2-Time NFL TD Leader Offers Browns Viable Successor to Nick Chubb

Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns.

Getty Images Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns.

The Cleveland Browns aren’t in a rush to replace Nick Chubb, though they may have to before the offseason is through.

General manager Andrew Berry spoke with media members at the NFL Combine on Tuesday, February 27, and said there has been no significant movement on discussions with Chubb about a contract restructure. The running back is entering the final year of his $36.6 million contract and carries a salary cap hit of $15.8 million in 2024. The Browns can save $11.8 million by cutting or trading the four-time Pro Bowler at any point this offseason.

His contract situation coming off of a catastrophic knee injury last September has rendered Chubb a primary cut candidate in Cleveland, though the franchise has several months before it must make a definitive call.

“It still is very early and we’re what, six months away from training camp?” Berry said Tuesday. “So to say anything more definitively than I did in the middle of January, it would probably be inaccurate.”

That said, sooner is better if the Browns hope to land one of the several prominent running backs headed to free agency in March as Chubb’s replacement. One of the better candidates is Los Angeles Chargers RB Austin Ekeler, who ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday will test the waters of free agency in March along with a few other big names at the position including Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants and Tony Pollard of the Dallas Cowboys.

“The Titans won’t tag standout veteran free-agent-to-be running back Derrick Henry, and the Chargers also are expected to let free-agent-to-be running back Austin Ekeler explore free agency, league sources say,” Schefter posted to X.

Austin Ekeler Among NFL’s Most Prolific TD Scorers in Recent Years

Austin Ekeler

GettyRunning back Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers.

Ekeler, who will play next season at 29, is a dual-threat back who has had a nose for the end zone ever since joining the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2017.

The running back led the league in total touchdowns in both 2021 and 2022, with 20 TDs and 18 TDs, respectively. He has never rushed for 1,000 yards but put up more than 900 in both of those campaigns.

Ekeler has also caught 440 career passes, including 107 receptions two seasons ago, for a total of 3,884 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns through the air. All told, he has tallied north of 8,000 total yards from scrimmage and 69 TDs across 103 games played during his NFL tenure, per Pro Football Reference.

“Ekeler is an ideal candidate to assume the third-down back role with the Browns,” Thomas Moore of SB Nation’s Dawgs By Nature wrote on February 25. “The Browns are not looking for a No. 1 running back, and Ekeler might still have enough in the tank to make a difference.”

Austin Ekeler, Jerome Ford Could Create Dynamic Duo in Browns’ Backfield

GettyCleveland Browns running back Jerome Ford.

Ekeler is not the bruising runner that Chubb is, but he does make considerable sense as a complement to Jerome Ford. Ford, who is entering his third professional season in 2024, proved himself a viable replacement for Chubb last season by producing 1,132 all-purpose yards and 9 TDs in his breakout sophomore campaign.

The former fifth-round pick is under contract through 2025 on a four-year rookie deal that will cost the Browns just $4 million over the life of the deal. Spotrac projects Ekeler’s market value at $7.4 million annually over a new three-year contract (roughly $22.4 million total). Together, the two would represent just under $8.4 million in cost to Cleveland, which is a little more than half of Chubb’s cap number in 2024.

Having two backs who can both run and catch is crucial for the Browns to guard against injury. Players like Barkley and Henry will command more money than Ekeler, thereby lessening their value to the Browns when the team could instead pursue an extension with Chubb at a similar price.

Bringing Chubb back to Cleveland is the best outcome and clearly Berry’s goal. However, Chubb may need to agree to an incentive-heavy restructure of his current deal or reduced pay on a multiyear extension to remain with the Browns.

In either of those scenarios, Chubb could leave. And if that is the outcome, Ekeler offers Cleveland solid and sensible value alongside Ford.

“[Ekeler] has really good natural vision to find daylight and a nose for the goal line,” Randy Mueller, former NFL GM and contributor to The Athletic, wrote on February 20. “He has plenty of gas left in his tank from a speed and acceleration standpoint, but he’s at his best when supplemented with an early down back.”

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