RB Austin Ekeler granted permission to seek trade: Chicago Bears, Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers among best fits

Paradise, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Las Vegas Raiders during the first half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler requested a trade on Monday, and the team granted him permission to seek that trade on Tuesday after talks over a new contract went nowhere.

Ekeler has been one of the NFL's most dynamic pass-catching backs over recent years, but he is now deep into his NFL career and reportedly seeking north of $12 million a season.

With those factors working against him, the number of teams likely to be interested shrinks rapidly. Still, there are a few landing spots that make sense. 

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Austin Ekeler: Receiving stats and rank among running backs since 2017 (regular season only)
Stat Rank
Routes run 1762 5th
Targets 453 3rd
Receptions 389 3rd
Yards 3,435 3rd
First downs and touchdowns 160 3rd
Yards per route run* 1.95 2nd
Passer rating when targeted* 115.9 2nd
PFF grade* 93.6 2nd

*Among backs with at least 200 routes run

Chicago Bears

With David Montgomery set to hit free agency, the Bears have space in the backfield to add a complement to Khalil Herbert, in addition to creating a superior outlet option for Justin Fields in 2023.

Ekeler led all running backs with 126 targets last season, 67 more than the entire Bears backfield combined. He has never recorded more than 217 carries over a season — including the playoffs — but the Bears already have a player who can split the workload and create a nice balance of playmakers without overloading either one.

They also figure to be one of the most run-heavy offenses in the league again with Fields under center, and adding Ekeler would allow them to push more into the passing game without radically increasing the difficulty of what they ask of Fields.

Carolina Panthers

D’Onta Foreman is currently a free agent, meaning the running backs remaining on the Panthers roster combined for just 151 carries in 2022.

Even if Foreman was to return, Ekeler replaces more of what the team lost when they traded away Christian McCaffrey in terms of a threat in the passing game. Without an answer yet at quarterback, it’s difficult to anticipate exactly what this Panthers offense will look like going forward. But with the loss of D.J. Moore in the trade to move up to No. 1 overall, this team needs options in the passing game, even if they come from unconventional sources.

Houston Texans

Houston signed Mike Boone on Day 1 of free agency, but the total value of that contract is just $3.1 million, and it isn’t the kind of deal that would prohibit them from going after a player who unexpectedly became available.

Dameon Pierce had an outstanding rookie season and was especially effective on the ground. Adding Ekeler to the picture as the pass-catching lightning to Pierce’s thunder would give Houston arguably the best one-two punch in the league as they add the next face of the franchise at quarterback at the top of the draft.


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