Austin Ekeler will play for the Los Angeles Chargers in 2023.
Weeks after Ekeler was given permission to seek a trade and said that a return to the Chargers would be the "worst-case scenario," the veteran running back decided to remain in Los Angeles for the final year of his contract, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The Chargers reportedly added $2 million in incentives to Ekeler's contract, per Schefter.
Ekeler signed a four-year, $24.5 million deal with the Chargers in 2020, but has since led the NFL with 38 combined touchdowns from 2021-222. He'll make $6.25 million in base salary in 2023 with $1.5 million in prorated bonuses on his current deal but could make $2 million more if the incentives are reached — $1.75 million of which are tied directly to his on-field production.
He can earn up to $1 million if he tallies 1,125-1,629 total yards, $600,000 If he scores 10-16 total touchdowns and. $150,000 if he makes the Pro Bowl, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. Those numbers are similar to what Ekeler produced in 2022 when he accumulated 1,637 total yards and scored 18 touchdowns. His 3,195 total scrimmage yards since 2021 rank fourth among all skill-position players and third among running backs.
The Chargers will certainly be happy to keep Ekeler around for another season. He rounds out a quality collection of offensive weapons for Justin Herbert that includes receivers Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and No. 21 pick Quentin Johnston. Los Angeles needs as much firepower as possible to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Ekeler's presence certainly raises their ability to score points in the widely competitive AFC.
Running back market not what it used to be
Time will tell if things change, but teams aren't paying much for running backs anymore.
Only three running backs signed free-agent deals worth at least $12 million — Miles Sanders, David Montgomery and Jamaal Williams — and Sanders' four-year, $25 million deal with the Carolina Panthers was almost equal to the one Ekeler signed three years ago. Three other running backs who could command lucrative extensions — Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard — were all given the franchise tag and have until July 17 to sign a long-term deal before they will be forced to play on the one-year tag.
That didn't leave much for the 28-year-old Ekeler to renegotiate a new deal, despite his contract's average annual value being only 13th among his peers at the position. He'll have one more season to prove he's worth a larger contract, though he'll be 29 when the 2024 season begins.