The Los Angeles Chargers are coming off two pretty bad years in the running game. As a matter of fact, they finished among the NFL's ten worst teams in rushing yards in both seasons, being the third-worst team in 2022 and the eighth-worst in 2023.
Sadly, Chargers fans observed running back Austin Ekeler's decline in 2023, as he was never the same after Week 1. Ekeler averaged 3.5 yards per carry , his worst rushing year considering he averages 4.4 yards per carry in his career. Therefore, the sports media have commented on how to change this situation entirely.
The most popular rumor involves Giants running back Saquon Barkley, a top 2024 free agent, whose future with the G-MEN remains uncertain. Former Chargers QB and current football commentator, Ryan Leaf, commented last week on Good Morning Football that Barkley could be at the top of Harbaugh's wish list. Leaf could be a Harbaugh "insider", as they were San Diego Chargers teammates from 1999-2000.
Kay Adams presses Saquon Barkley on Chargers rumors
Saquon Barkley appeared on the Up & Adams Show with Kay Adams on February 6. Among different topics, Adams asked him about a potential Ekeler-Barkley duo (which is impossible due to their salaries).
After saying that he has tremendous respect for Jim Harbaugh and that Justin Herbert "is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL," Saquon said he would definitely consider a Chargers offer. Barkley could well have stayed with the first, politically correct part of his Harbaugh and Herbert admiration, and that he will decide on his future later on. However, he looked interested in becoming a Charger in 2024.
After having an awful rushing attack for the last two years, bringing in a superstar player looks enticing for the Chargers fanbase. It would also be in tune with Jim Harbaugh and general manager Joe Hortiz's offensive balance philosophy (in addition to an efficient offensive line), which will not rely exclusively on Justin Herbert's arm.
However, Barkley is one of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL, and the Chargers are in a tricky salary cap situation. Will they sign him, and thus have one of the most fearsome rushing attacks, or will they pass on him and go another route?
Saquon Barkley's rumors amid the current Chargers salary cap hurdle
The Chargers are currently almost $46 million above the salary limit. They must make enough room to pay all the 2024 active roster players. Among those options are to cut or trade players with very high salaries, restructure their contracts, and/or accumulate draft capital to have several players on rookie contracts.
Despite the real possibility of Barkley leaving the Giants, the Chargers should not pursue him. Pro Football Focus (PFF) and Over the Cap predict that Barkley will sign a 2-year, $22 million deal. The Chargers can't afford to get one of the highest-paid running backs right now, even more so taking Barkley's injury history into account.
The Chargers should be wise and "start over" at the RB position. Despite Saquon Barkley being both a passing and running game threat, the franchise should prioritize cutting or trading–and not signing–expensive players. Even Austin Ekeler–who will be 29 next season and is declining–would cost $13.5 per year, according to PFF.
Therefore, Harbaugh and Hortiz should target cheaper free agents and Michigan's Blake Corum in the NFL Draft.