Do you know what's tanking? The running back market, that's what. And it doesn't look like it's going to get any better for those involved and doing it on the football field instead of tidy and clean offices.
After the deadline for franchise tags passed earlier this week and two of the most talented rushers found themselves without long-term deals inked by their teams (Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants and Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders), everybody is questioning (even more) what lies ahead of the running back position and those playing it in the NFL.
One of those men, interestingly enough, plays for the Ravens and will have to deal with a similar situation to those of Barkley and Jacobs a year from now: four-year rusher J.K. Dobbins.
In an article written by Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report, the football writer highlighted a few players entering what he called "Make-or-Break" seasons, including Dobbins.
Here is what Moton wrote about the Ravens rusher in order to reason his selection.
"J.K. Dobbins doesn’t have to play up to first-round expectations, but he wants a new deal, which adds some pressure to his 2023 campaign. Dobbins expressed frustration with his current contract situation while he sat out of mandatory minicamp practices. Because of a down year for the running back market, Dobbins will likely play out the final year of his rookie contract in hopes to cash in on free agency next offseason. In order to earn a significant pay raise, Dobbins must top his numbers from the 2020 and 2022 terms. In his rookie year, Dobbins rushed for 805 yards and nine touchdowns and then he missed the entire 2021 campaign with a torn ACL that also slowed his start to the 2022 term. If Dobbins goes into the 2023 campaign healthy, he can lead the Ravens in rushing. He may also see an expanded role in the passing game under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who, per to The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec, wants to get the running backs involved in the passing attack. In 23 games, Dobbins has 25 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown. With more pass-catching opportunities, he could command a decent salary bump on the open market. On the other hand, Dobbins will find it challenging to draw suitors without a well-rounded stat sheet in the upcoming term."- Maurice Moton, Bleacher Report
First of all, Moton is right in saying that Dobbins should step up his game or at least keep up some reasonable production as he's entering a contract year and he needs to prove his worth before inking a life-changing contract next summer, if that's what he aspires to.
However, as Moton points out, that's most probably not going to happen anyway considering the "down year" we've seen hit the running back market and how hard it is to see that changing over the next 10 to 12 months.
Whether Dobbins stays in Baltimore for the 2024 season and beyond or he leaves the franchise as a free agent, the truth is that Dobbins might actually be facing the toughest assignment of his pro career to date.
Dobbins will be out of a job next season and although he will always be able to sign a contract somewhere for peanuts (which is what most NFL teams would offer someone of his ilk considering they are already refusing to pay top-tier rushers), that surely won't be what he wants his mid- and long-term future to look like.
Saying that the four-year rusher is entering a "Make-or-Break" type of season is not bad, mind you, but it's definitely important for him personally more than for the Ravens as a whole.
The good thing for the team, though, is that even if they don't force-feed him touches, the running back will be forced to produce almost by default when he gets them if only to build his reputation over what he's done so far in the NFL.
With a past filled with injuries, though, Dobbins would do good by attending training camp, going through a full summer of productive practices, and then completing the full season without suffering any setback or health issue that keeps him out of the field for a long time.
As long as he does that, and produces to a reasonable standard and level of expectations, he'll guarantee himself a deal and be closer to "making" than "breaking" it.