The Chicago Bears have been all about adding talent this offseason and they don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
A handful of significant free agent signings this offseason flanked a blockbuster trade in which the Bears sent the Carolina Panthers the top overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft in return for the No. 9 and No. 61 picks this season, a 2024 first-rounder, a 2025 second-rounder and wide receiver D.J. Moore.
Timo Riske of Pro Football Focus (PFF) characterized the deal as a “no-brainer” for the Bears on March 13. Nine days later Riske’s counterpart at PFF, Sam Monson, named Chicago a top trade destination for running back Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Monson laid out the benefits of the Bears making a move for Ekeler as follows:
Ekeler may find the market for his services a weak one, even if he is an underpaid asset on the Chargers. Potential landing spots have been signing running backs over the last several days, leaving obvious destinations thin on the ground.
Any team that does make the move will be getting one of the most dynamic pass-catching backs in the league who can carry his weight rushing as well. Ekeler has recorded over 100 targets twice in his career and more than 50 for the last five seasons. He has gained 1.9 yards per route run over his entire career and is an excellent all-around back for today’s NFL.
Chargers Grant Austin Ekeler Permission to Seek Trade in 2023
Ekeler and his agent have been hunting a trade for the last week and a half after negotiations on an extension with the Chargers broke down.
“Chargers granted permission to RB Austin Ekeler today to seek a trade after the two sides failed to make progress for a new contract, per his agent Cameron Weiss,” Adam Schefter of ESPN reported via Twitter on March 14.
Ekeler, an undrafted free agent who has played six NFL seasons, is entering the fourth year of a four-year deal worth $24.5 million. To put Ekeler’s annual income into perspective, his contract pays him $6.125 million annually. Christian McCaffrey of the San Francisco 49ers is the league’s highest-paid running back, playing on a deal worth more than $16 million per season.
Ekeler is a true three-down back who has led the NFL in total touchdowns in 2021 (20 TDs) and 2022 (18 TDs), per Pro Football Reference. He rushed for 915 rushing yards at an average of 4.5 yards per carry last season, while also making 107 catches for 722 yards.
Spotrac projects Ekeler’s market value at $12.8 million per season over a three-year contract. The Bears currently have access to roughly $38.5 million in salary cap space for the 2023 season.
Bears Have Added 2 Running Backs Behind Herbert Already
Whether the Bears make a play for Ekeler or not, the RB room is going to look significantly different in Chicago next season.
David Montgomery left the Bears for the Detroit Lions this offseason after four years in Chicago. Khalil Herbert is currently No. 1 on the depth chart, though the Bears have added a couple of new running backs since Montgomery’s departure.
The team signed former Seattle Seahawks rusher Travis Homer to a two-year deal worth $4 million, plus incentives, earlier this month. Chicago also inked D’Onta Foreman to a one-year deal worth $2 million, plus incentives.
Chicago appears a team capable of fielding a quality rushing attack via running back by committee, though a deal for Ekeler would be a boon for Justin Fields who the Bears hope will make a leap as a passer in 2023 after putting up one of the best rushing seasons for a quarterback in NFL history last year.
with a need for a running back, draft day for the bears could be interesting.