Undervalued Jaguars RB Travis Etienne may not cash in anytime soon

• Jaguars RB Travis Etienne is eligible for a new deal but probably won't get one soon
Dec 31, 2023; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1)
Dec 31, 2023; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1) / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

The running back market has devalued in recent years. For proof, look at Nick Chubb's contract news. Chubb was one of the top running backs in the NFL before he suffered a season-ending injury last year. During his recovery, he had to take a pay cut to remain with the Cleveland Browns. Chubb's case probably won't have a bearing in running back Travis Etienne's next contract but it shows he may have trouble getting a major payday from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Etienne is set to make $4.1 million next season. This led Brad Gagnon of Bleacher Report to call him the most underpaid player on the Jacksonville roster. For the sake of clarity, there are plenty of Jaguars players who will make less than Etienne in 2024. What Gagnon is trying to say is that his salary doesn't reflect his impact on the team.

"Another success story from the first round in 2021 who has yet to get his bag, the 25-year-old has gone over 1,400 scrimmage yards in each of his healthy pro seasons. He'll make only $4.1 million in 2024."

A first-round pick in 2021, Etienne missed his rookie campaign with a Lisfranc injury. He started the 2022 season behind James Robinson but eventually got ahead of him and made him expendable. The former Clemson Tiger finished the year with 1,441 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. On top of that, he averaged 5.0 yards per carry.

Unfortunately, Etienne wasn't as productive in 2023 as he was the season prior even though he still ran hard. He managed to cross the 1,000-yard mark once again but averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry. That was mostly due to the offensive line's inability to open holes. Per Warren Sharp, the Jags led the league in runs for no gain (25 percent) last year.

The truth is that it's hard to gain yards when defenders are already waiting for you at the line of scrimmage. That said, Etienne didn't go down easily. His 65 broken tackles ranked second in the NFL just behind Christian McCaffrey. On the bright side, the Jaguars have made several upgrades to the offensive trenches, so it's easy to see Etienne having a much better campaign in 2024.

Paying Travis Etienne may not be a priority for the Jaguars in 2024

Back in 2021, Nick Chubb signed a three-year deal worth $36.6 but will not see the full amount after getting a pay cut. He can get money back with incentives but it's not a given that he will. More recently, Josh Jacobs was the top running back in the market but only got a four-year, $48 million deal ($14 million annual average) from the Green Bay Packers, and the guarantees are only for 2024. That takes us back to Travis Etienne.

While salaries for other positions go up on a yearly basis, rates for running backs have stayed mostly flat. In Etienne's case, it's hard to picture him as a deal bigger than Jacobs. In fact, it may be a while before he gets a new one. Even though Etienne is eligible for an extension, giving him a new deal isn't probably among the Jaguars' priorities. Right now, paying Trevor Lawrence may be at the top of the list, and there's a chance it won't happen in 2024.

Like Lawrence, Etienne is entering his fourth NFL season but the Jaguars will most likely use the fifth-year option on their respective rookie deals. That would keep them under contract through 2025. Etienne would then become a free agent until 2026, but the Jaguars could easily apply the franchise tag on him to keep him for another year at a relatively low amount, so he would have a shot at free agency until 2027. And that's the best-case scenario.

Etienne has mostly stayed healthy the past two years but if he misses significant time or suffers a significant injury, his value will plummet and he'll be expendable for the Jaguars.

The truth is that Travis Etienne is an integral piece on the offensive puzzle, but the NFL is a business and it's hard to tell how much the Jacksonville Jaguars value him from an outside perspective. That, along with the running back market, cast doubt on his future, at least from a financial standpoint.

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