As the initial waves of free agency and the NFL Draft grow smaller in the rearview mirror, Austin Ekeler still finds himself a member of the Chargers. The star running back had previously requested a trade out of Los Angeles and the franchise did grant him permission to go out and seek a possible partner, but no deal has come to fruition. And at this point on the NFL calendar, it does appear like things .
"Nothing's changed," Chargers GM Tom Telesco told "The Rich Eisen Show" on Tuesday of Ekeler's situation, via NFL.com. "His situation is unique. I completely understand that which is why we kind of allowed them to kind of look and see if there was anything out there. We had no intent, no interest of trading him, but fully knowing his situation to go ahead and do it."
Ekeler has been one of the NFL's most productive backs as both a pure running and an elite pass-catching option for Justin Herbert out of the backfield. Over the last two seasons, he's registered at least 1,500 yards from scrimmage and has 38 total touchdowns over that two-year stretch. With that production in mind, Ekeler, who is entering the final year of his contract, is in search of a raise as he is set to earn $6.25 million in base salary in 2023.
Ekeler's expiring deal has an average annual value of $6.125 million, which ranks 14th among running backs. That's a significantly lower number than some of his contemporaries like Christian McCaffrey ($16 million in AAV), Alvin Kamara ($15 million in AAV) and Dalvin Cook ($12.6 million in AAV).
"When it comes down to what's going on with the whole trade and all that stuff, really, look, we're trying to find a long-term partner," Ekeler said. "That's what we want. We want someone who wants to sign us for a few years and sees us not just in the immediate future, but a couple years out. Once everything halted with the Chargers, alright, it was time to go and see if we can find value somewhere else because they just kind of showed that they weren't interested at that time. Time will play out. Who knows?"
While Ekeler has a case to see a pay bump, he finds himself in a tricky situation. NFL teams are not chomping at the bit to pay running backs top dollar these days and, with Ekeler set to be 28 by the start of next season, they likely wouldn't want to commit to a smaller back approaching his 30s either.
The Chargers were not major players in free agency at the running back position and did not select one in the NFL Draft either. So, Ekeler does have the same job waiting for him if he ultimately remains with the team for 2023, which seems to be the most likely outcome at this point. After 2023 when Ekeler hits unrestricted free agency, maybe then he'll find that long-term deal he's been searching for.