Austin Ekeler sounds off on ‘terrible’ running-back market: ‘I scored 20 touchdowns and can’t get an extension?’


Overlooked since his arrival as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Western Colorado, Austin Ekeler has always played with a chip on his shoulder, routinely scoring double-digit touchdowns without even a Pro Bowl to show for it. Headed into the final year of a four-year, $24.5-million contract (quite the bargain in retrospect), Ekeler is seeking an extension from the Chargers who, understandably, are reluctant to commit long-term money to a soon-to-be 28-year-old coming off a monster workload in 2022 (217 carries, 109 catches). Appearing on Green Light with Chris Long, Ekeler confirmed that he and his representation are exploring all options including a potential trade, hopeful of finding a team that values him as a franchise cornerstone.

“It’s brutal out here, man. It’s terrible as far as the running-back market and how we’re getting treated right now,” said Ekeler, who, including the playoffs, totaled 1,680 yards (950 rushing, 730 receiving) and 20 combined touchdowns last season, both career-highs for the Bolts workhorse. “[I] literally scored 20 touchdowns last year, 1,600 all-purpose yards and I can’t get an extension? You don’t want me here? Wait a minute, am I missing something here? What am I missing? It’s confusing and frustrating at the same time.”

Running backs have always gotten a raw deal, treated as disposable parts made expendable by teams that view them as second-class citizens, at least relative to other positions. Cruel as the “use ‘em and lose ‘em” mentality may be, it’s not unfounded given the beating running backs take on a weekly basis, subject to significant wear and tear on their bodies. Todd Gurley experienced this phenomenon, going from NFL Offensive Player of the Year to unemployed in a span of three seasons. Knowing full well that running backs have a shorter shelf life than most, Ekeler knows this could be his last contract, which is why he’s leaving no stone unturned, fighting tooth and nail for what he considers a fair wage.

“I’m so underpaid right now as far as my contract and what I contribute to the team. I’m relentlessly pursuing this. I want a team that wants me long-term. I’m at the peak of my game,” said Ekeler, whose career 4.6 yards per carry ranks sixth among active running backs. “As long as I’m healthy, I’m going to score you 20 touchdowns. I’m going to have another 1,600 all-purpose yards. I’m getting half my value of what I could be getting.”

Some might see Ekeler’s crusade as a losing battle, though others sympathize with his plight, suggesting that if the NFL continues down this road, undermining players with insulting contracts light on guaranteed money, the running-back position could soon be in danger of extinction.

“I think it’s actually really important to put out there that it’s not like, ‘Oh, I hate the Chargers and I need to get out of this organization.’ That couldn’t be further from the truth. I would like to stay if it was under the right circumstances. Obviously, I have one more year on my contract there so I’m contractually obligated to play for them this upcoming year,” said Ekeler, insisting his preference is to remain a Charger, though not at his current $6.25-million salary, which ranks 13th among running backs. “It was put out there that the Chargers kind of put a block on extension talks. So I was like, ‘Okay, well if you don’t see me in your long-term future right now, then give us an opportunity to go talk and see if someone else might.’”

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Courtney Culbreath, Getty Images