Austin Ekeler

Chargers Rule Out RB Austin Ekeler For Week 2

It is now official that Chargers running back Austin Ekeler will miss his first game since 2020, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN, due to an ankle injury that has been bothering him since the team’s loss to the Dolphins last weekend. Schefter also reports that defenders Eric Kendricks and Chris Rumph have been ruled out for tomorrow’s matchup in Tennessee, as well.

The loss of Ekeler is obviously the most significant, but last week’s game showed that Los Angeles may be set up well for his absence. While Ekeler showed his usual dual-threat impressiveness, rushing for 117 yards on 16 carries with a touchdown while adding 47 yards on four receptions through the air, backup running back Joshua Kelley was nearly as productive.

Kelley matched Ekeler’s 16 rushing attempts, amassing a still impressive 91 yards as a result and also scoring a touchdown. While Kelley hasn’t necessarily shown a similar aptitude for receiving out of the backfield in his career, backup running back and undrafted rookie Elijah Dotson was known for his versatility during his time with the Bears of Northern Colorado. In his final year of college football, Dotson caught 48 balls for 300 yards and two touchdowns. If the Chargers don’t want to shoulder Kelley with receiving back duties, Dotson should be more than capable of stepping in.

Highlighting the loss of Ekeler is not meant to minimize at all the loss of Kendricks. Kendricks is half of the team’s starting inside linebacker duo alongside Kenneth Murray. In last week’s loss to the high-powered Miami offense, Kendricks was one of only four defenders who played every defensive snap, the others being safeties Derwin James and Alohi Gilman and cornerback Michael Davis.

The Chargers didn’t see much action from backup off-ball linebackers in Week 1 at all. They do have depth at that spot on the roster, though. The three healthy options on the active roster (Tanner Muse, Nick Niemann, and Amen Ogbongbemiga) are all primarily special teamers who have played on defense sparingly throughout their respective careers. Los Angeles did use a third-round pick this year to acquire former Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley, but after failing to play in Week 1, Henley is listed as doubtful to make his NFL debut tomorrow.

As for Rumph, the third-year rotation edge rusher will have to wait at least one more week to make his season debut. The team will likely hope to be seeing the return of Ekeler and Kendricks by that time, as well, but for now, they’ll have to make do without two of their more talented starters. To help fill in this week, the Chargers promoted outside linebacker Brevin Allen and safety Dean Marlowe from the practice squad as standard gameday elevations.

Austin Ekeler Not Expected To Travel With Chargers For Week 2 Game

The Chargers are on track to be without their top running back this week against the Titans. Austin Ekeler is listed as doubtful for the game but will likely be downgraded further soon.

Ekeler is not expected to travel with the Chargers for the Week 2 road tilt, The Athletic’s Daniel Popper notes. Considering Ekeler missed all three Bolts practices this week, he was viewed as a longshot to suit up in Nashville.

This will be Ekeler’s first missed game since he contracted COVID-19 in December 2021 and missed a Texans matchup. The dynamic back has not missed a game due to injury since Nov. 22, 2020. In between that 2020 hamstring injury and the ankle ailment he encountered in Week 1, Ekeler has become one of the NFL’s best running backs. His touchdown against the Dolphins gave him an NFL-most 39 since the start of the 2021 season.

Ekeler looked to suffer the injury in the third quarter of the Bolts’ shootout loss to the Dolphins. He managed to squeeze in a few more plays but was walking with a limp. Still, the seventh-year back totaled 117 rushing yards in the game. Backup Joshua Kelley added 91 yards on the ground for a suddenly run-committed Chargers squad. Kelley, a 2020 fourth-round pick who has served as a top Ekeler backup throughout his career, will be expected to be Los Angeles’ lead back against the Titans.

Somehow a zero-time Pro Bowler despite leading the NFL in touchdowns over the past two seasons, Ekeler angled for a contract adjustment this offseason and ended up being granted permission to seek a trade. As the running back market crashed, significant trade interest did not emerge. The Chargers ended up agreeing to a small incentive package with their veteran starter. Ekeler, 28, remains tied to the four-year, $24.5MM deal he inked back in 2020.

Returning from this ankle injury and re-establishing his top-tier form will be critical for the Division II product’s 2024 earning potential. As of now, Ekeler is on track to hit free agency after this season. The Chargers have exclusive negotiating rights with the Western State (Colo.) alum until mid-March and can follow the Cowboys, Giants and Raiders’ path by franchise-tagging him as well. For the time being, Ekeler will aim to come back and deliver a third straight dominant season.

Latest On RB Coalition

Last night, a group of the NFL’s veteran running backs got together on a Zoom call organized by Chargers rusher Austin Ekeler. There was a reportedly strong turnout of NFL-talent for a meeting that ultimately gained little ground. Mike Florio of NBC Sports was able to provide some details on what transpired during the meeting.

According to Florio, despite some of the league’s best backs being in attendance, little progress was made towards a solution. The league’s current collective bargaining agreement is in place through 2030, and it doesn’t provide the running backs much leeway in their options. The NFL Players Association, which was not a part of the conversation last night, can’t necessarily contribute much to the conversation as, due to the nature of a league with a salary cap, giving money to running backs necessitates that money be taken from other positions.

That didn’t stop NFLPA president JC Tretter from suggesting in an interview that running backs could simply stage hold-ins by embellishing, exaggerating, or simply fabricating injuries. That suggestion was brought up on the call but quickly dismissed as it would feed “into the narrative that (running backs are) prone to injury.” It would also provide backs further down the depth chart an opportunity to prove they’re a better roster value than they’re more “injury-prone” counterparts.

Other ideas that could help the group include the use of the league’s Performance-Based Pay Pool to supplement running back income, shortening the position’s track to a second contract, or making adjustments to the franchise tag formula. Performance-Based Pay would reward the league’s top backs whose production exceeds their meager contracts. Shortening rookie contracts for running backs is a complicated solution that would likely require the NFLPA to negotiate on behalf of the running backs, which, again, can take away from other positions represented by the Association.

The franchise tag formula provides two possible solutions. The first would see the formula modified to simply increase the value of running back tags. The normal calculation would be increased to make tagging rushers a bit more costly of an option and force teams to explore second contracts with more dedication. The second solution is actually a bit of an extension on the first, suggesting a source for that increase. Currently, all offensive linemen’s franchise tag amounts are based on the contracts of tackles (the highest earning members of their position group). For this reason, interior linemen often don’t get tagged because they would be paid a tackle’s rate. If the league were to break up the offensive line into three categories (tackles, guards, centers), the interior linemen would no longer be receiving tackle-money, providing some wiggle room for running backs.

One of the players who attended the call was Browns running back Nick Chubb, who spoke to the media about the discussion, according to Jake Trotter of ESPN. Chubb confirmed that such elite athletes as Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, and Saquon Barkley all attended and contributed to the conversation.

Chubb also elaborated on the feeling of being handcuffed in terms of what action can be taken. He expanded on a common complaint that running back is the only position whose production hurts them. If they go out and rush for 2,000 yards, instead of being rewarded, they are assumed to be worn down. Chubb is a year away from a contract year himself, but he fully recognizes that he could find himself in this situation during the next offseason.

Regardless, right now, without the help of the NFLPA, there isn’t much for running backs to do. Some backs pointed out that their own agents have contributed to the problem (agents were not on the call). Often, agents will backload ridiculous numbers into a contract that inflate the annual average value (AAV) to amounts that a running back will never see.

Saints rusher Alvin Kamara‘s contract is a perfect example. With an AAV of $15MM, Kamara has only seen that much money in the first year of his deal, when he received a $15MM signing bonus. In 2021, he only received $2MM cash and, for the three subsequent years, he earned/will earn between $11MM and $11.80MM cash. These numbers are all so much lower than the AAV because, in the final year of the contract, Kamara is set to receive $25MM cash. The chances of Kamara reaching that final, big payout are extremely low, but that amount made what was really a $10MM per year contract much more palatable.

The running backs need to ensure that their agents are on the same page about whatever strategies they decide to implement. Florio wisely points out that, while teams are not allowed to collude in regard to negotiating strategies, players and their agents absolutely have the right to collaborate.

Veteran RBs Planning To Address Depressed Market Together

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler saw the writing on the wall. As he watched some of the best at his position contemplate their options under a franchise tag, he knew he could be dealing with the same issues next offseason. He made an attempt to remedy the situation but ended up finding out just how dire his prospects were. Now, with none of the league’s rushers finding an effective solution in their own negotiations, it appears they’ve decided to put their heads together in an attempt to get the contracts they deserve.

It started on Monday, when, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports, some of the league’s veteran rushers organized a group text in which they would brainstorm strategies for improving their grim outlooks. One of the first initial strategies has been the utilization of social media.

While, on its surface, that sounds superficial and unproductive, it’s really hard to fix a problem if no one acknowledges it. When players go on social media to talk about their issues with the system, especially during a relatively down news cycle, media pundits will pick up their calls and magnify them. Not only that, but it also sparks debate between the analysts of the sport, who tend to present and argue both sides, helping to delineate the most useful points of contention and possible solutions.

To grow their efforts past a group text, the running backs have also planned a Zoom meeting, set for tonight, in order to further discussions, according to Florio. The meeting has been organized by Ekeler and will reportedly involve the NFL Players Association in some capacity. It’s a little difficult for the NFLPA to advise too much, considering that, in a league where value is determined within a salary cap that all positions share, the money to pay running backs has to be taken away from other positions that are also being represented by the Players Association. That being said, they can still likely offer some sound negotiating techniques and potential solutions. They can also potentially serve as a sounding board to offer opinions on the viability of different options.

Ultimately, the group will likely have to continue to take the situation into their own hands, as they’re negotiating only for themselves. They may suggest a shortening of the path to free agency to keep running backs from spending their premier years on a measly rookie deal. Former NFLPA president Domonique Foxworth suggested a more concentrated utilization of the league’s Performance-Based Pay Pool, an approximately $336MM fund used to reward players whose high-levels of play are not reflected in their paychecks. Foxworth suggested that, essentially, running backs could pad their depressed contracts by meeting certain performance and playing time benchmarks.

Regardless, the group and the league have at most a year before the situation rears its ugly head again. The three backs that are playing on franchise tags this year, Saquon Barkley on the Giants, Josh Jacobs on the Raiders, and Tony Pollard on the Cowboys, will all head back to free agency after this season. So, too, will the Titans’ Derrick Henry, the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor, the Ravens’ J.K. Dobbins, the Commanders’ Antonio Gibson, Ekeler, and many others. With so many major contributors set to hit the market, a determination will soon have to be made on how to compensate these rushers for what they bring to their respective teams.

Chargers Rumors: Ekeler, Johnston, Salary Cap

Within a limited salary cap, as other positions begin to see an increase in the average value of their contracts, the space in the salary cap for those increases has to come from somewhere. As positions like quarterback and defensive tackle are reaching new highs, it seems that the value of running backs is slowly diminishing.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler went on The Rich Eisen Show this week to voice his opinion on the situation. Ekeler is entering a contract year and was interested in renewing his deal for more time in Los Angeles. When it became clear that the Chargers weren’t willing to meet his demands on a new deal, they allowed him to seek a trade. Unfortunately for Ekeler, it soon became apparent that no one was willing to meet his demands, sending him back to the negotiating table. Without extending his time with the team, Los Angeles did show a bit of their appreciation for Ekeler, reworking his contract in a way that allows him to make more money in 2023 through incentives.

Ekeler understandably left the situation frustrated with the development of the running back market. His view is that running backs carry the ball and impact the game more and that they’re not getting compensated in a corresponding fashion. While he certainly has a point, being concerned that top running backs are getting nearly the money they should be able to, the overall market of the position is being dragged down by the success of its younger players. Due to the recent successes seen by running backs on rookie contracts, several teams feel much more comfortable going to the draft for their primary rushers, making them less inclined to pay out large contracts to veterans, regardless of their caliber.

As a result, Ekeler sees backup wide receivers making more money than him, despite their lesser impact on the team’s success. It’s an unfortunate development that, this offseason, has resulted in contract disputes from four of the league’s top-eight running backs in yards from scrimmage last year.

Here are a few other rumors coming out of Los Angeles this summer:

  • The Chargers used a first-round pick on wide receiver Quentin Johnston this year, and there is not an expectation that he will be coming off the bench much as a rookie, according to Daniel Popper of The Athletic. Despite Josh Palmer stepping up in a big way during his sophomore season while position leaders Keenan Allen and Mike Williams each missed some time with injury, Popper expects Johnston to jump Palmer for the WR3 role at some point this year. Johnston has some development to undergo still before claiming the spot, but Palmer’s absence in the spring (due to injury) certainly helps Johnston’s case. Popper expects the position battle to take place in training camp, and he expects Johnston to eventually win out.
  • Additionally, Popper addressed the team’s reluctance to spend on free agency this offseason despite having a little more the $12MM in open cap space for 2023. It’s a popular opinion that the Chargers are already looking ahead towards the 2024 season. Next year, four players will have cap hits over $30MM, and that’s not including quarterback Justin Herbert who, if forced to play out his fifth-year option, would hold a $29.50MM cap hit in 2024. Instead of spending their money this summer on contracts that may have an impact into next year, Los Angeles may be angling to take advantage of rollover cap space. According to Popper, “teams are allowed to roll over any unused cap space from one season to the next.” $12MM of rollover could do a lot towards what could end up being a pricey 2024 season. In contrast, the highest cap hit the team is dealing with in 2023 comes in at $17MM.

Austin Ekeler Addresses Chargers Contract, RB Market

One of the main storylines surrounding the Chargers came to a close when Austin Ekeler agreed to a new contract. The running back’s adjusted pact includes $1.75MM in new incentives, while keeping him on track for free agency next March.

Ekeler has been vocal recently about his desire for a raise putting him in line with the league’s higher-paid backs. His production on the ground and in the passing game point to his two-way ability and thus his value to any number of suitors on the open market. Given his age (28) and position, however, much remains to be seen regarding his earning power in 2024.

“I understand I have one more year that I’m obligated to be here. I wanted to go poke around to see if there was any other value,” Ekeler said, via USA Today’s Tyler Dragon“If not, come back and have my last year and do what I can do here.”

The former UDFA requested a trade at the start of the league year as he searched for a raise from the $6.25MM he is due in base salary in 2023. With Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard having been franchise tagged, though, the free agent market at the RB spot was underwhelming. The position has been devalued over time, something which played a large part in little interest developing on the trade front for Ekeler before his new Chargers deal was put in place.

“What’s been happening with the atmosphere around the running back market has been pretty tough,” Ekeler admitted. “I am thankful for the way it played out. The Chargers did give me something in the middle, some type of incentive. I am appreciative of that because they didn’t have to do that. I understand there’s a business side to all of this. But I wouldn’t be doing myself service if I wasn’t going and trying to find more value while I can.”

Ekeler will once again be a focal point of the offense in Los Angeles this season, and he will aim to lead the league in touchdowns for a third straight season. His new incentives are directly tied to yardage and touchdown totals, and hitting them will boost his value on the open market. How much his financial stock changes in the near future will be worth watching over the course of the campaign.

Austin Ekeler Agrees To Reworked Chargers Deal

MAY 24: Ekeler’s incentive package includes escalators for total yardage, touchdowns and a Pro Bowl berth. The seventh-year back can earn up to $1MM depending on his total yardage,’s Tom Pelissero tweets, with the incentive package beginning at 1,125 yards and topping out at 1,639. Ekeler finished with a career-high 1,637 scrimmage yards last season. As for TDs, Ekeler’s incentive package ranges from 10-16. He can earn up to $600K in this area. Ekeler scored 20 touchdowns in 2021 and 18 last year.

MAY 23: After requesting a trade earlier this offseason, Austin Ekeler will remain with the Chargers for the 2023 season. The veteran running back has agreed to a new deal which includes almost $2MM in incentives being added to his scheduled compensation, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link).

Ekeler is entering the final season of his contract, and was due a base salary of $6.25MM this year. Where that figure ranks him amongst the league’s other top running backs drove his trade request at the start of free agency, something which the Chargers allowed him to explore. As expected, little interest emerged with respect to teams looking to acquire the 28-year-old.

Ekeler has expressed a willingness to remain in Los Angeles for one more campaign, knowing another strong season would help his free agent value. Likewise, the Chargers have made it clear that they had no intention of actively seeking a trade which would have seen the league’s two-time reigning touchdown leader depart. Now, Ekeler will once again occupy a central role in the team’s offense, one which faces signficant expectations this season.

The former UDFA has topped 1,500 scrimmage yards in three of the past four campaigns, and a continuation of his substantial two-way production could give him multiple suitors on the open market next offseason. However, the 2023 free agency period saw a number of short-term, low-cost deals handed out at the RB position, which could lessen the chances of the Chargers being outbid for Ekeler’s services on a new contract. In any event, the Western Colorado product’s relationship with his current team should no longer be a concern.

Head coach Brandon Staley said yesterday that he fully expected Ekeler – who, as per usual, is currently absent from OTAs – to attend mandatory minicamp in June. Given today’s development, that can now be considered a lock as Ekeler’s immediate financial future has been taken care of.

Chargers Expect Austin Ekeler At Minicamp

Austin Ekeler did not turn up for the Chargers’ initial OTA session Monday, though that is not exactly a surprise. The standout running back, as ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry notes) has made a recent habit of skipping voluntary workouts, but his offseason trade request does make this absence a bit more notable.

That said, the Chargers have long held the line they want Ekeler back this season. Unlike the murkier Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon situations, Ekeler is firmly in the Bolts’ plans for 2023. Brandon Staley said Monday he expects the league’s two-time reigning touchdown leader to show for minicamp in June.

Players can be fined nearly $100K for not being at minicamp. While that is a drop in the bucket for a player with Ekeler’s earning history, minicamps do generally feature 100% attendance. A few players bucked this trend last year, and it will be interesting to see if Ekeler follows suit. The Chargers gave the seventh-year back permission to speak to teams regarding a trade in March, and the TD kingpin’s contract is out of step with his value.

Ekeler, who turned 28 last week, is attached to the four-year, $24.5MM contract he signed in 2020. One season remains on that deal. The Chargers have not done especially well to acquire reliable Ekeler backups during his time as the team’s unquestioned lead back. The Bolts did not make a notable addition to their backfield this offseason, either, keeping Ekeler (38 TDs from 2021-22) a vital presence for the AFC’s Los Angeles franchise.

The Bolts gave their UDFA success story his extension shortly before letting Melvin Gordon walk in free agency in 2020. At the time, Ekeler had not been a true full-time presence in L.A. A 2015 first-round Chargers pick, Gordon served as the team’s primary back — save for a 2019 holdout — during his rookie contract. The Chargers did well to lock down Ekeler to a $6.13MM-per-year deal, but that contract has plummeted to 13th at the position. Although Ekeler bizarrely has not made a Pro Bowl — his well-crafted 2022 ad campaign notwithstanding — he certainly has a case to be called a top-five running back due to his receiving contributions.

This year’s market did not treat backs well, due to the supply-and-demand issue caused by ball carriers’ diminishing status and the flood of starter-caliber players hitting free agency, but several have on extensions in the recent past. Seven eight-figure-per-year RB deals remain on teams’ books, and Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley and Tony Pollard received $10.1MM franchise tags in March. Tepid Ekeler trade interest is believed to have emerged following his trade ask, which came after stalled extension talks. Teams have largely stocked their backfields for 2023.

The 2020 CBA effectively deterred training camp holdouts, upping fines to a non-waivable $50K per day (for players on non-rookie deals) once camp begins. Although Ekeler does not need to worry about the accrued-season component of the CBA’s language pertaining to training camp absences, he would risk losing considerable cash by staying away once camp begins. A “hold in” measure — an increasingly popular move for disgruntled players in 2020s — could become a consideration, should this stalemate continue into August. The Chargers would certainly miss Ekeler’s presence, with few backs capable of his performance level.

The Chargers have two $20MM-per-year wide receivers (Keenan Allen, Mike Williams), and Justin Herbert is due a monster extension. Though, whopping Herbert cap numbers are unlikely to emerge until around Year 3 of his expected extension. As minicamp nears, however, Ekeler remains attached to a contract he has outplayed.

Latest On Chargers, RB Austin Ekeler

The bulk of free agency, along with the draft, has now come and gone. Most major roster-building moves have thus been made for 2023, but the future of Chargers running back Austin Ekeler remains unresolved.

Ekeler was given permission to seek a trade in March after extension talks failed to yield much in the way of progress. The 27-year-old has one year remaining on his current contract, and is due $6.25MM – a figure much lower than that of the other top backs in the league. After a second straight season in which he led the league in scrimmage touchdowns and eclipsed 1,500 total yards, Ekeler’s desire for a raise has been weighed against the underwhelming market direction his position has been headed in.

Given the overall devaluation of running backs – at least in 2023’s free agency period, if not the first round of this year’s draft – it comes as little surprise that a strong trade market for Ekeler has yet to take shape. Given the lack of willingness on other teams’ parts to move assets in acquiring him before making a signficant, multi-year financial commitment, the former UDFA acknowledged the possibility of playing out his contract year in Los Angeles. The chances of that taking place are increased by the Chargers’ lack of a desire to move him.

“Nothing’s changed,” general manager Tom Telesco said about Ekeler’s standing trade request during an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show (video link). “His situation is unique. I completely understand that, which is why we kind of allowed them to kind of look and see if there was something out there available. We had no intent, no interest of trading him, but, fully knowing his situation, said go ahead and do it.”

The Chargers have a number of young options on their RB depth chart, but none with the track record of two-way production Ekeler has established over the past few years in particular. Los Angeles did not draft a running back, further pointing to their intention of keeping Ekeler in the fold for the 2023 campaign, one in which the team’s offense in particular will face considerable expectations. If he can deliver another strong performance, he will boost his free agent value, but that route appears to be the only one in which he could land in a new NFL home next offseason.

Latest On Chargers, Austin Ekeler

The beginning of the new league year was flooded with moves in free agency, but one of the most notable storylines to emerge was Austin Ekeler‘s trade request. The Chargers running back has one year remaining on his contract, and even though he has been given permission to find a trade partner, he realizes a seventh season with his only NFL team to date remains a distinct possibility.

“When it comes down to what’s going on with the whole trade and all that stuff, really, look, we’re trying to find a long-term partner,” the 27-year-old said while appearing on Sirius XM’s Fantasy Sports Radio“That’s what we want. We want someone who wants to sign us for a few years and sees us not just in the immediate future, but a couple years out” (h/t’s Nick Shook).

Ekeler is due to make $6.25MM in 2023, the final year of a $24.5MM extension which ranks him far lower in the RB pecking order than his production would merit. The former UDFA has led the NFL in total touchdowns each of the past two campaigns, eclipsing 1,500 scrimmage yards in three of the past four years. A long-term deal coupled with a sizeable raise – rather than discontent with the Chargers – was the reason Ekeler gave for asking to be dealt this offseason.

As he explained in his latest public comments on the subject, contract talks he had last year with Los Angeles fell well short of producing a new deal. He mentioned that he felt he “kind of got punched in the face” in 2022’s negotiations, adding that no tangible progress was made after this past season, one in which he set new career-highs in both rushing (915) and receiving (722) yards.

“It was around the combine that a lot of these talks start[ed] happening,” Ekeler said. “Basically, we just could not even get close to… it wasn’t even much of a negotiation. It was just kind of a, more so ‘hey, this is what we’re thinking, this is what they’re thinking,’ and it was just OK, we are not on the same page, let’s just end this because I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

This offseason has seen several modest deals given to free agent backs, the latest sign in the decline in value at the position. That, coupled with his age, could make it challenging for Ekeler to find a suitor willing to commit to a lucrative deal. Indeed, it was reported last month that a strong market was not expected to emerge for him. As attention starts to turn to the draft, Ekeler reiterated his willingness to remain with the Chargers at least one more year as he eyes a new pact.

“Look, I guess the worst-case scenario right now out of all of it, I’ll come back and I’ll have to play for the Chargers for a year and bet on myself and then be a free agent next year.”

The Chargers currently have just under $15MM in cap space, and would clear all but $1.5MM of Ekeler’s $7.75MM cap hit with a trade. The team has a number of other financial priorities, including a monster deal for Justin Herbert. In the absence of progress on the extension or trade fronts, though, Ekeler could find himself suiting up in familiar territory next season.