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Austin Ekeler landing spots: Chiefs, Rams sensical destinations for free agent Chargers RB

No player has accounted for more touchdowns from scrimmage the last three years than Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler and his 44 touchdowns.
The 28-year-old running back is remarkable story, going from being an undrafted free agent out of Western Colorado University to leading the NFL in touchdowns in both 2021 (20) and 2022 (18). Ekeler’s career is historic since he is one of only seven players in NFL history with 30 or more rushing touchdowns and 30 or more receiving touchdowns in NFL history.
30+ rush TD & 30+ rec TD
NFL history
Career Span Player Rush TD Rec TD 1952-1964 Frank Gifford* 34 43 1956-1967 Lenny Moore* 63 48 1958-1968 John David Crow 38 35 1981-1992 James Brooks 49 30 1994-2005 Marshall Faulk* 100 36 2002-2010 Brian Westbrook 41 30 2017-Present Austin Ekeler 39 30
* Pro Football Hall of Famer
Unfortunately for Ekeler, his elite production didn’t align with his contract year in 2023. He signed a four-year, $24.5 million extension with the Chargers in March of 2020, but his 2023 was a total nightmare. Ekeler averaged career lows in yards per carry (3.5) and yards per scrimmage touch (4.6) after suffering a high ankle sprain back in Week 1. He ran for 117 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries for an average of 7.3 yards per rush in a loss against the Dolphins, but Ekeler wasn’t the same when he returned from the injury in Week 6. His 3.1 yards-per-carry average ranked as the third-fewest in the entire league among 49 qualified players in that span.
Austin Ekeler last 3 seasons
2021 2022 2023 Scrimmage Yards 1,558 1,637 1,064 Scrimmage Yards/Touch 5.6 5.3 4.6 Touchdowns 20* 18* 6
* Led NFL
Sadly for Ekeler, he now joins a deflated running back free agency market: the only position groups with a lower franchise tag value than running backs ($12 million) are kickers and punters ($6 million). His skill set as a pass-catcher out of the backfield will allow him to have an intriguing market since he leads or co-leads all running backs in catches (228), receiving yards (1,805) and receiving touchdowns (14, tied with Jerick McKinnon) across the last three years.
Here’s a look at a few potential Ekeler landing spots and a prediction for where he may end up.
Houston is a contender cleared for liftoff as the Texans are powered by 2023 Offensive Rookie of the Year quarterback C.J. Stroud and 2023 Defensive Rookie of the Year defensive end Will Anderson Jr.. The Texans won the AFC South and a playoff game in their top-three pick dynamic duo’s first season in the NFL. The Texans top two receivers, Nico Collins and Tank Dell, are also on rookie deals.
Therefore, the Texans have money to spend: their $66.6 million in effective cap space ranks as fourth-most in the NFL, according to OverTheCap.com. Two of Houston’s top three running backs are hitting free agency as well in Devin Singletary and Dare Ogunbowale. Ekeler working in tandem with Dameon Pierce, a player who wasn’t a factor in the passing game a year ago (101 yards on 13 catches), provides him with plenty of opportunities to be featured.
Offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik, a disciple of San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, learned how to be a play-caller under one of the league’s top play-callers who highly values the running game. The Texans and Ekeler could be a seamless fit.
The Rams would allow Ekeler to avoid moving and remain at SoFi Stadium. Los Angeles’ NFC club has a bell cow running back in Kyren Williams, who became the first player to finish in the top three in the NFL in rushing yards (1,144, third in NFL) despite missing four or more games since Bull Karcis did so for the 1937 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Williams dealt with an ankle injury and missed five games in 2023. Ekeler could be a nice complement to the 2023 Second-Team All-Pro’s punishing running style and add a versatility to head coach Sean McVay’s backfield as a receiver that could lighten Williams’ workload. That arrangement would be mutually beneficial to both Williams and Ekeler. The veteran running back could sleep easy knowing quarterback Matthew Stafford and McVay would provide him the opportunity to have a legit role in an offense that could provide plenty of chances for touches underneath through the air.
The Eagles have their 2023 starting running back testing the open market in D’Andre Swift. Philadelphia also has a face familiar to Ekeler running their offense in 2024 in new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. Moore called plays in Los Angeles last season. The Eagles have regularly been a strong rushing team behind their stout offensive line, and that was the case in 2023: they ranked eighth in the league in rushing yards per game (128.8) and ranked seventh in rushing expected points added per game (0.38).
Philly has $37.8 million in effective cap space this offseason, 10th-most in the NFL. The Eagles typically don’t hand out multiyear free agent deals to running backs, but this could be a nice spot for Ekeler to rebuild his value a full year removed from the high ankle sprain.
The back-to-back Super Bowl champion Chiefs’ 2023 receiver group led the NFL in drops (28) and drop rate (12%), according to SportRadar. They will be in the market for an upgrade. Unfortunately for them and every other receiver-hungry franchise, the top three options — Tee Higgins (franchise tag), Mike Evans (re-signed with Buccaneers) and Michael Pittman Jr. (nonexclusive franchise tag) — will not hit the open market.
Yes, Ekeler is a running back, but he is the best one in terms of his pass-catching production at the position. He has 39 more catches than 2023 Offensive Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey since 2021 (228 to 189) and 157 more receiving yards than CMC in the same span (1,805 to 1,648). The back Ekeler is tied for first with in terms of receiving touchdowns at his position (14) is Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon.
McKinnon is set to be an unrestricted free agent who turns 32 on May 3. Ekeler is three years younger (turns 29 on May 17), and he is much more dynamic as a rusher than McKinnon ever was. The Chiefs could spend a little money on Ekeler as their new underneath pass-catching weapon out of the backfield who can also run between the tackles, and then they could prioritize the receiver position in the draft.
Prediction
Ekeler signs with the Chiefs as head coach Andy Reid looks at him and sees a diet version of a running back he last coached 14 years ago in Brian Westbrook. Once an AFC West rival, Ekeler rebuilds his stats on a one-year deal alongside Patrick Mahomes in hopes for a multiyear pact somewhere in 2025.

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