Saturday, April 13, 2024

‘There was a misalignment’: Austin Ekeler explains why he parted ways with Chargers, signed with Commanders

After seven largely successful seasons together, Austin Ekeler and the Los Angeles Chargers parted ways amicably. A change in philosophy, Ekeler said, was the main reason why he left Los Angeles before signing a two-year deal with the Washington Commanders

Ekeler knew, following a conversation between himself and the Chargers’ brass, that he had played his final down for the franchise. 

“The Chargers came to me and kind of told me what they were looking at in a running back position, and it wasn’t what I can offer as a player,” Ekeler said on the “God Bless Football” podcast. “So there was a misalignment. 

“So it’s like, yeah, they’re interested, but, are you really? Is it like a, if all else fails, we’ll bring Austin back in type of thing, because I don’t want to be in that scenario, and if that’s your philosophy of what you’re telling me and I don’t fit that, I’ve got to go look somewhere else. Which is totally fine, no hard feelings. You want to go a different direction.”

The Chargers went ahead and signed Gus Edwards, a power back who averaged nearly 5 yards per carry during his five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.

Ekeler said that six teams were genuinely interested in him at the start of free agency. Fortunately for Ekeler, he found the right team and the right fit in Washington. 

“I was looking for someone who had a solid back that I could really complement and we can really balance things off of each other as far as our production,” Ekeler said, alluding to Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. “We’re very different types of runners. He’s like 6-1, 220 (pounds) or whatever he is, and I’m not. I’m like little scat-speed. So almost like going back to the me and Melvin Gordon punch. So looking forward to seeing how that dynamic plays out as well.” 

You could say Ekeler has been underrated throughout his career. A former undrafted rookie, he made the Chargers’ 53-man roster as a rookie before nearly eclipsing 1,000 all-purpose yards in his second season. By his third season, Ekeler had established himself as arguably the NFL’s most versatile back along with Christian McCaffrey

Ekeler had 92 catches nearly 1,000 receiving yards in 2019. During the 2021 and 2022 seasons, Ekeler scored a combined 38 touchdowns while amassing 3,195 all-purpose yards. He went over 1,000 total yards last season despite being hampered by injuries. 

Ekeler wasn’t the only notable player who left the Chargers this offseason. The team also parted ways with receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Their departures were less about their ability and more about new coach Jim Harbaugh and the Chargers’ desire to have a more well-balanced roster that is largely devoid of bloated contracts (sans quarterback Justin Herbert). 

With his time in Los Angeles in the rearview mirror, Ekeler is looking forward to a his opportunity in Washington. 

“I know there’s going to be an adjustment, but I’m looking forward to the adjustment of just trying something new in my life,” he said. “It’s a new opportunity to be back on the field. New organization, new coaches, new culture. I’ll try to immerse myself in this and take it on for what it is. It’s a new challenge for me and seeing if I can make as much as I can with this one as I did with my other.”

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