Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler has requested permission to explore options for a trade, NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported on Monday, via Ekeler's agent.
Ekeler, 27, signed a four-year, $24.5 million contract in March of 2020. He's now entering the final year of that deal, set to play at $6.25 million in 2023.
It's clear that Ekeler has some leverage in that he's been one of the NFL's most productive backs but falls well short of the $10 million-per-year threshold most of the top runners earn. What's not clear, however, is whether the Chargers will respond to Ekeler's hardball tactics -- or if they will grant him permission to shop himself.
Since entering the NFL as an undrafted free-agent signee in 2017, Ekeler has become one of the league's great self-made players, scoring 38 touchdowns -- 12 more than the next-closest player -- over the past two seasons. What separates Ekeler from most other backs is his receiving prowess, as he's corralled 389 passes for 3,448 yards and 29 TDs in six seasons. His 107 receptions in 2022 ranked fifth in the NFL and first among all RBs.
The Chargers don't have any other clear-cut starting candidates in the backfield should Ekeler depart, although Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller remain promising -- especially Spiller, the 2022 fourth-rounder who won't turn 22 years old until August.