Jim Harbaugh Hints At Whether Or Not Austin Ekeler Will Return To Los Angeles Chargers

Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers responded to a disappointing season by cleaning house and bringing in Jim Harbaugh as head coach. As Harbaugh puts the finishing touches on his Chargers coaching staff, the focus now shifts to key decisions involving players like Austin Ekeler.

Ekeler, who turns 29 in May, was a disappointment last season for Los Angeles in a contract year. The veteran running back struggled along with the rest of the Chargers’ offense, averaging a career-low 3.5 yards per carry and posting his lowest rushing averages (44.9 yards per game) since 2019.

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  • Austin Ekeler stats 2023: 628 rushing yards, 3.5 yards per carry, 51 receptions, 436 yards

With nearly 1,500 career touches in the NFL and approaching the age of 30, Ekeler is not well-positioned heading into NFL free agency. The situation is made even worse for the veteran in a pool of free agents that will include Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Derrick Henry. However, the new Chargers’ head coach seems very receptive to the idea of bringing Ekeler back.

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In an interview with Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press, Harbaugh praised Ekeler and suggested the Chargers would very much like to have him back in 2024.

“If things go well, it’s going to be because of guys like Austin Ekeler and the players. I like Austin Ekeler. We’re going to have a huge emphasis on the run game, and we gotta block better up front. He’s a tremendous back and we’d love to have him on the team next year.”

Los Angeles Chargers coach Jim Harbaugh on running back Austin Ekeler

With Harbaugh hiring Greg Roman as offensive coordinator, it makes sense why Los Angeles would have some interest in retaining Ekeler. With the quality of running backs available in free agency, Ekeler’s market could be suppressed which works in the team’s favor. However, Los Angeles will also have to consider Ekeler’s regression last season.

Austin Ekeler stats – Advanced data

True Yards per CarryYards per TouchBreakaway Run RateEPA
20224.2 (34th in NFL)5.3 (15th)5.4% (25th)+8.4 (10th)
20233.3 (62nd in NFL)4.6 (31st)2.2% (46th)-46.8 (146th)
Statistics via Player Profiler

It’s also important to consider the track record of Chargers general manager Joe Hortiz during his time with the Baltimore Ravens. Despite consistently having one of the best rushing offenses in the NFL for more than a decade, Baltimore rarely signed veteran running backs to second contracts.

As for the factors working in Ekeler’s favor, a run-heavy Chargers’ offense paired with the likely reasonable cost it would take to re-sign the veteran running back makes it a somewhat viable option. However, Los Angeles might wait to see how the 2024 NFL Draft unfolds before considering a potential one-year deal with Ekeler.