Running backs have an important role on the football field. Yet, they're near the bottom of the pay scale in relation to other positions in the NFL. Just recently, Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke shared his thoughts on the situation.
During a recent appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, Baalke said that each situation is different and added that clubs will build their running back rooms using the resources they have at their disposal.
"Every situation is different and every team is at a different position relative to the cap and where they want to allocate their dollars," Baalke said. "We place a strong emphasis obviously, we drafted one in the first round, drafted another one in the third." We got another one of our guys in the fifth."
"We do put draft capital into that position. It's a position that's very valuable, and why the market is what it is. Again, every circumstance is different but we're going to continue to surround Trevor [Lawrence] and our offense with high-level, high-quality backs.
Baalke goes on to say that several factors play a role when teams decide whether they should pay a running back or not.
"What they bring to the table, relative to individual offenses, the injury history of the position, the duration of productivity in the league. All those things factor in, I was fortunate in San Francisco when I was there to have Frank Gore, a timeless guy, 14 years in the league in the position. Certainly not the norm at the position, so the injury history that position does factor into this thing, and the length of time they're highly productive factors in as well," Baalke told Rich Eisen.
Teams used to build their offenses around running backs but that's no longer the case with the high emphasis the league has placed on quarterbacks. This has affected their market value and what seemed to be one of the, if not the most, highest-paid positions as recently as 20 years is now one of the worst.
And even if a running back is highly productive, teams won't make a premium offer. The clearest example is Josh Jacobs, who wanted a long-term deal after having a banner year but was instead slapped with the franchise tag. He's currently holding out in hopes the Las Vegas Raiders give him a raise.
Not long ago, Jaguars running back Travis Etienne said that he and his peers need to execute and diversify their game if they want to get paid. But that's the thing, even if they do, like Jacobs or Saquon Barkley, they will be stiff-armed. This is due to the supply of the position. Given the surplus, clubs rather draft a running back than pay market value for one.
And that's the thing, running backs can hit their stride and unlike other positions, their pick is early in their careers, not later. Here's Trent Baalke's whole exchange with Rich Eisen
The Jaguars will have an interesting decision to make with Travis Etienne
All things considered, Trent Baalke's comments are relatively mild. He avoided weighing in on specific situations and spoke broadly about the general state of the running back position. In the Jaguars' case, they've invested first and third-round picks on the position over the last three years. They drafted Travis Etienne fifth overall in 2021 and Tank Bigsby at No. 88 in May.
The Jags also brought back JaMycal Hasty on a two-year deal and signed D'Ernest Johnson in free agency. Their respective cap hits for 2023 are an affordable $1.1 million and $1.3 million. Meanwhile, Etienne is set to count $3.5 million because he's currently on his rookie deal. He will be eligible for a conttract extension next year but it's highly likely that Jacksonville will exercise the fifth-year option rather than give him a long-term deal.
Baalke and the front office might prioritize locking up players such as wide receiver Calvin Ridley and outside linebacker Josh Allen. In fact, it wouldn't be shocking to see the Jags wait until 2025 or 2026 to engage in contract talks with Etienne.
Make no mistake, Etienne is a valuable contributor on the Jaguars' offense, one that chipped in over 1,400 yards from scrimmage on offense last year. However, it's uncertain how things will play out. It's possible that Jacksonville will give him a fair contract or maybe they'll let him walk in free agency. What's certain is that the current market won't favor him or any of his peers.