Austin Ekeler speaks on his role and return

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler returns after requesting a new contract.

COSTA MESA, Calif. — Austin Ekeler tried to find a team that would match what he was looking for in compensation. He wanted a new contract to reflect his value.

The value? Gaining over 2,000 rushing yards, over 1,700 receiving yards, and scoring 41 touchdowns since taking over as the starting running back.

“I was in an opportunity to capture some more value with the year that I came off of and kind of the reputation that I’ve been growing for myself. I wanted to try to exploit those, try to find those,” Ekeler said. “I was poking around, trying to find that. Obviously, with the Chargers, the negotiations stopped. So, we tried to just go find it somewhere else.”

The Chargers initially didn’t give him what he was looking for, so he searched elsewhere. They didn’t find a suitor.

“I understood the situation that it would put someone in, though,” Ekeler said. “Giving up draft picks and having to renegotiate a contract is a pretty big ask.”

The team decided to add about $1.75 million of incentives to his contract.

If he repeats the stats he has had the last two years next season, he will get the incentives.

“I think with what’s just been happening in the atmosphere around the running back market has been pretty tough,” Ekeler said. “I ended up coming back here. I am thankful for the way it played out because the Chargers did give me something in the middle, some type of incentive. I am very appreciative of that because they did not have to do that.”

This hasn’t been the best summer for the running back position.

The frustration comes from seeing the three top free agent running backs get franchise tagged Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard. All three were significant contributors to their respective offenses.

In 1990, five running backs were drafted in the first round, four in 2000, three in 2010, and just one in 2020. Teams are finding more value in drafting backs late or searching via undrafted free agency like the Chargers did with Ekeler in 2017.

He will play his year out with the Chargers and see what happens next offseason, but make no mistake about it with him back, this offense is whole.

“He’s such a talented player,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “He’s a big part of our offense. You definitely feel his presence when he comes back here. To have him around, he’s picking up the offense just like anyone else. It’s been great to have him back, working with him.”

Ekeler has been a big part of the Chargers offense since he made the roster in 2017. The offense under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore seems to have recent changes to the offense, attacking more down the field.

That could mean Ekeler will split out more at receiver the way he used to before former running back Melvin Gordon left. The Chargers would take advantage of his speed, so he would blow passed linebackers and score long touchdowns.

The return of Ekeler will complete the, on paper, potential of what this offense can be if healthy.

“For me, it’s continue to build into that role,” Ekeler explained. “To actually make us more consistent when it matters down at the end of the season. That’s the new role that I see myself playing more into, as far as growing off of last year to this year.”