Adam Schefter relayed today via a tweet that Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler has requested permission to speak with other teams about a potential trade after preliminary talks with the team aimed at a contract extension did not progress, his agent Cameron Weiss told ESPN. And now it is being reported that the Chargers have granted that permission.
Austin Ekeler Trade Talks To Begin
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I started thinking more about Ekeler’s contributions to the team over the last season and what it would mean if he was no longer a Los Angeles Charger. Upon doing that reflection, I put out a good thought into the universe that the Chargers will refuse his request, but if not, it’s time to panic because this past season Ekeler basically was the team.
His contract is not set to expire until next season, but given how long these contract negotiations can go on for (cough, Lamar Jackson, cough), and if he’s seeking a trade, the Chargers definitely need to pay attention. Let’s take a look at what Ekeler brings to the Chargers, what he’s worth, and what the team would look like without him.
Ekeler is a Force
Ekeler put on a clinic this past season for how to be a reliable running back in the NFL. He had career-highs in rushing yards (950), rushing touchdowns (15), and receiving yards (717). He also had five receiving touchdowns along with four multiple-touchdown games.
On top of his rushing duties, he doubled as a pass-catcher for the many weeks that both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams were out due to injury. Though the team couldn’t get much going in the rushing department last season, Ekeler was always that bright spot, aggressively barreling through defenses and pulling along multiple defenders through his path. At a 5’8’’, 200lb frame, Ekeler is beyond scrappy, and though people often say that Derwin James is the heart of the team, I would argue that Ekeler is right up there.
According to Over the Cap, currently Ekeler is in the middle of a four-year, $24,500,000 contract with the Chargers that goes until the end of this season. Currently, the largest contract in the league for running backs is a six-year, $90 million one that belongs to Ezekiel Elliott and lasts until the end of the 2026 season. The second highest is Alvin Kamara‘s, which is a five-year $75,000,000 and officially ends at the end of the 2025 season as his 2026 season is void.
Kamara had 897 rushing yards this past season, two rushing touchdowns, 490 receiving yards, and two receiving touchdowns. Elliott meanwhile had 929 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, and 108 receiving yards. Even on a down year for the Chargers run game, Ekeler had comparable rushing yards to these two and more touchdowns.
Spotrac has Ekeler’s market value at a three-year $38,466,350 contract, but based on his numbers, he definitely deserves a total contract value closer to the $50 million mark or higher. He’s one year older than Christian McCaffrey who was just given a four-year $64,063,412 with the 49ers, and though McCaffrey has more rushing yards than Ekeler (1,377), he has less rushing touchdowns (10) and hasn’t hit the 15 rushing touchdown mark since 2019.
He’s also way more prone to injury than Ekeler. Ekeler’s definitely worth the same as some of these higher-paid guys and it’s about time he got his money. It is evident that the Chargers would broker an Ekeler trade than pay him.
Who steps up if Ekeler leaves next year?
Without Ekeler the Chargers are in trouble. Joshua Kelley definitely improved this year but didn’t get a whole lot of rushing yards (303) or rushing touchdowns (two) in his limited playing time. His contract is set to expire in 2024.
Isaiah Spiller, who was drafted last year, looked promising during training camp but had an ankle injury that plagued him during the start of the season and when he came back, he never really got going.
Sony Michel was a stop-gap measure to get some extra rushing talent but he wasn’t that impactful either.
The Chargers will need to draft at least one running back this year. Receiving-wise the Chargers will hopefully get back Jalen Guyton after he’s healed from his injury and look to re-sign him, which will add more depth, but the Chargers need to draft another high-powered receiver to make sure there are adequate backups in place.
The Bottom Line on the Austin Ekeler Trade Talks
Tom Telesco is passionate about Keenan Allen, so much so that he declared at the combine that he wouldn’t be cutting him to make room for more signings. I hope he’ll channel some of that enthusiasm in making sure a deal with Ekeler gets done because he’s an integral part of this offense, and it’s hard to imagine a way through for the team without him.