In what was a shocking development for many Chargers fans, running back Austin Ekeler requested (and was granted) permission to seek out a trade this offseason after the two sides could not make any progress on extension talks.
Ekeler is in the last year of his contract and is making $7.75 million. After leading the league for two seasons in touchdowns, Ekeler presumably wants a new deal that not only gives him security in future years but pays him what he perceives to be market value. When the Chargers originally signed Ekeler, it was perceived to be a great deal as it was lower than market value at the time.
The Chargers, knowing that running backs regress in their late 20s and 30s, seemingly do not want to give Ekeler this extension and pay raise because of the future financial situation of the team. The two sides have different motivations and now Ekeler is trying to find a team that will pay him what he wants.
Things aren't going great for Ekeler on that front with the rest of the running-back market. Based on the deals that have been handed out this offseason, Ekeler's market value is probably lower than he expected. No other team might be willing to give Ekeler an extension that is much higher than what the Chargers may or may not be willing to offer.
The running back market might kill an Austin Ekeler trade for the Chargers.
Here are some of the contracts that have been given out to running backs already this offseason that are relevant to Austin Ekeler's situation:
- Miles Sanders: 4-year, $25 million ($6.25 million per year)
- David Montgomery: 3-year, $18 million ($6 million per year)
- Jamaal Williams: 3-year, $12 million ($4 million per year)
- James Robinson: 2-year, $8 million ($4 million per year)
And then you have the three franchise-tagged running backs. Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard were all franchise-tagged by their respective teams. This pays them each $10.1 million in the 2023 season on a one-year deal.
Miles Sanders and Davis Montgomery are two backs who are comparable in value to Ekeler. Ekeler has produced more in recent years but is also three years older than each guy. That age difference brings their value to around the same, if not less for Ekeler (simply based on how many years teams would be willing to commit).
The market value for Ekeler is $6 million! Granted, I understand that Ekeler likely wants a raise for everything he has done for the team but paying past performance for the future is a dangerous thing for NFL teams, especially at the running back position. This is business and the Chargers shouldn't pay Ekeler over market value just to be nice.
Maybe the Chargers aren't even willing to sign Ekeler to a two-year, $12 million extension. If that is the case, then a trade is still on the table as there might be another team willing to do that. But if Ekeler wants more than that he is going to be in for a rude awakening when realizing what running backs are getting in 2023.
It is simply the reality of the situation. It sucks for Austin Ekeler and all running backs but the Chargers are not in the wrong here.