National Football League
Austin Ekeler discusses RB market, QB Jayden Daniels, 2024 Commanders
National Football League

Austin Ekeler discusses RB market, QB Jayden Daniels, 2024 Commanders

Updated Jun. 7, 2024 5:06 p.m. ET

Austin Ekeler has been one of the best running backs in the NFL in recent memory and is now embarking on the next chapter of his career with the Washington Commanders after spending the past seven years with the Los Angeles Chargers.

That said, it wasn't a smooth path to the NFL for Ekeler.

Ekeler was a no-star high school recruit and went on to play college ball for Division-II Western Colorado. He cracked the Chargers' roster in 2017 as an undrafted free agent, playing on special teams but also serving as a backup running back. In the ensuing years — and largely assisted by veteran RB Melvin Gordon holding out for a new contract in 2019 — Ekeler began to get more reps, which eventually led to him becoming the Chargers' lead back.

Ekeler has been a multifaceted threat ever since, both bursting up the middle on the ground and being a vital member of the Chargers' passing game. He has rushed for 4,355 yards and 39 touchdowns on 990 carries, while reeling in 440 receptions for 3,884 yards and 30 touchdowns in 103 career games (68 starts).


Washington, Ekeler's new team, is coming off a 4-13 season that left the Commanders in last place in the NFC East for a second consecutive season. Washington hasn't had a winning record since 2016 or won a playoff game since 2005.

Ekeler doesn't care about Washington's past, however. Rather, he's focused on turning the page for the franchise.

"It's a whole new year," he told host Keyshawn Johnson on the latest edition of "All Facts No Brakes," "Right now, how can I get myself implemented into this team and also help create the standards, create the culture? What does the standard look like? How do you hold people accountable? To hold people accountable, you have to have a tangible thing that you can actually see, touch, feel, do. Let's make sure we establish those, so that's what we're doing right now.

"I don't care about what's happened in the past. … I wasn't here. … A lot of our guys that are here weren't here. … It's what we're going to do now. We have a chance to change the narrative now with what we have right here in this building."

Ekeler is one of several veteran additions to the Commanders this offseason under Dan Quinn, along with linebacker Bobby Wagner, safety Jeremy Chinn, center Tyler Biadasz and defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Dante Fowler Jr.

On the other side, the franchise will trot out a new Week 1 quarterback for the seventh consecutive season in 2024. Kirk Cousins was the last signal-caller in franchise history to start back-to-back Week 1s (2016-17).

The 2024 starter will presumably be rookie Jayden Daniels, who the Commanders selected with the second overall pick in this year's draft. Daniels is coming off a Heisman Trophy campaign with LSU that included him throwing for 3,812 yards, 40 touchdowns and four interceptions, while completing 72.2% of his passes. He also ran for 1,134 yards and 10 scores.

So far, Ekeler said he has been extremely impressed with Daniels this offseason.

"We have veterans around this young guy," he said. "We are putting him (Daniels) in a position where, ‘Hey, you can immerse yourself into this position [and] this leadership role as much as you want.' … Even yesterday coming off the field, I was running a man-beater choice route out of the backfield. We both saw it kind of a different way. He calls me over. … I'm like, ‘Yes, that is exactly what I want to hear from my quarterback.'

"I want him to be a leader, which he's been doing, and he's been understanding the offense."

Ekeler inked just a two-year, $11.4 million deal with the Commanders, keeping with the trend of running backs getting underwhelming contracts.

Other running backs to recently sign double-digit deals include the Chicago Bears' D'Andre Swift (three years, $24 million), the Tennessee Titans' Tony Pollard (three years, $21.8 million), the Baltimore Ravens' Derrick Henry (two years, $16 million), the New York Giants' Devin Singletary (three years, $16.5 million) and the Houston Texans' Joe Mixon (three years, $27 million). Veteran Aaron Jones signed a one-year, $7 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings, while Josh Jacobs (four-year, $48 million deal with the Green Bay Packers) and Saquon Barkley (three-year, $37.8 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles) cashed in with the highest contracts.

A potential sign of hope for the RB market is the San Francisco 49ers' signing of Christian McCaffrey to a two-year, $38 million extension earlier this week. 

"It is new money in the market," Ekeler said of McCaffrey's extension. "There's a bump. We were at that $16-17 million cap, and now, boom, it's been pushed up a little bit. That's the first time in about five years it [has] gone up, and the cap [has] gone up substantially since then, so that's where we're frustrated as running backs."

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