Could Austin Ekeler Solve Patriots' Backfield Riddle? Chargers RB Requests Trade

Chargers RB Austin Ekeler seeks trade after contract talks stall originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

One of the NFL's top scoring running backs could be entering the New England Patriots' offseason radar, with RB Damien Harris set to become a free agent this week.

Chargers RB Austin Ekeler reportedly has requested permission to speak with other teams about a trade after contract extension talks have stalled out between the six-year veteran and Los Angeles.

Ekeler is coming off of back-to-back NFL seasons with 15 or more combined touchdowns, one of four players in league history to achieve such a feat.

In 2022, Ekeler combined for 18 touchdowns and 1,637 total yards and helped lead the Chargers back to the NFL playoffs. The 27-year-old tailback finished with a franchise-high 107 reception last year, and is entering the final season of a four-year, $24.5 million contract he signed in 2020.

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With Ekeler set to free agent at the end of the 2023 NFL season, contract extension talks this offseason are predictable. And yet, according to reports, those talks haven't gone so well for a Chargers organization that was able to shave $40 million off its 2023 cap over the weekend.

Can the Chargers still afford to keep Ekeler along with other offensive weapons, like Keenan Allen and Mike Williams? That remains to be seen but what is undeniable is how the Patriots could present a package of draft picks to Los Angeles to rent Ekeler for 2023 and possibly sign him to be Harris' long-term replacement.

A one-two punch of Ekeler and Rhamondre Stevenson would be one of the NFL's most formidable backfields.

In addition to that stellar 2022 campaign, Ekeler found the pay dirt 20 times during the 2021 NFL season (12 rushing touchdowns, eight through the air). Despite being one of two players in NFL history to be an undrafted player with 1,500 scrimmage yards and 15 touchdowns in consecutive seasons, Ekeler has never made a Pro Bowl.

While the extension price tag might be too steep for a cash-strapped Chargers franchise, the Patriots could get creative with their 2023 cap space (like, say, trading TE Jonnu Smith to Atlanta) to make such a splash possible this offseason.

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