Austin Ekeler

Chargers Activate Austin Ekeler

Justin Herbert may have a key weapon back at his disposal Sunday in Buffalo. The Chargers activated Austin Ekeler on Saturday.

The recently extended back has been out since Week 4 because of a hamstring tear. The Bolts went from an Ekeler-Melvin Gordon backfield to one that has mostly featured lower-end investments this season. While Herbert has still emerged as the Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite, he has been without a proven running back for most of his rookie slate.

The Chargers recently placed Justin Jackson on IR and have gone with former Dolphins and Jets castoff Kalen Ballage in recent weeks. Ballage figures to take a backseat, should Ekeler suit up against the Bills on Sunday.

Last season, Ekeler finished seven yards shy of a 1,000-yard receiving season. The former UDFA parlayed that into a four-year, $24MM extension, with the Chargers moving on from Gordon and installing his former backup as their backfield centerpiece. Ekeler’s severe hamstring ailment in early October stalled the franchise’s plan, but the fourth-year runner is soon set to re-emerge.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Jets, Chargers, Ekeler, Bengals, Waynes

Another week, more drama with the Jets. While tanking is often talked about in the NFL in terms of roster construction and letting young guys play, it’s very rare for a team to be accused of actively trying to lose games. But that’s exactly what’s happening in New York, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News writes. The latest dustup surrounds starting cornerback Bless Austin, and a neck injury that just landed him on injured reserve. Head coach Adam Gase had previously expressed optimism that Austin would play this past Sunday, then suddenly pivoted and said the team’s doctors told him Austin didn’t feel good.

Mehta writes that Jets employees “vehemently disagreed with the head coach’s characterization of the situation.” He reports that Austin told teammates the neck issue would only require a couple of days of rest, and that the medical staff shared that opinion. After that, “people at all levels of the organization have started to wonder whether Jets brass actually care about winning any of their remaining games.” Mehta says some within the building have concluded “the powers that be want to tank for Trevor Lawrence.” The Jets just cut starting cornerback Pierre Desir and placed fellow corner Brian Poole on injured reserve, making Austin’s absence all the more significant in their now extremely young secondary. It’s not unusual for a team to strip down its roster of veterans, but it would be unusual for a team to purposely sideline a healthy player in order to field a less competitive product. This will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on as the season winds down.

Here’s more from a couple of the AFC’s other divisions:

  • The Chargers are in the midst of yet another injury-plagued season, but reinforcements may be on the way. The team will designate star running back Austin Ekeler to return from injured reserve and he’ll practice this week, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network tweets. Pelissero adds that it’s not clear yet if he’ll be able to be active for this weekend’s game against the Bills, but either way it sounds like he’ll be back on the field very soon. He’s been one of the league’s most productive running backs the past two years, both as a runner and receiver. Ekeler hasn’t played since Week 4 due to a serious hamstring injury he suffered against the Buccaneers. He was averaging over five yards per carry with 17 receptions through only a little over three games.
  • While Ekeler will be back any week now, things are a lot less certain for Bengals cornerback Trae Waynes. Waynes signed a three-year, $42MM deal with Cincy this offseason, but hasn’t played in a game yet after tearing a pec in August. Waynes finally popped up on the rehab field at a Bengals practice this past week, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic writes, but a return this season is still in question. “Still unsure at this point, honestly,” Waynes said. “I’m trying to work as hard and as fast and as smart as I can to get back out there without risk of jeopardizing my body to another injury. Unfortunately, it’s not up to me to decide if I can get cleared. So, I’m just doing my part to make that happen as soon as possible.” Waynes expressed frustration with what looks like a lost year, adding that the COVID-19 restrictions have made it hard for him to get acclimated to his new team without being able to practice or play. “Very frustrating, boring,” the former first-round pick of the Vikings said. “I’m not used to it. It’s my first major injury through college and the NFL. I’m not used to just sitting out the whole season and doing absolutely nothing but rehabbing.”
  • In case you missed it, crucial Titans linebacker Jayon Brown is out for the season.

Extra Points: Bieniemy, Giants, Panthers

Although the Giants are just one game back of the NFC East lead, they are 1-5 and appear on the verge of their fourth straight double-digit loss season. GM Dave Gettleman has presided over the previous two 10-plus-loss campaigns, and some around the league have tabbed the Giants GM job as a potential opening ahead of the 2021 offseason, Dan Graziano and Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com note. The Panthers‘ GM spot has also surfaced around the NFL as one to monitor. Marty Hurney, in place long before Matt Rhule‘s arrival, has been rumored as a potential chopping-block candidate because of Rhule’s overhaul and seven-year contract. Hurney’s contract runs through 2020. Gettleman made his way back to New York shortly after his Carolina ouster, but his rebuild has not taken off. The Giants have never lost double-digit games in four straight seasons.

Here is the latest from around the league:

  • Sticking with staffs, the Texans are indeed expected to strongly consider Eric BieniemyDeshaun Watson has advocated for Patrick Mahomes‘ OC, and Graziano and Fowler note the Texans “definitely” have interest in the Chiefs assistant. The Chiefs are prepared to lose Bieniemy this offseason, which would mark the third time they have lost an OC since 2016. Houston is believed to be seeking a quarterback guru and will have Josh McDaniels (again) and Bills OC Brian Daboll on its target list as well.
  • The Bears may not need to make it back to the playoffs for their current power brokers to stay in place. Both Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace are believed to be on track to stick around for 2021, per Fowler and Graziano. Chicago’s 5-1 start has come with just a plus-12 point differential, and the team benched Pace’s handpicked quarterback early in the season. Despite Mitchell Trubisky‘s struggles and current backup status, Pace is currently believed to be safe to receive a seventh year as GM.
  • It does not sound like the Chargers are expecting to have Austin Ekeler back anytime soon. The Bolts’ starting running back is battling what Anthony Lynn calls a “very serious” hamstring injury that has him set to be sidelined for the foreseeable future, Daniel Popper of The Athletic tweets. Given a four-year, $24MM extension this offseason, Ekeler went down in Week 4. The Bolts have been without many key players on offense since turning to Justin Herbert in Week 2.
  • Adoree’ Jackson returned to Titans practice Wednesday. The team designated the former first-round cornerback as an IR-return player, making him eligible to face the Steelers in Week 7 — if the team activates him by Saturday afternoon. Jackson landed on IR before Week 1 with a knee injury.
  • The Panthers placed Joey Slye on their reserve/COVID-19 list and brought in kickers for workouts this week. Carolina has auditioned Casey Bednarski (Minnesota State), Taylor Bertolet and Austin Parker (Duke), per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle (on Twitter). Bednarski began his coronavirus testing with the team Tuesday, Joe Person of The Athletic tweets. None of these kickers has NFL experience. Slye has not tested positive but came in contact with someone who had, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com notes. The Panthers do not have a kicker on their practice squad, but Slye has not been at the team’s facility since Sunday and could still kick in Week 7.
  • The Dolphins conducted an interesting workout Wednesday. They brought in former Seahawks second-round pick Malik McDowell for an audition, per Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The 2017 draftee has not played an NFL down, with an ATV accident and subsequent legal troubles harpooning his career. The former Michigan State defensive lineman recently spent time in prison after a bevy of charges stemming from a 2019 arrest.

Austin Ekeler Placed On IR

Oct. 9, 3:09pm: Ekeler has been placed on IR, the team announced.

Oct. 5, 2:12pm: Ekeler is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with the injury, Schefter tweets. He notes Ekeler is seeking a second opinion on the injury and the timetable, although it sounds like injured reserve is a near certainty at this point.

Oct. 5, 11:39am: The Chargers collapsed like only they (and maybe the Falcons) know how to do, blowing a 17-point lead against the Buccaneers. The bad news doesn’t stop there however, as it looks like they’ll be without running back Austin Ekeler for a while.

Ekeler suffered a hyperextended knee and hamstring injury that will cause him to miss multiple weeks, a source told Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The severity won’t be known until an MRI on Monday, but it sounds like a trip to injured reserve (minimum three games) is a possibility. Ekeler pulled up lame and looked to be in loads of pain, needing to be carted off. The Chargers are expected to place Ekeler on IR, but they’ll wait until a full analysis is completed before making the call (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport).

It’s yet another brutal blow for a Chargers team that has yet again been besieged by injuries. They’re currently down multiple starters on the offensive line, receiver Mike Williams missed Sunday’s game, and a handful of starters on defense are hurt.

Los Angeles has come very close to winning every game, yet now sit at 1-3 through four weeks. Stop us if you’ve heard that one before. Ekeler was handling by far the biggest workload of his career this season after the Chargers moved on from Melvin Gordon. A dynamic pass-catcher as well as runner, he had 11 receptions in Week 3 against the Panthers.

The unheralded former undrafted free agent had 557 yards and three touchdowns on the ground last year, adding another 993 and eight through the air. The Western Colorado product signed a four-year, $24.5MM pact with the Chargers back in March, so thankfully he’s financially secure. Rookie fourth-rounder Joshua Kelley from UCLA and Justin Jackson will carry the load in his absence.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chargers, Austin Ekeler Agree To Deal

The Chargers have identified the running back they’d like to keep for the long haul. Instead of Melvin Gordon, former UDFA Austin Ekeler now has a second Bolts contract.

Ekeler agreed to a four-year, $24.5MM deal on Friday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). This pact will include $15MM in guaranteed money. Ekeler was a restricted free agent but is now locked up through the 2023 season.

This represents a remarkable rise for Ekeler, who entered the league in 2017 undrafted out of Division II Western State (Colo.). While he backed up Gordon for most of his first two seasons, Ekeler thrived in a starting role and then alongside the former first-round pick in 2019.

He finished with 993 receiving yards — fifth-most ever in a season for a pure running back — and totaled 1,550 from scrimmage. Ekeler added 11 touchdowns and became the first Charger in 34 years to post a 100-100 game, which occurred against the Jaguars in December. His 10.3 receiving yards after catch ranked second in the NFL, per ESPN Stats & Info.

A report pointed Gordon toward free agency Thursday, and this Ekeler accord confirms it. After Gordon became extension-eligible in January 2018, the sides went two years without agreeing to terms. And Gordon’s 2019 holdout undoubtedly benefited his backup’s case for a payday. Ekeler agreed to his re-up — at a price south of what Gordon sought during his holdout — after being extension-eligible for barely two months. The Bolts and Ekeler began negotiating the extension in January, Schefter adds.

At 24, Ekeler is two years younger than Gordon and has logged 443 career touches — well behind Gordon’s 1,283. The Chargers should be able to rely on their passing-down back for a few more seasons, while Gordon will now have a chance to gauge his value on the open market.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chargers To Be Without Gordon, Ekeler?

With a win over the Chiefs on Thursday night, the Chargers can take a step closer towards winning the AFC West title. Unfortunately, it sounds like they’ll go into the game without their two best running backs. 

The Chargers are not optimistic that Melvin Gordon (knee) and Austin Ekeler (neck, concussion) will be ready for this weeks’ game, head coach Anthony Lynn tells Steve Wyche of NFL.com (on Twitter). Instead, the Chargers are planning to use rookie running backs Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome in the backfield.

Gordon has been sidelined since sustaining a grade 2 MCL sprain in Los Angeles’ Week 12 matchup with Arizona. Since then, Jackson has been a bit of a mixed bag for the Chargers. He averaged eight yards per carry in Weeks 12 and 13, but had just 12 yards off of seven carries in Sunday’s win over the Bengals. Newsome, meanwhile, has not touched the ball in the last two games.

If the Chiefs beat the Chargers on Thursday, they’ll clinch the AFC West title, allowing them to rest their best players over the final two weeks of the season. Even in that scenario, the Chargers are all virtually assured a place in the postseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

West Notes: Raiders, Hill, Ekeler, 49ers

The long-anticipated Reggie McKenzie departure leaves the Raiders in search of a replacement, but Jon Gruden is not certain to be involved in the interview process that will lead to his new decision-making partner/lieutenant.

I know Mark (Davis) is going to accumulate a list of names and candidates, and I’m sure we’ll discuss those people later this week,” Gruden said (via ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez). “Right now, I don’t have any idea. … I’m not revealing any candidates because I don’t know of any.”

Jaguars player personnel director Chris Polian, Lions exec Jimmy Raye III and former Gruden Buccaneers coworker Mark Domenik have been loosely connected to the Raiders’ vacancy thus far. The team may want an executive who can push back against Gruden when necessary, per SI.com’s Albert Breer. College scouting director Shaun Herock is now filling in for McKenzie as GM, and Davis views Herock as a key organizational piece going forward. Gruden stopped short of proclaiming McKenzie’s right-hand man, player personnel director Joey Clinkscales, would have a long-term role. But Clinkscales remains in his post following McKenzie’s firing.

Here is the latest from the West divisions:

  • With a home game against the Chargers and a road tilt in Seattle, the Chiefs have a tough back-to-back assignment coming up. Their top wide receiver likely will not be 100 percent for those games. Tyreek Hill said Sunday, via NBC Sports’ Peter King, his foot was “bad.” Hill left Sunday’s overtime win because of injury but returned, and Andy Reid expects the deep threat to play against the Bolts on Thursday. The Chiefs possessed a top-flight skill-position quartet, powering Patrick Mahomes‘ MVP candidacy, this season. But they are now without Kareem Hunt and Sammy Watkins, the latter likely out until the playoffs. Hill has not missed an NFL game due to injury. A Hill absence would make Kansas City vulnerable against a Chargers team that would move into an 11-3 tie atop the AFC West with a win. That said, the Chiefs would still hold the divisional-record tiebreaker and keep the top spot.
  • Chances for a Thursday recovery for Austin Ekeler aren’t as good. The second-year Chargers running back suffered a bruised nerve in his neck, per Eric Williams of ESPN.com, and although he played through similar discomfort earlier this season, Ekeler not playing appears to be the most likely scenario. “It’s football, yeah, but there’s a lot of life after football, too,” Ekeler said Monday. Melvin Gordon is expected to return from his MCL injury, however.
  • The 49ers drafted N.C. State’s Kentavius Street shortly after he tore his ACL in a pre-draft workout with the Giants, but the rookie defensive end may be on the verge of practicing, Kyle Shanahan said Monday. Street is on the 49ers’ NFI list and will not play in a game this season, though, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports (on Twitter). Still, practice work would help as Street prepares for a hopefully healthy 2019 offseason.
  • In case you missed it, Doug Baldwin is inactive for tonight’s Seahawks-Vikings game. Baldwin, who’s battled a knee injury most of this season, is now dealing with a hip problem.

Injury Updates: Ekeler, Roethlisberger, Jackson, Reed

While Week 14 wasn’t nearly as bad as recent weeks in terms of carnage, there were still some significant injuries to big players today. The Chargers are already dealing with the loss of running back Melvin Gordon to an MCL injury, and may now be without his backfield mate Austin Ekeler for a while. Ekeler aggravated the stingers he’s been dealing with in the team’s win over the Bengals today, a source told Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The Chargers play in Kansas City this Thursday night in a huge game for playoff seeding, and Schefter writes that “the short week will make it tough” for Ekeler to play.

Here are more injury updates from around the league:

  • Ben Roethlisberger missed most of the second half in the Steelers‘ loss to the Raiders with a rib injury, but is expected to be fine and play next week against the Patriots, Schefter writes in a separate tweet. Joshua Dobbs filled in for Roethlisberger today, and Big Ben’s absence ended up costing the team the game as they scored zero points with Dobbs under center. The Steelers are just 7-6-1 and in danger of falling out of the playoffs with a very tough upcoming schedule, so they’ll need Roethlisberger at full strength.
  • In the same tweet, Schefter notes that X-Rays on Lamar Jackson‘s ankle came back negative and that he’s expected to play next week against the Buccaneers. Jackson missed the final plays of the Ravens’ thrilling overtime loss to the Chiefs today, and Robert Griffin III filled in. If Jackson’s ankle ends up becoming an issue, it would further complicate the murky situation between him and Joe Flacco.
  • The Redskins have had some of the worst injury luck in the league, and got even more bad news today. Tight end Jordan Reed sprained his foot, Schefter notes, and will presumably miss some time. Reed has been plagued by injuries the past few years, but had been able to stay healthy so far this year. He’s dealt with foot injuries in the past, so this could very well wind up ending his season. The Redskins are looking to finish strong with new quarterback Josh Johnson, and this will make things significantly more difficult for the offense.

Austin Ekeler Out For The Year

The Chargers offense has many weapons, but perhaps the most surprising of the team’s playmakers will not be active for another game this season. Running back Austin Ekeler broke his hand in last night’s AFC West affair against the Chiefs and will be out for the year, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Austin Ekeler (Vertical)

The undrafted rookie out of Western State had gone from unknown to a key part of the Chargers offense in a short period of time. Ekeler carved out a nice role as the team’s passing back when starter Melvin Gordon was off the field. The 22-year-old lined up all over for head coach Anthony Lynn, affecting the game both on the ground and through the air.

Ekeler averaged 5.5 yards per carry, rushing for two touchdowns. The scat back also caught 27 balls for 279 yards, which included three scores. Through 14 weeks, Ekeler ranked as the 16th best passing back in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

Losing their surprise rookie performer is a rather big blow for a Chargers team that has been streaking over the past month with the hopes of securing a playoff spot. Expect Gordon to become even more involved in the Chargers offensive gameplan with Ekeler no longer available. Although, running back Branden Oliver seems like a sure bet to somewhat step in for Ekeler during the final two weeks of the season. Los Angeles is certainly not lacking weapons, but this injury puts another damper on the team’s postseason chances coming off a big loss on Saturday night.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Chargers Sign 15 Undrafted Free Agents

The Chargers announced that they’ve reached agreements with 15 undrafted college free agents. The full list is as follows: