Austin Ekeler accepts modest raise to stay with Chargers in stunning reversal

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) celebrates a touchdown score during the first
Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) celebrates a touchdown score during the first / Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA

Austin Ekeler surprised just about everyone when he requested a trade from the LA Chargers this offseason. Entering the final year of his contract on a $6.25 million salary, Ekeler made it clear he wanted a new-and-improved deal.

Ekeler and the Chargers negotiated a pay raise, but couldn't reach a middle ground. The star running back is on the record saying he is making half of what he should be making given his workload and production over the last three years.

While Ekeler had teams interested in trading for him, his contract demands reportedly dissuaded potential buyers. The left the door open for a potential return. As did the Chargers decision to not draft a running back in April.

Lo and behold, Ekeler will be back with the Bolts in 2023 with $2 million in incentives added to his contract for the upcoming season.

Austin Ekeler returning to Chargers for 2023 season

While Ekeler is back, his long-term future remains murky. As it stands, the six-year veteran will reach free agency next offseason, where he'll get the chance to secure another multi-year contract. This offseason showed the declining RB market, but Ekeler will garner interest as long as his demands aren't too steep.

Few backs have been more productive than Ekeler since 2021. Over the last two seasons, he's rushed for 1,826 yards and 25 touchdowns on 4.5 yards per carry. His 177 catches during that span are 35 more than the next running back and his 1,369 receiving yards are nearly 300 more than the next back.

With Keenan Allen and Mike Williams banged up for much of last season, Ekeler was the lifeblood of the Chargers' offense. The hope is the two receivers stay healthy in 2023, and that the arrivals of Kellen Moore and first-round pick Quentin Johnston will improve the consistency of the passing game.

That will help take the pressure off Ekeler and keep him fresh for a potential playoff run.

Ekeler and the Chargers may still be headed for a split, but the reworked contract gives the front office another year to decide on his future. They could either exercise the franchise tag or let Ekeler test the market and see if a team is willing to bite on offering him a lucrative contract.

We'll cross that bridge when the time comes, though.

The important thing is this saga is over and Herbert will have a full complement of weapons this upcoming season.