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Austin Ekeler free agency: Jim Harbaugh says Chargers would ‘love to have him’ back for 2024 season

The running back position will likely be under the microscope yet again this NFL offseason with several high-profile players set to hit free agency. That includes Austin Ekeler, who had been unable to reach an agreement with the Los Angeles Chargers on an extension last offseason and momentarily even sought a trade. Now, he’s hitting unrestricted free agency. While there’s a chance L.A. could elect to deploy the franchise tag on Ekeler, odds are he’ll be able to search for a new team, if he chooses. 

“For me, it’s an open book, really,” Ekeler said of his pending free agent status on his own “Ekeler’s Edge” podcast, via Yahoo Sports. “I haven’t closed anyone off. There’s obviously things that I’m looking at that I can’t negotiate on. I definitely want a fair market price, whatever that turns to be. And that’s going to be determined. That’s TBD, depending on what the appetite for Austin on your team is. Are you in a need of a running back? Is it going to be a tandem, or do you want me to be your main guy? Hey, are you actually in a place where, hey, you like throwing the ball to your running backs, or we run 30 times a game? All of these different fits are going to have to play in a part of, hey, where am I going? What’s the conversation? So that opens up here, like, in a month.” 

Given the recent history of failed negotiations with the Chargers, it would seem like his days with L.A. are numbered. However, that was a different regime than the one that is currently in place with the recent hiring of head coach Jim Harbaugh and GM Joe Hortiz. On his side of things, Harbaugh seems to be on board with keeping the star back. 

“If things go well, it’s going to be because of guys like Austin Ekeler and the players,” Harbaugh told the Associated Press during Super Bowl weekend. “I like Austin Ekeler. We’re going to have a huge emphasis on the run game, and we gotta block better up front. He’s a tremendous back and we’d love to have him on the team next year. But yeah, [if] things go well, it’s kind of because of all the players. If it goes bad, it’s because I’m a bad manager, I’m a bad coach.”

That’s an encouraging sign for those hoping the 28-year-old veteran can remain with the franchise, but he’ll likely garner interest from teams across the league given his ability to be an in-between-the-tackles back as well as an elite pass catcher out of the backfield. 

“No idea what to expect, zero idea,” Ekeler said of hitting free agency for the first time in his career. “And I kind of like it that way because I also have my expectations wide open to expect everything from maybe worst-case scenario to best-case scenario. I’ve had enough, I think, of a reputation that I’ve built for myself over the past years. It sucks, obviously, going into a down year right before free agency. This was a down year for our entire club, unfortunately. But the thing is, still motivated, still ready to go and make plays, still ready to make an impact on a team.

“And it’s nothing I haven’t been through before,” he continued. “I’ve been through ups, been through downs. That’s how I’m even here. I used to be No. 3 [on depth chart], running down on kickoff. And so for now, for where I’m at and from where I was, I’m so proud of myself and the journey that I continue to build on. And I know that there’s more to go. Body’s back healthy, ready to go. Get back into training and get ready for next season.” 

Despite being a “down year” as Ekeler put it, the back was still able to notch 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the third straight season. He also has the talent level to lead the NFL in total touchdowns, as he did in both 2021 and 2022 coming into this campaign. 

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