The NFL opened its “legal tampering” window on Monday — which is a ridiculous phrase since, by definition, tampering can’t be legal — where teams and players can negotiate free agent contracts.
While most were focused on the quarterback market and, in particular, the future of Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and whether he would end up with the Jets who have been pursuing him this offseason, a big name at the running back position made the biggest early headline. Not long after free agency opened, word broke that Chargers star running back Austin Ekeler was seeking permission to find a trade after contract talks with L.A. stalled.
Chargers’ RB Austin Ekeler is requesting permission to speak with other teams about a potential trade after preliminary talks with the team aimed at a contract extension did not progress, his agent Cameron Weiss told ESPN.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2023
Over the last two seasons Ekeler has been one of the most productive backs in the NFL, with 38 rushing and receiving touchdowns (the most by any player in the league in that time frame, and has been one of the most consistent presences for the Chargers offense. Ekeler’s value is particularly elevated by his ability to catch passes out of the backfield (177 receptions over the last two years), which could make him an intriguing target for offenses looking to add some balance to their passing game. Fantasy owners will be particularly intrigued by where Ekeler goes, as he’s been a monster in fantasy for some time because of how he racks up TDs and, for those in PPR leagues, how many receptions he gets.
For the Chargers, losing Ekeler would be big, but might not be a complete disaster depending on who they could replace him with. As far as rushing the ball, Ekeler could be replaced, and while they won’t find anyone who can catch the ball like he can out of the backfield, that might not be the worst thing in the world. Justin Herbert is a wildly talented young quarterback who can be a bit too quick to check it down, in part because Ekeler is so good and reliable catching the ball out of the backfield. Forcing Herbert to throw the ball downfield more often by simply removing that safety valve may end up being good for the Chargers in the long run, even if there might be growing pains in Ekeler’s absence initially.