When J.K. Dobbins returned to practice Aug. 14, it marked another twist in a weekslong stretch of mystery surrounding his absence.

Dobbins, in the last year of his rookie contract, missed minicamp and then the first 2 1/2 weeks of training camp while on the physically-unable-to-perform list with an unspecified injury. Meanwhile, reports swirled that he wanted a new contract.

The man who can offer Dobbins the contract it appears he is looking for is Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta.

DeCosta, speaking to reporters for the first time since quarterback Lamar Jackson’s contract extension in May, sidestepped a question about concern over Dobbins’ injury history when considering a contract extension. Instead, DeCosta said the organization loves Dobbins and pointed to his leadership.

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“When he’s played,” DeCosta said, “he’s been a warrior. He’s played through injuries when he’s been able to. Very talented guy, great attitude. He’s a leader; I think he’s respected. I have a strong affinity for him, personally, and we’re very excited that he’s back.”

DeCosta said the Ravens would keep the contract discussions with Dobbins in house. When healthy, Dobbins has been one of the best rushers in the NFL, averaging 5.9 yards per carry in his first three seasons, which is the most any back has had with at least 200 carries over that span, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

But health has been the caveat for Dobbins, who missed the 2021 season after tearing his ACL against the Washington Commanders in a preseason game.

“We’ve shown that over the last few years — we’ve really tried hard to bring back as many of our own players as possible,” DeCosta said, “and that will continue to be what we do.”

Dobbins’ apparent contract impasse comes as running backs such as Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders, Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts star Jonathan Taylor had dramatic contract disputes throughout training camp.

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“At this point, just take the RB position out the game then,” Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, replying to a post that suggested drafting a running back, placing a franchise tag on the player after his contract is up, and drafting another rusher.

At least one teammate confirmed Dobbins’ holdout when Melvin Gordon III said Dobbins was “sitting out” and that “they’re not even making a big headline out of it, unless you’re in Indy,” referring to Taylor’s holdout. Coach John Harbaugh told reporters Aug. 8, “The ball is in J.K.’s court.”

The vagueness continued when Dobbins spoke to reporters for the first time after his return. When asked why he was missing for most of the offseason, Dobbins said it was a “tough question.” He was being cautious, he said, and his teammates understood what was going on.

Still, DeCosta pointed to the Ravens’ history of paying and drafting players high at positions that typically aren’t treated with as much value around the league, and there is recent precedent to support that. In January, the Ravens made All-Pro Roquan Smith the highest-paid inside linebacker in league history with a five-year, $100 million extension.

“We’ve paid inside linebackers. We’ve drafted safeties in the first round. We’ve drafted a center in the first round. Those aren’t your typical, you know, ‘most important positions,’” DeCosta said. He later added: “I do it based on how good the player is, not necessarily, ‘Well, this position you should give a ton of money to, and this position you can’t give any money to.’ For me, it really does depend on how good the player is.”

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DeCosta pointed to his experience as a scout and seeing running back Jamal Lewis, safety Ed Reed and inside linebacker Ray Lewis “take over games.”

“I understand the argument about running backs and some other positions as well,” DeCosta said. “I think there’s definitely some wisdom to who you pay and when you pay those players. On the other hand, we want to try and get as many good players as we can on the team.”

kris.rhim@thebaltimorebanner.com

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