Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler has asked the team’s permission to seek a trade after insisting that he is “so underpaid”. The 27-year-old has a year left on his contract that will pay him $6.25 million in 2023. He also wants a long-term deal after being a standout performer for the Chargers over the past two seasons, with 3,195 total scrimmage yards and a league-leading 38 total touchdowns. However, the Chargers must decide how much financially they are willing to commit to keeping Ekeler in the fold, knowing that they could trade him away to another team that would give up a draft pick and sign him to a new deal instead.
While some talented runners like Josh Jacobs and Saquon Barkley have been unable to secure new deals, the Chargers must determine if they see Ekeler similarly to how the LA Rams treated Todd Gurley. Two years after winning the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2017, Gurley faced production decline due to the long-term wear and tear on his body. He was then released by the Rams with two years left on his contract and nearly $12 million in dead cap money. Nonetheless, the Rams General Manager, Les Snead, stated that despite having to move on from one of their franchise’s pillars before his 26th birthday, he would sign Gurley again if he could go back in time.
Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco has dealt with a similar situation four years ago when former first-round pick Melvin Gordon held out in the hopes of getting a contract extension after his rookie deal expired. Gordon, like Ekeler, became a standout performer for the Chargers, but the team chose not to give him a new deal. The team also has to keep in mind that most teams do not significantly invest in running backs’ contracts anymore, and therefore, the running back position is less valuable than before.
Austin Ekeler knows that he must carefully navigate the situation and come up with a solution before the 2023 season, whether he stays with the Chargers or ends up playing for another NFL team. Despite the respect and admiration that the Chargers have for him, including coach Brandon Staley’s statement that “we want him to be a Charger,” ultimately, the business of football will take shape.