

Two recent examples of this practice are how the Minnesota Vikings and defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles went about reshaping their respective backfields this offseason.

Despite helping them make it to the Super Bowl in a career year, the Eagles let Miles Sanders walk in free agency. He signed with the Carolina Panthers on a four-year deal worth $25.4 million with an average annual salary of just $6.35 million. The Eagles signed former first-rounder Rashaad Penny and traded for D’Andre Swift to join a backfield with Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell, all of whom will count just $6 million against their cap in 2023.

Even though Dalvin Cook just made his fourth straight Pro Bowl and has four consecutive seasons of over 1,100 rushing yards, the Vikings released him last month. Now, they will be moving forward with a backfield led by Alexander Mattison and seventh-round rookie Dwayne McBride.

Three other Pro Bowl running backs in addition to Sanders were slated to be free agents this offseason as well: Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard, and 2022 rushing champion Josh Jacobs. Each of them had the nonexclusive franchise-tagged placed on them, which carries a below-market value of just $10 million.

Also not helping Dobbins’ case is the number of more accomplished and still relatively young veteran running backs that are currently unsigned since March, with the exception of Cook. The list also consists of Pro Bowlers and former NFL rushing champions Kareem Hunt and Ezekiel Elliott, as well as Super Bowl champion Leonard Fournette.

If durable and highly productive proven players like this still don’t have jobs this deep into the summer, the chance of Dobbins receiving top-of-the-market compensation isn’t high barring a huge breakout year.

Talented options behind him on the roster

Behind Dobbins, the Ravens still have some talented players that are capable of being difference-makers as well. They would welcome the opportunities for more touches to prove themselves.

Five-year veteran Gus Edwards has a career average of 5.2 yards per carry, also possesses incredible contact balance, and is one of the best short-yardage/goal-line runners in the league. Edwards is also heading into the final year of his contract and will be looking to prove he can stay healthy and produce, too, after his own recent bout with the injury bug.

Four-year veteran Justice Hill was re-signed in free agency also. He’s coming off a career-best 2022 season where he average 5.3 yards per carry. He was a standout during the voluntary and mandatory offseason program this spring and will be looking to carve out a role for himself in Monken’s offense.

One of the most intriguing possible depth options that could emerge is undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell. Mitchell was one of most explosive playmakers in college football last year with over 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns from scrimmage in 2022 per Sports Reference.

Possible resolutions

Agreeing to a short-term extension

Depending on whether Dobbins is looking for a near top of the market deal or just a slight pay raise, working out an extension through the 2024 or 2025 season could make sense for both sides. It would provide the Dobbins with some financial security ahead of this upcoming season and allow the team to secure one of their most talented players for the foreseeable future.

Something in the neighborhood of the extension they gave Edwards prior to the 2021 season (two years, $9 million) would be affordable. It could look like quite the coup if he breaks out and they have him on a discount of a deal for another year or two.

Let it play out and see what happens

If Dobbins does end up wanting a level of compensation near the top market rate, the Ravens could just play the waiting game. The team could be patient and see if he puts up the kind of production that warrants such salary; then revisit negotiations later in the season or next offseason.

The franchise tag figure is below peak market value. This means even if Dobbins does establishes himself as an upper-echelon player at the position, the Ravens could opt to tag him and see if he can repeat that success before making a long-term decision.