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Two-Time Touchdown Leader Could Join Division Rival In Free Agency

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is set to hit free agency, and a recent article suggests he could land with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Austin Ekeler Free Agency

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler had a bumpy path on his road to free agency. After leading the NFL in total touchdowns in both 2021 and 2022, the former undrafted free agent believed he deserved a raise and held out for a long-term contract, or a trade. Neither option ever materialized, and the running back had to settle for a revised one-year deal.

Now set to hit the open market, there is a good chance Austin Ekeler leaves in free agency. While head coach Jim Harbaugh has praised Ekeler, there is a chance that could be lip service. While Los Angeles needs a running back, they also have more important needs throughout the roster and lack the cap space to invest in a luxury position like running back.

So, if Austin Ekeler is on his way out the door in free agency, then who could sign him? According to ESPN’s Matt Bowen, that team could be the Kansas City Chiefs. In a recent article, the NFL analyst makes the case for why the Ekeler could jump ship and join the Chargers biggest rival.

Chiefs Could Sign Longtime Chargers Running Back Austin Ekeler In Free Agency

If the Chiefs do sign Austin Ekeler in free agency, they will not do it to make him a three-down workhorse. Former seventh-round pick Isiah Pacheco has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has what it takes to be a starter in the NFL. While he’s no Barry Sanders, Pacheco’s violent rushing style meshes well with Kansas City’s offensive line.

However, while Pacheco can catch passes, he’s nothing special in the receiving game. There was a time when Austin Ekeler could run routes better than a good portion of wide receivers. While those days are probably gone, he’s still an above-average receiving back who could be a tremendous asset on this pass-heavy offense.

This signing makes plenty of sense if Ekeler can’t land a full-time starting job in free agency. However, if someone is willing to give him full control of the backfield, then he’ll probably sign with that team. The only question is whether such a team exists.

Will Ekeler Be A Workhorse Somewhere?

Looking around the league, it’s clear to see that most teams utilize some type of committee approach to the running back position. This makes sense, as rushing production is heavily dependent on scheme and offensive line, and you never want one player to break down under a heavy workload. Over the past few years, the Chargers have been the exception to the rule and utilized Ekeler as a true three-down back. Now that he’s hitting free agency, does anyone believe Austin Ekeler can still handle such a workload?

While only time will tell for sure, there are plenty of warning signs. Last year was easily Ekeler’s least efficient as a starter, as he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry on 179 rushing attempts. The advanced metrics don’t paint a prettier picture, as his 60.2 PFF grade ranked 55th out of 59 players. Now entering his age-29 season, Austin Ekeler might not have a bustling free agency market.

Chances are, the Chargers are the only team who would bring him back in a workhorse role. While Austin Ekeler might want to leave in free agency, he’s going to take whichever situation gives him the most opportunities. With no other good running backs on the roster, these two sides could reunite. However, if the money doesn’t work out, then Kansas City makes as much sense as any other team.

Main Photo: Kiyoshi Mio – USA Today Sports


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