Jacksonville Jaguars wouldn't be an ideal trade destination for Austin Ekeler
Los Angeles Chargers have granted running back Austin Ekeler permission to look for a new team after both sides failed to strike a contract extension. Ekeler was a highly productive player for the Bolts over the last two seasons and he could help several clubs in need of running help. However, the Jacksonville Jaguars might not be an ideal trade destination.
Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report recently talked about why potential contenders should or shouldn't trade for Ekeler. He argues that the Jags need someone to take some pressure off Travis Etienne's shoulders their No. 1 running back. However, Moton goes on to say that they already have that player in Florida native D'Ernest Johnson, who joined Jacksonville on a one-year deal in free agency.
"In 2022, Etienne proved that he could handle a big workload. Even if the Jaguars dial back on his touches next season, they will likely give JaMycal Hasty and D'Ernest Johnson a shot to crack the rotation, which is a more cost-effective approach than paying Ekeler to become 1B to Etienne in the run game."
Ekeler was mostly used as a pass-catcher out of the backfield early in his career but he showed the last two years that he can be a workhorse running back, toting the rock 410 times for 1,826 yards with 25 touchdowns in that span. On top of that, he hauled in 177 receptions for 1,369 yards with 13 touchdowns.
An undrafted free agent in 2017, the Western State product got a four-year contract worth $24.5 million after Melvin Gordon refused a contract offer from the Chargers. Although Ekeler has never been selected to the Pro Bowl, he's a talented running back that could help several NFL clubs.
The Jacksonville Jaguars could use Austin Ekeler but can't afford him
The Jaguars' running game was 11th in points scored and 14th in rushing yards last season but you could make the case that it could have been much better. There were times when head coach Doug Pederson chose to pass when pounding the ball might have been a better option. Also, the Jags lacked a viable No. 2 running back after trading James Robinson to the New York Jets.
Moving forward, Etienne would benefit from having a slightly lower workload. Then again, that's precisely why the team's brass picked Johnson up. Also, JaMycal Hasty signed a two-year extension and the Jags might not have brought him back if they didn't think he can contribute. While it's hard to tell how the coaching staff will distribute carries in 2023, there's a strong chance Johnson will be heavily in 2023.
Going back to Ekeler, he's a better running back than Johnson and he would give Jacksonville a dynamic backfield tandem with Etienne. However, he's looking for a new contract, one the Jags aren't in a position to give him. Even though they have a bit of cap space, they still need to get their 2023 NFL Draft class under contract.
An alternative would be to give Ekeler a big signing bonus and push the cap hit to future years. However, that would limit the front office's office to re-sign core players such as Trevor Lawrence and outside linebacker Josh Allen.
There's no doubt Ekeler would be a great addition to the Jacksonville Jaguars' backfield, but it's hard to see them pulling off a trade, as great as it would be. The silver lining is that even without Ekeler, their running back room looks in solid shape ahead of the 2023 season.