3 best trade package returns the Chargers could get for Austin Ekeler

Los Angeles Chargers v Cleveland Browns
Los Angeles Chargers v Cleveland Browns / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages
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The Carolina Panthers Austin Ekeler trade package

Update: The Carolina Panthers signed Miles Sanders after the publication of this article, making it less likely they trade for Austin Ekeler.

The Carolina Panthers were the escond possible suitor for Austin Ekeler because of their hole at the running back position and how many mid-to-late round picks they have. With a young quarterback under center in 2023, it would benefit the team to get the best safety outlet possible in the league.

Like the Patriots, the Panthers also have an extra player at a position they can trade because of a free-agent signing. After signing tight end Hayden Hurst, it is easier for the team to move on from someone like Ian Thomas, especially considering they still have Tommy Tremble on the roster.

Thomas does not have great receiving numbers but what makes him a solid get it his blocking ability. Out of the 19 tight ends in the NFL to have at least 50 pass-blocking snaps last season, Thomas had the seventh-best pass-blocking efficiency (97%), per Pro Football Focus. In a larger sample size in 2021 the numbers were nearly identical, with a 96.9% efficiency rate.

Thomas obviously would not be as impactful as Ekeler but if the Chargers have the choice of just getting a fourth-round pick or getting a fifth-round pick and Thomas it might be better to go with the latter, especially with the team potentially losing Donald Parham.

Thomas has two years left on his deal but has minimal dead money on his 2024 salary. The Chargers could cut ties with him if they really needed to but he likely would still slot in as a solid blocking tight end to back up whoever replaces Gerald Everett.