A number of running backs in the NFL remain dissatisfied with how their position is being valued, and Austin Ekeler isn’t letting that issue slide into the background.
The Los Angeles Chargers running back has been a leading voice among running backs, speaking up when Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs failed to reach deals with their respective teams before the franchise tag deadline. (Barkley has since signed a one-year deal with the New York Giants worth $11M). Since then, he’s been getting NFL running backs together on Zoom calls to discuss the overall situation and to educate each other about what’s going on. And he plans to continue those calls.
“We wanted to get on that call because we wanted to hear everyone’s story,” Ekeler recently told USA Today. “It’s not just a one-time call. We are gonna have more of those and continue to get more people on. We just had that to kind of break the ice and bring awareness. There are gonna be more calls and more education on what’s going on, and how we can combat it and decide if it’s worth combatting in the future. … It’s educating right now. That is the next step in my eyes.”
Ekeler has honed in on what he believes is the main issue with running back compensation: the franchise tag. Because not only does it prevent players from being fairly compensated for the value they provide on the field, it also fails to consider the value of the leadership they bring off the field and in the locker room.
“It’s frustrating for us as running backs. Just because we know the value that we bring to the team. I’m not saying that every running back is a top-value guy that should be getting paid, but especially the guys who just got franchise tagged — Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs and Tony Pollard. The impact that those guys have on their team is immense,” Ekeler said. “That’s why we are frustrated. You want us to be this pivotal point in your organization however you’re not gonna compensate us for that. You’re gonna come out and franchise tag us.”
There’s a goal to all this beyond positional solidarity. Ekeler wants to completely eliminate the franchise tag in the future.
“I want to attack it. I think it’s detrimental to us as players. You can look at any of the statistics. Our average career is three years. If you are fortunate enough to be in a position to have success, and now you’re able to be locked in for more on one year, one year, one year and not have to share any of that risk with the organization than it’s just not a great situation,” Ekeler said. “It’s very one-sided.”
Since the new CBA won’t be negotiated until 2030, it’ll be awhile until there’s even an opportunity to do anything about the franchise tag. In the meantime, Ekeler will keep getting running backs together to discuss how they can change things in the future.
“For us, it’s continue to come together and continue to find situations where we can put ourselves in a place to do better for all,” Ekeler said. “That’s what the next step is.”
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