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Chargers' Austin Ekeler on RB market, franchise tags: It's 'tough for me to accept' 

It's a gloomy time in Austin Ekeler's world.

Ekeler doesn't appear to be very pleased with his situation in Los Angeles, where the Chargers responded to his trade request by adding $2 million in incentives he can earn with his play.

"For me, I understand that I have one more obligation here," Ekeler said of his status with the Chargers on Tuesday, per the team transcript. "One more year that I'm obligated to be here. I wanted to go poke around and see if there was any other value. If not, right? Come back and have my last year. Like I said before, do what I can do here."

Making matters worse, the running back market as a whole is incredibly deflated. Dallas cut Ezekiel Elliott to rid itself of his bloated contract and franchise tagged Tony Pollard, preventing the latter from cashing in. Las Vegas did the same with Josh Jacobs, tagging him for the 2023 season. Count the Giants' Saquon Barkley in this group, too.

The top free-agent contracts handed to running backs this offseason didn't even crack $7 million per year. Miles Sanders signed a four-year, $25.4 million deal to join the Panthers, while David Montgomery inked a three-year, $18 million contract with the Lions. The rest were worth $4 million per year or less.

In comparison to these numbers, Ekeler is making a competitive rate, earning $6.25 million in base salary in 2023. He just doesn't think it's enough, not after he's posted consecutive career years that most would agree were worth more than what the Chargers are paying him.

Ekeler took a hard stance against his current pay rate in the offseason, asking the Chargers to send him elsewhere. They declined to fulfill his request, instead bridging the gap enough to clear it with the added incentives, which was enough to convince Ekeler to return to the team and potentially earn a new deal in 2024.

No matter what, we are clearly no longer in the era of lucrative running back contracts, underscoring the steady devaluation of the position that began roughly a decade ago. Ekeler might end up being the latest to suffer for it.

"I think with what's just been happening is the atmosphere around the running back market has been pretty tough," he said.

On a number of the other top RBs getting tagged and "capping the market," Ekeler added, "to say, 'No, you're going to have to risk it all again on a one-year guaranteed contract,' and tell someone that and put them in that situation, and not give them a choice, is just tough for me to accept, even though it is the way it is."

Ekeler's reaction is understandable. He'd like to get paid a premier rate for what has been premier production. It just isn't happening this season, and judging by how things have gone this year, it might not happen in Los Angeles at all.

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