Austin Ekeler remains in search of a new team, one that will commit to him beyond a single season.
Roughly three weeks have passed since Ekeler first requested and received permission to explore trade options, and he's yet to find a suitable partner. He's still focusing on the same key details in his search, but for the first time since he requested his freedom, Ekeler has admitted he might not end up leaving Los Angeles in 2023.
"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," Ekeler said on Tuesday during an appearance on SiriusXM 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. Once everything halted with the Chargers, alright, it was time to go and see if we can find value somewhere else because they just kind of showed that they weren't interested at that time.
"Time will play out. Who knows? We'll see what happens with the draft. But it's a situation where, look, if a team wants me in the long term, it's a year where they're gonna have to give up picks and then also have to renegotiate, so that's kind of playing against us for sure. But we'll see, like I said. Time will tell, and we'll see what happens after the draft.
"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."
As he did in late March, Ekeler explained that even after his fruitless discussions with the Chargers left him feeling like "I kind of got punched in the face," he doesn't despise the Chargers organization. However, he has come to the realization he likely won't receive what he's seeking financially from the Bolts, even if deep down, he doesn't want to leave the only team for which he's ever played professionally, stating "I want to be a Charger."
"Last year, we went to them and were like, 'Hey, are you guys interested?' It was definitely too early then; we didn't really have as much leverage so we didn't try as hard," Ekeler said. "They gave us an offer, but it was like, 'Hey, take this and we can continue our discount that we're getting.' And we were like, 'Ah, we can't do that.' So I played this year on my contract again and obviously set the bar high, way higher than I'm actually getting compensated for once again.
"So now after this year ended, it was around the combine that a lot of these talks start happening. … 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.
"Pretty much after that it was we want to get traded, we want to go and actually look for value somewhere else and see if someone else might have some interest in us in a longer-term partnership. That's kind of the scenario that I'm in right now and that's what it's been. Now we're just going through and playing the game."
Despite leading the league in total touchdowns (rushing and receiving) in each of the last two seasons, Ekeler is dealing with a couple of disadvantages: The running back market is as dry as the Sahara Desert, and he's still under contract for one more year. As he alluded, Ekeler might have to swallow his pride and suit up for the Bolts for one more year before he can come close to the payday he envisions for himself.
In terms of leverage, Ekeler doesn't have much, but that could change after the draft. A team seeking a running back could miss out on every prospect it was targeting at the position, and suddenly become interested in swinging a deal for Ekeler.
For now, though, it doesn't seem all that likely.
"Maybe we can get something done throughout the year," Ekeler said of a potential extension with Los Angeles. "Who knows how it's going to play out? That's how I'm feeling right now because we don't really have insight of what they're thinking. They're just like, 'nah, we don't want to talk anymore.'"