Austin Ekeler's recent trade request doesn't mean that he wants to leave the Chargers. In fact, the versatile running back recently said that he would like to stay with the franchise that signed him as an undrafted rookie back in 2017, but only if the situation is right.
Ekeler's recent contract, he said, is the only reason why he has requested a trade. He has one year remaining on a four-year, $24.5 million deal (with $15 million guaranteed) that he signed in 2020. His current projected market value is a three-year deal with $12.82 million annually, according to Spotrac.
"I think it's really important to put it out there that it's not like, 'Oh, I hate the Chargers and I need to get out of this organization, and I need to leave,'" he said during a recent appearance on "Green Light with Chris Long" podcast, via NFL Media. "That couldn't be further from the truth. I would like to stay if it was under the right circumstances.
"Obviously, I have one more year on my contract there, so I'm contractually obligated to play for them for this upcoming year. So, we're in a situation where it's like, look, we have no guarantees or anything like that this year, so kind of in a spot where I've been outplaying my contract, and we might have an opportunity to go seek out other options that can bring me up."
Ekeler emphasized that his trade request is not a reflection on how he views his time with the Chargers.
"It literally has nothing to do with the relationship. I've made a great relationship there," he said. "Grown there. That's where I started. So, I want to be there, but on the right terms. Because I know, look, I can't play forever. I think I can play for a long time just the way I play and the way I treat myself and my mentality."
Ekeler has a strong argument regarding his desire to receive a pay raise. He has been one of the NFL's most productive skill players over the past two seasons after injuries limited him to 10 games in 2020. Over the past two seasons, Ekeler has run for 1,826 yards and 25 touchdowns. He has also caught 177 passes for 1,369 yards and 13 touchdowns over that span.
Ekeler's decision to sign his current deal back in 2020 is somewhat of a head scratcher. He was coming off of a 2019 season that saw him amass over 1,500 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns that included a 993 yards receiving.
The 27-year-old said if he was presented with a chance to get more value then "why would you not jump on that?"
After playing well below market value for the last several years, Ekeler, who has been granted permission by the Chargers to seek a trade partner, is hoping to be properly compensated sooner rather than later. He said that there is no timetable, however, when it comes to a possible trade.
"I'm so underpaid right now as far as my contract and what I contribute to the team, it's like, I am relentlessly pursuing this," Ekeler said. "I want to get something long-term done. I want a team that wants me long term. I'm at the peak of my game, right? As long as I'm healthy, I'm gonna score you another 20 touchdowns. I'm gonna have, you know, another 1,600 all-purpose yards. I'm getting half my value of what I could be getting. I am relentlessly pursuing someone who wants me for the long term."