Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

There’s no land rush for Austin Ekeler

Mike Florio and Chris Simms dissect the current RB market and discuss ways for talented players like Austin Ekeler to avoid feeling underpaid.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler’s concerns about the market for players at his position are entirely accurate. Running backs aren’t valued the way they should be.

The latest proof of that fact is that Ekeler is available in trade, and no one is rushing to get him under contract.

Of course, it’s one thing to acquire him from the Chargers. The other challenge is to pay him enough to make him happy. He’s due to earn $6.25 million in 2023, the final year of his contract. That matches the average of the best contract secured to date by running backs in free agency, with former Eagles running back Miles Sanders inking a four-year, $25 million deal in Carolina.

Ekeler, who turns 28 in May, has reason to feel underpaid. His talents and production show that he’s worth more than what he’s getting.

The problem is that, at his position, the supply far outweighs the demand. Ekeler’s experience proves it. He himself was undrafted in 2017. Yes, running backs can be found anywhere, and everywhere.

Every year, every major college program in America has a running back who can move the chains at the next level, if the team blocks for him. The challenge becomes teaching him to hold the football when hit by NFL defenders and trusting him to pick up NFL linebackers and defensive backs in blitz protection.

Why invest a ton of money in an older, less healthy tailback when there’s a new crop of future stars entering the draft, each and every year?

That’s been the issue for running backs for years now. Ekeler is simply the latest example of a guy who does indeed make great contributions at the position, but who also isn’t so much better than a young, cheap player to justify the dollar-for-dollar disparity in investment.

Ekeler’s not the only one feeling that pinch. Ezekiel Elliott got cut by the Cowboys in lieu of being paid $10.4 million, and it’s been crickets so far for his services. Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing in 2017, and his name hasn’t been mentioned since free agency began. Leonard Fournette and Jerick McKinnon are available for anyone who wants them and, so far, no one does.

Then there are the aging running backs with eight-figure salaries. The Titans reportedly have tried to trade Derrick Henry. Joe Mixon remains in danger of being squeezed to take less in Cincinnati, or be released. Dalvin Cook’s status remains one of multiple unsolved roster mysteries in Minnesota. And the Saints’ decision to sign 2022 touchdown machine Jamaal Williams raises questions about Alvin Kamara’s short- and long-term future in New Orleans.

Look at the Williams deal. Three years, $12 million. For a guy who scored 17 touchdowns last year.

No, the market for running backs isn’t what it once was. It hasn’t been what it used to be for a long time. It’s why former NFL running back Ben Tate once said that, if he could do it all over again, he would have played a different position.

That’s the lesson for young players who, as the best athletes on the youth football field, end up being pigeonholed at running back. As the best athlete on the field, it’s important to eventually take a stand and move to a spot that will give the player a better chance to have a more fruitful career in the NFL.