I’m firmly in the corner of you should never pay a running back for all the cliche arguments that go along with it. But there are exceptions to every rule, like when a running back is more receiver than Derrick Henry. Quarterbacks love having outlet guys on their team, and like you could argue that in 2022 Austin Ekeler was to Justin Herbert what Travis Kelce is to Patrick Mahomes.
That’s why the news that Los Angeles is, predictably, letting Ekeler seek a trade because their owner is a notorious cheapskate who San Diegans hate like J. Jonah Jameson hates Spider-Man. Like their views regarding poor people in general, Los Angelenos are apathetic to Dean Spanos, so they don’t really have an opinion on the Chargers either.
Having said that, I care about Herbert because it’s more fun when talented quarterbacks aren’t mired on piss-poor teams.
Ekeler is a QB’s best friend
The seven-year pro led the NFL in receptions by a running back in 2022, catching 107 balls, 22 more than the next closest guy (Christian McCaffrey, 85). The Chargers restructured Keenan Allen’s deal last week, and for what? So they could trade the quarterback’s favorite target? Mike Williams led the team in yards — which is why it was so tragic when he got hurt in meaningless action at the end of the year, and reason No. 628 why Brandon Staley should be fired* — but Ekeler had 44 more grabs than him and 35 more than the next closest Bolt.
(*Staley still has a job because Spanos is too cheap to fire him.)
Justin Herbert is the main reason experts are optimistic about Chargers football. That’s it. They have some good, occasionally great skill guys, and Ekeler has proven to be great since he’s taken on the No. 1 role. There are health concerns, sure, but he only had 204 carries a year ago, good for 20th in the league.
If you want your franchise quarterback to trust the organization and grow within it, it really helps to keep his emergency outlet. Ekeler’s value is almost as crucial in the air as it is on the ground, and therefore he might be undervalued simply because he’s not on the wideout market.
I wrote a column in the preseason predicting Ekeler would fall off because one of the consensus top five fantasy running backs always does**. He had his most yards from scrimmage as a pro. (My bad.) Pay that man (Ekeler) his money.
(**Jonathan Taylor was your top five lemon.)
Whenever Herbert needed to get back to third and manageable, or convert third and manageable, he always looked Ekeler’s way. It’s a special bond between quarterback and receiver, one that I’m struggling to come up with a metaphor for. So, umm, go fuck yourself, San Diego?