Dalvin Cook isn’t the only notable star running back facing uncertainty at his current NFL home — or being called a potential fit for the Los Angeles Rams.
There’s another talented back coming off a career-best season who’s been the subject of his own trade rumblings in Austin Ekeler of the neighboring L.A. Chargers. Throughout the offseason, Ekeler has requested a trade from the team that signed him to a four-year, $24.5 million deal but will see his contract expire in 2024.
Ekeler did express being open to the idea of playing out the remainder of his current deal and then test the free agent waters, which he revealed in a April 4 interview on Sirius XM radio’s “Fantasy Dirt.” Then on Wednesday, May 10, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco gave an update via The Rich Eisen Show on where things stand between the organization and the versatile back who snatched 107 passes and racked up 1,637 total yards last season.
“Nothing’s changed,” Telesco said. “His situation is unique. I completely understand that, which is why we kind of allowed them to kind of look and see if there was something out there available. We had no intent, no interest of trading him, but, fully knowing his situation, said go ahead and do it.”
While it sounds promising for Bolt fans that Ekeler will be keeping the lightning on his uniform, this still sounds as if there’s the potential Ekeler could be moved — which is where the Rams can come in and where the Rams can work their past connection with former defensive coordinator Brandon Staley to pull this one off.
Ekeler’s Versatility Perfect for the Rams
While the Sean McVay offense is more tailored made for the air attack, particularly with hitting defenses with three wide receiver sets as the base formation, it’s an offense that also works for running backs…especially if they can use their hands for more than handoffs.
Former Ram Todd Gurley is a prime example of this. Before playing for McVay, Gurley combined for 64 total receptions in his first two seasons with the Rams. In McVay’s first season of installing his offense, Gurley matched that catch output in just one season in 2017. That was also the year Gurley tallied a still career-best 788 receiving yards and scored six touchdowns through the air, another personal best.
Gurley ended up hauling in 154 total catches for 1,575 yards and scored 12 touchdowns in his three seasons under McVay. Post Gurley, the Rams have had trouble finding a running and receiving threat out of the backfield. The Rams have experimented with Cooper Kupp coming out of the RB spot and catching defenses off guard. Still, the Rams could use someone who can use their hands for more than dive, blast and counter runs.
Ekeler has emerged as one of the standard bearers for RBs who can run and catch. The Rams, even with a reinvigorated Cam Akers and the praise for drafting Zach Evans out of Ole Miss, still face depth and experience concerns. The rest of the Rams room features 2022 rookies Kyren Williams and Ronnie Rivers; the former a fifth rounder and the latter an undrafted free agent who was claimed off waivers. Ekeler would turn this questionable backfield into a strength by coming over.
Would There be Room for Ekeler?
As is the case for Cook and any other trade ideas involving the Rams, this idea of adding Ekeler comes with concerns.
To start, the next team that lures Ekeler via trade would likely have to take on his $6.250 million base salary for 2023, which is part of his remaining deal. The Rams are no longer in the red for their salary cap room as they currently sit at $1,758,181 in space per Over the Cap. Adding Ekeler, though, would risk putting the Rams back in the red.
Then there’s who could be worth surrendering to gain Ekeler on the Rams’ side. No current 2023 Ram player has expressed a desire to be traded. However, the Rams would likely have to surrender a high draft pick for 2024 to acquire Ekeler. And in this case, it could be their 2024 first rounder.
Ekeler is still a talent worth taking a closer look at and one who would add some versatility and respectability to any offense. Telesco’s words point to the multi-talented back still not settled on his 2023 future. Perhaps the Rams can pull off one more blockbuster trade…and not going far to complete it.