NFL running backs have been a constant news story lately, and not in a good way for the players who play the position.
The league and its front offices have been very open about the way the game of football is evolving and how each position is going to be paid because of it.
In the not-too-distant past, it was almost taboo to give a player a $1 million salary. Now, guys like Justin Herbert are getting paid contracts worth over $260 million.
Running backs have not had the evolution that quarterbacks have had. In fact, they are going the opposite direction.
Many running backs that were at the height of their careers two or three years ago are left as free agents or cut from the teams that ran them into the dirt.
When asked about the current market for running backs, Jaguars’ star back Travis Etienne said that running back contracts are all based on the player. He, and many other backs, can only do as well as possible and hope for the best.
“The market is what the market is,” Etienne said to reporters on Friday. “For me to go out there and get the best deal for myself, I have to come out here and work hard each and every day. If I don’t produce or be productive, I am not going to even be in that conversation when they are looking to pay me. The best thing I can do is win games for my football team.”
Household names like Ezekiel Elliot and Dalvin Cook are struggling to find rosters to fit on.
Josh Jacobs, Saquan Barkley and Tony Pollard are all finding it hard to get paid by the teams that have clearly deemed them their No. 1 option.
For Etienne, he now is grouped in a running back room that features four other backs. Much like how Pollard was for Elliot, Etienne now has multiple guys looking over his shoulder.
The third-year player said that while it is an uphill battle to constantly be competing for touches, it all comes down to your skill set.
“It kind of depends on the type of back you are,” Etienne said. “You see some backs get paid, like Christian McCaffrey. He catches the ball out of the backfield. For running backs moving forward, you have to diversify the game. You have to be more than just a downhill bruiser in order to talk leverage.”
Both backs are known for being able to catch, while also being a part of the regular ground-and-pound game. Long gone seemingly are the days of downhill bruisers and guys like Cook and Todd Gurley have had to pay the price.
According to Etienne, he thinks backs are going to need to continually diversify their skillset to be able to keep up with the changing landscape of the league.
If not, they will be watching games from home.
“For us, we have to continue to grow and evolve our game,” Etienne said. “You see the way football is going, it’s a passing league. We just have to evolve as a whole.”
Getting paid is on the horizon for Etienne, who in his first healthy year posted the ninth-highest rushing total in the league.
Of the guys ahead of him– outside of quarterback Justin Fields– Jacobs could not secure a contract after leading the league in rushing, Barkley received just a one-year deal, Miles Sanders had to sign with another team to get paid and Cook is a free agent.
Etienne is in the third year of his rookie deal, which was for four years and just under $13 million.
While he acknowledges the market is skewed at the moment, he did take the time to Tweet (or X) his opinion ahead of a potential payday for himself.