The Los Angeles Chargers have a blossoming star in running back Austin Ekeler.
The Chargers will enter the offseason facing critical decisions as it relates to unrestricted free agents such as Philip Rivers, Hunter Henry and Melvin Gordon. But the team can’t lose sight of its top restricted free agent, Ekeler.
When a player is a restricted free agent, it makes it much harder for other teams to wrap their hands around them and lure them away. The Chargers will have the right to place a tender on Austin Ekeler, meaning they will get compensation in return if another team signs him. They will also have the opportunity to match any offer sheet Ekeler may sign with another team.
And other teams are going to come calling.
As the league has evolved into a game featuring pass-heavy offenses that throw to wide receivers on the outside, wide receivers in the slot, tight ends out wide, fullbacks out of the backfield and running backs that can line up everywhere, an offensive piece such as Ekeler is precious.
The Chargers would be wise to play a high-round tender on Ekeler, or just sign him to an extension as soon as possible. As an undrafted free agent, the idea of a same-round tender on him is out the window. Placing a high-round tender on him would likely keep him away from other teams, but the Chargers would be responsible for paying a high salary for an undrafted player.
Currently, according to Overthecap.com, the Chargers have $54.1 million in available cap space, so there is room to make some moves. But keep in mind that Rivers, Gordon and Henry will all be looking for new deals as well.
The team could create extra cap space by releasing other players (Denzel Perryman comes to mind), but without any doubt, the team needs to secure Ekeler and make him part of the team’s future for years to come.
There are likely several teams around the league that would be interested in Ekeler’s services. He is one of the league’s best receiving backs (probably second to only Christian McCaffrey) and he is a great change-of-pace runner who can handle a heavy workload.
He made himself a lot of money in the 2019 season with his play in the absence of Gordon, but he continued to contribute on a regular basis even with Gordon around.
The Chargers will be in the driver’s seat to retain the services of the young running back and so long as they want him around, he’ll be around. But they can’t be careless with this deal. Many teams will be watching how the situation unfolds and ready to pounce into any hole that may exist.