It appears the Los Angles Chargers and Austin Ekeler were unable to come to terms on a contract extension. Trading for a running back only to then also pay a big-money extension doesn’t seem like anything but a win-now move for a team that thinks they’re nearly a player away. That makes things a bit tricky for the NFL regarding a potential trade.
However, Ekeler is in the final year of his deal and only accounts for $6.25 million for whoever were to trade for him this season, making him a decent bargain, given how impressive he is as a receiver both out of the backfield and in the slot.
While Ekeler only played 67 snaps in the slot or out wide a season ago, that number could easily double on a team with another good back on the roster or one that lacks three good receiving options.
Austin Ekeler Landing Spots
The Lions, Dolphins, Bengals, Bears, and Bills could all be potential landing spots for Ekeler. It doesn’t make much sense for either Ekeler or teams that aren’t in a massive cash surplus or contending for a Super Bowl to trade for the 27-year-old back — who will likely command one of the largest contracts at the position.
However, contracts at the position have come down from their high mark in 2020 when Christian McCaffrey got paid — a necessary market correction. Still, Ekeler would command at least the $12.6 million Dalvin Cook received on average, given his outstanding receiving ability.
Chicago has a ton of draft capital to play with, along with $75 million to spend on their roster heading into next season. While Bears running backs received a relatively low 17% of team targets, adding Ekeler could be a nice way for Justin Fields to become more comfortable living with the checkdown from time to time.
Also, the idea of a backfield consisting of Fields and Ekeler is a disgusting proposition from a defensive game plan perspective because there is so much that Luke Getsy can do with that duo.
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Also, even if Fields becomes a more consistent passer in the quick game, the Bears will always remain one of the more run-heavy teams, much like the Eagles have, despite possessing a few outrageous receiving options and a good passer.
However, GM Ryan Poles has been open about wanting to iron out a deal with David Montgomery. In January, he said, “I love his mentality — how he plays the game. I told him that to his face. He’s part of the identity that we had this year that kept us competitive.”
It was surprising to see Detroit didn’t target Jamaal Williams often, considering his usage in the league before 2022. However, the Lions gave backs 20.4% of the team’s targets last season.
Because Jared Goff is about the furthest thing from a creator that exists in the modern NFL, having a leaking option out of the backfield is imperative to their offensive success against good pass-rushing teams.
Miami is another team that had a surprisingly average target rate to backs (20%), considering how much of their overall share went to Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. Adding Ekeler to an offense with those two adds a third dynamic player to the offensive roster that defenses must deal with.
Because Ekeler is such a good receiver and the Dolphins so feverishly attack the middle of the field, he would be an absolute menace running Texas routes as linebackers work to scurry back into the intermediate area defending the two speedsters. He’s an outstanding complement, and Chris Grier has been aggressive since bringing on Mike McDaniel.
While it would be very weird for the Bengals to cut or trade a somewhat expensive back only to trade for another one, if they prefer Ekeler to Mixon as a player, it could make sense for them financially if they’re able to trade or cut Mixon as a post-June 1 designation.
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Cincinnati targeted backs on 22% of their targets overall, and we all remember the days of Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire at LSU. Someone like Ekeler would make what is already the best receiving corps in the NFL all that more lethal.
And even if they simply prefer Ekeler, they could trade for him, trade Mixon, and not extend Ekeler so they would have more money moving forward for Burrow’s eventual mega-deal.
The Bills currently aren’t in a financial position to make the trade, but it’s hard to imagine just how dangerous that offense could be with someone like Ekeler in the backfield. The Bills also targeted backs 20% of the time.
Buffalo has never been able to find consistency in their run game over the past few seasons. Bringing in a veteran with Ekeler’s receiving upside and consistency between the tackles could be exactly what Buffalo needs to become a more consistent offense.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane said during the NFL Scouting Combine, “People always ask about running back: Yes, you can still take a running back in the first round.” Maybe that means he’d also trade a Day 2 pick and pay a very good one.