Playing out 2023 is the best solution for the Chargers and Austin Ekeler

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Austin Ekeler's market itself could be niche

Outside of the running back market itself being in a slow-moving state, I'm not sure what the market specifically for Ekeler is. The total production is there over the last two seasons: 38 touchdowns, 1,826 rushing yards, 1,369 receiving yards for #30.

However, that's his production with a Joe Lombardi scheme that has favored short throws and screens that allowed Ekeler to get into the open field more. That's not to say Ekeler couldn't have had that production under Kellen Moore or any other offensive coordinator. He'd be very capable of that. But is Ekeler's value as high to other teams around the league that throw less than the Chargers? Does his lower value as a pure rusher make sense for other teams to pay a premium for?

There were 16 running backs who rushed for 1000+ yards in 2022. Ekeler finished 18th in total rushing yards this year with 915. Versatility is the name of Ekeler's game with how he's been able to be a three-down back for the Chargers in the non-traditional sense. He's able to stay on the field even if the Chargers are obviously passing on say two of those three downs.

But for teams that run the ball downhill more and don't cater their scheme to a pass-catching running back, Ekeler's appeal may be more limited. He's not a three-down back in the way that Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, or Nick Chubb are. The Chargers themselves have centered their offense around his pass-catching ability and high usage rates through the last few years.

If Tom Telesco and the Chargers aren't willing to pay him after making their offense heavily Ekeler-centric, who around the league is going to pay top-five running back money if their offense isn't built to extract top-five value out of Ekeler? With lower value as a traditional running back in another offense as opposed to the Swiss Army knife usage in LA, Ekeler's market may be more niche than he anticipates.