On Tuesday, the Chargers granted running back Austin Ekeler permission to seek a trade after contract talks had stalled between the two sides:
"Failed to make progress" seems to indicate that Ekeler and the Chargers are still far apart in talks. Going into his age 28 season, Ekeler is in an uncommon situation of seeking his third contract before 30 due to his original undrafted free agent status. Based on his production, he absolutely deserves a pay bump.
But for a few key reasons, I'm not sure that a trade and extension with another team is as realistic an option as Ekeler's camp might want it to be. It wouldn't surprise me if his market is lower than anticipated and he ultimately returns for the 2023 season to play out his deal.
4 reasons why it is best for the Chargers and Austin Ekeler to play out 2023:
The running back market is dead right now
David Montgomery's new contract with the Detroit Lions is currently the highest contract given to a running back in the free agent period. He signed a three year, $18 million deal worth $6 million in average annual value. Aside from that deal, Jeff Wilson's Miami contract is the second highest at $4.1 million AAV.
Of course, if Ekeler were to actually get extended in a trade, he'd get more than that. But the question is by how much? If Ekeler wants top five running back money, this seems like a really hard market to get that figure in. Running back needy teams like Philadelphia and Miami may not be totally out of the Ekeler market, but so far they've loaded up on several cheap contracts as opposed to one albatross.
And past free agency, there's of course the draft. A natural reaction of a lot of teams particularly when running back value is low in free agency is to scour the draft for a cheap four (or five) year contract instead. That methodology of goes past Texas star Bijan Robinson in later rounds of the draft as well, even though he's been a point of conversation.
If the Chargers aren't going to give Ekeler $12.5 million AAV, it really doesn't seem like it's a bull market for his services elsewhere in the league right now.