Chargers To Let RB Austin Ekeler Test Free Agency

The 2024 free agent class is set to feature a number of high-profile running backs. Austin Ekeler is likely to be one of them with his Chargers deal about to expire.

Ekeler is expected to reach the open market, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. That comes as no surprise given the nature of Ekeler’s 2023 offseason, one in which he asked for an was granted permission to seek a trade. He will have the ability to depart the organization he has spent his entire career with, although the plethora of accomplished backs who will also be available will no doubt limit his value.

None of the three running backs who received the franchise tag last year (Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard) are expected to be tagged a second time. No member of that trio performed at a level in 2023 which would make them an obvious candidate for a long-term deal, something which has no doubt informed their respective teams’ hesitancy to make a lucrative commitment. Schefter confirms that Titans stalwart Derrick Henry is also expected to reach free agency, something which was foreshadowed throughout the campaign.

Ekeler sought out a raise on a new Chargers deal, and his inability to land one led to his trade request. No suitors emerged, and he ultimately remained in Los Angeles on a re-worked contract. The two-time NFL leader in total touchdowns thus set himself up for free agency, while being a vocal member of the league’s running backs who have aired their frustrations over the stagnant nature of the position’s market. In an era where a number of positions have seen surging values, the RB spot has flatlined.

The 2023 campaign was an important one for Ekeler given his status as a pending free agent. The 28-year-old was limited to 14 games, however, and he was less efficient when on the field (3.5 yards per carry) than any other season in his career. After scoring 38 total touchdowns from 2021-22, Ekeler managed only six as part of a Chargers offense which struggled across the board but especially in the ground game.

While then-head coach Brandon Staley hinted at a divvying up of running back opportunities late in the campaign, Ekeler averaged 12.8 carries per game in 2023. That falls in line with his usage rate of the past four seasons, which has seen his career carries total reach 990. Many backs at his age have more mileage on them, but last season’s struggles will still likely be a key factor working against him on the open market.

The former UDFA landed a four-year, $24.5MM deal in 2020. That $6.13MM AAV ranks 11th in the league amongst running backs, and Ekeler will likely be hard-pressed to improve on his standing in the position’s pecking order on his new deal, regardless of where it comes from. Chargers backup Joshua Kelley is also a pending free agent, so the team could see significant turnover at the RB spot in the near future.

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