Tuesday's NFL: Jags RB Travis Etienne out for season following foot injury

Associated Press

Jacksonville, Fla. — Travis Etienne was supposed to be a game-changer for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season.

He might not have had the same impact as rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, but Clemson's other offensive star and the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leading rusher looked like he would be a prominent figure — maybe even the go-to guy — in coach Urban Meyer's offense.

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne (1) carries in the first half of an NFL preseason football game in New Orleans, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.

Matchup nightmare? Versatile weapon? Big-play threat? Etienne was expected to provide all those and more after Jacksonville chose him with the 25th overall pick in April's NFL draft.

Now, though, Meyer and the Jaguars will have to wait a year to see what Etienne can do in the NFL. The team placed the running back on injured reserve Tuesday, one day after he suffered a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. Etienne sprained his foot during Monday night's loss at New Orleans.

Tests revealed the extent of the injury Tuesday. He is expected to have surgery as soon as possible. He may have been able to return late in the year, but the Jaguars opted to take a cautious approach and give him plenty of time to recover before the 2022 season.

Since Etienne landed on IR before 53-man rosters get set next Tuesday, he can not return this season.

Losing Etienne is a significant setback for the Jaguars, who planned to use him to create mismatches as a receiver in the slot and as a change-of-pace back.

Etienne tallied 4,952 yards in four seasons at Clemson. He also set ACC records for rushing touchdowns (70), total touchdowns (78) and points scored (468). He scored at least one touchdown in 46 of 55 career games, and the Jaguars were counting on him to have similar success as a rookie.

He was essentially uncoverable out of the backfield in training camp and one of Lawrence's favorite targets near the goal line.

Etienne also had been part of a three-back rushing attack for Jacksonville, sharing carries with starter James Robinson and backup Carlos Hyde. But Etienne has more speed and elusiveness than either of the other two and would have played a major role.

Replacing Etienne won't be easy, if even possible. Jacksonville has no one on its roster with his skillset.

He's the latest in a long list of first-round picks by the Jaguars to have varying issues in Year 1. Receiver Justin Blackmon was arrested in 2012. Defensive end Dante Fowler blew out a knee in rookie camp in 2015. Running back Leonard Fournette struggled to pick up the offense in 2017. And cornerback CJ Henderson missed half of the 2020 season with injuries.

Bears to start Fields in preseason finale, Dalton in Week 1

The Chicago Bears will start rookie quarterback Justin Fields in the preseason finale Saturday at Tennessee against the Titans.

“I prepare the same,” Fields said. “I’m just going to approach it the same way and just go out there and play my hardest.”

Although Fields is starting that game, he still is regarded as the Bears' backup to veteran Andy Dalton for the regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 12.

“All I want to see from him is just play a good game of football at the quarterback position and again keep the big picture in mind for all of us,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said of Fields before practice Tuesday.

Fields will play with some but not all of the offensive starters. Nagy said he’s leaning toward giving the former Ohio State star the chance to play with the Bears' first-team offensive line, but the receivers could be a mix of reserves and starters.

“I think it’s going to be a good opportunity for him and then you know we’ll be selective across the board for the other players as we go, but you’re going to see a direction of more kind of like the old-school fourth preseason game for that,” Nagy said.

The coach made it clear that Saturday's start was not intended to see if Fields should get the nod for the opener. The decision already has been made to go with Dalton.

Fields, who was drafted 11th overall after the Bears traded up in the first round to take the Heisman finalist, is expected to play the first half Saturday, according to Nagy.

“I think that’s one of the biggest parts, just playing, finding that rhythm,” Fields said. “I’m going to approach this game like I approached the last two games. Just getting in the game, moving the ball down the field and trying to score a touchdown every drive.”

Nagy said Fields’ next action after the preseason is almost entirely contingent upon how Dalton performs in the regular season.

“We’ll see, but I would say yeah, big picture when we talked about this from the very start, we said whoever is going to be best for the Chicago Bears and that’s going to obviously deal with production and wins, right?” Nagy said. “So when you look at this thing, you want to make sure we all support each other with one common goal to win, and offensively to score touchdowns.

“And Andy knows that, Andy is well aware of that. Andy’s excited for the opportunity to show what he can do with these starters and in this offense.”

After that game, players will be evaluated daily, the coach said.

Dalton started the preseason opener, a 20-13 victory over Miami, and last week’s 41-15 loss at home to Buffalo.

Fields leads the Bears in the preseason with 79 rushing yards. He is 23 of 39 passing for 222 yards with a touchdown and an 83.5 passer rating.

“Of course, there was some good plays and some bad plays,” Fields said. “So we’ve just talked about those good and bad plays and saw what we needed to work on and just the little things, shooting ourselves in the foot and things like that.”

Dalton is 13 of 21 for 164 yards with a TD and an interception and an 82.2 passer rating.

A big concern for the Bears will be the pass blocking for Fields, whose helmet was knocked off on a sack following a blitz against Buffalo. The Bears will get 39-year-old veteran tackle Jason Peters on the field for this game to mix in with Elijah Wilkinson and Larry Borom on the left side.

Panthers sign Robby Anderson to $37.5M extension

When push came to shove, Robby Anderson didn't see any reason not to sign a contract extension with the Carolina Panthers.

“The coaches, the organization, the city, everything — I just generally love being here,” Anderson said.

The Panthers agreed to a $37.5 million contract extension on Tuesday with the fifth-year wide receiver, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Anderson's deal runs through 2023 and includes $20.5 million in guaranteed money. The Panthers increased his 2021 salary from $8 million to $12.5 million. In addition, he will make $13 million in 2022 and $12 million in 2023. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the extension.

Anderson was due to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2021 season.

“We wanted to lock him down for a few more years and keep the continuity with the receivers and our skill positions,” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said. “And this is one way of doing it, being ahead of" the salary cap.

Fitterer said Anderson's deal won't impact D.J. Moore's contract situation. Fitterer said the Panthers would also eventually like to extend Moore's rookie deal. However, they have some time as Moore's contract doesn't expire until after the 2022 season.

Both Anderson and Moore were 1,000-yard receivers last year.

Anderson is coming off a career season in his first year with the Panthers, catching 95 passes for 1,096 yards and three touchdowns.

He spent his first four seasons with the New York Jets with his most productive season coming in 2017 when he caught 63 passes for 941 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns.

Panthers coach Matt Rhule said Anderson has done everything asked of him, and added that he loves his durability. Anderson started all 16 games last season.

“He had been known as a deep play threat and I know when we signed him some people said that's all he is is a deep-ball guy,” Rhule said. “But he made most of his money last year across the middle, shallow catch-and-run type plays."

Now Rhule would like to see Anderson catch more deep balls this season with former Jets teammate Sam Darnold now at quarterback.

“Sam has a big arm and hopefully we can take advantage of the whole field with Robby,” Rhule said.

“To me it means go harder," Anderson said of the extension. "I feel like if I went from that to that, I can go to even more. The main goal ... is to win the Super Bowl.”