The LA Chargers have an unforeseen situation this offseason as Austin Ekeler requested permission (and was allowed) to seek out a trade to a new team that would potentially be willing to offer him a contract extension.
Ekeler has not been shy in sharing that he feels as if he is underpaid, making half of what he should be making. Unfortunately for Ekeler, the running back market has taken a massive hit so the chance to get the kind of deal that Derrick Henry received might be long gone.
The Chargers don't seem interested in offering Ekeler the kind of extension he wants and for the right reasons. While it is unfortunate for Ekeler, this is a business and it is hard to blame the Bolts for not wanting to spend over market value on a running back that might be past his prime. Remember, running backs age extremely quickly and Ekeler turns 28 next month.
It is going to take some time for this situation to resolve and Ekeler has made it pretty clear what he doesn't want to happen. In an interview with Fantasy Sports Radio on SiriusXM, Ekeler shared how he felt disrespected by the team and called returning to the Bolts on his current deal the 'worst-case scenario' (h/t NFL.com).
"I kind of got punched in the face when the Chargers basically said 'hey, we don't want to talk about extensions anymore' [...] I felt like wow, this is the first time in my career that it felt kind of like disrespected by the whole organization. [...] Look, I guess the worst-case scenario right now out of all of it, I'll come back and I'll have to play for the Chargers for a year and bet on myself and then be a free agent next year. "
Ekeler does explain in the interview that he would like to stay with the Chargers but he mostly wants to play for a team that has a long-term vision for him. It is pretty clear that the Chargers do not have that and might not budge on the contract front.
Austin Ekeler is losing favor quickly with Chargers fans.
You cannot blame a fanbase for turning against someone when it seems like every three days there is something that comes out that disparages the team in some way. Ekeler trying to get paid more is totally understandable and it is his right to do so. But it is also the fanbase's right to feel a certain way about it.
It is hard to bounce back from saying that returning to the team on his current contract is the worst-case scenario. Sure, he is saying that in the context of potentially getting a long-term deal, but he is the one who signed this contract. If he wanted to be a free agent sooner he should have signed a shorter deal.
Maybe Ekeler's goal in all of this is to influence the team to trade him before the season but none of that matters if no other team wants to offer him a contract extension. All he is doing in return is turning his own fanbase against him.
And if he stays in LA for the 2023 season the fans are going to let him hear it. Any and all mistakes will be elevated and put under the microscope.