Austin Ekeler appeared to anticipate changes before the 2023 season and requested a trade when the organization declined contract extension negotiations.
Although he withdrew the trade request after the team added performance-based incentives to the final year of his contract, Ekeler struggled to meet those benchmarks during the challenging season.
Entering free agency at 28, Ekeler’s recent season saw him amass 1,064 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage over 14 games, a notable decline from his impressive output in the 2021-22 seasons, where he averaged nearly 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns on 294 touches.
Expressing frustration with his altered role under offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Ekeler acknowledged the difficulty of transitioning from a featured offensive piece.
Despite the setbacks, he remains motivated to prove his ability to perform at a high level.
While Ekeler’s regression might affect his value in a tight running back market—estimated at around $7.4 million annually by Spotrac, a slight increase from his previous $6.1 million per year—he still has the potential to be a valuable contributor in the right system.
Ekeler excels as a pass-catching, third-down back at this stage of his career.
Despite fewer receptions this season, he leads his position in catches since the beginning of the 2021 campaign—228 in that span, 39 more than the second-place Christian McCaffrey.
While Ekeler may not exhibit the same speed and acceleration as in his earlier NFL seasons, he remains adept at eluding defenders with his agility.
His elite hands and versatility could make him a valuable asset in a system similar to that of the New Orleans Saints.
Considering the Saints’ potential search for an Alvin Kamara replacement, Ekeler could be an intriguing option for the team this spring.