The New York Jets have been on the tip of everyone’s tongue around the league ever since they successfully acquired Aaron Rodgers and on May 16, they were named as the top trade destination for a unique dual-threat talent.
CBS Sports analyst Cody Benjamin made the suggestion, calling Gang Green a “logical landing spot” for Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler.
“If Los Angeles is serious about maintaining an elite supporting cast for Justin Herbert, it’ll find a way to give Ekeler the raise he’s publicly seeking, even if for just this season,” Benjamin began, adding: “On the other hand, Ekeler himself doesn’t appear poised to hold out into the season if he doesn’t get more money. Similar to Christian McCaffrey with his reliable high-volume pass catching, he’s quite underpaid at $6.125M per year (13th among RBs) entering a contract year. The Chargers could gain $6.25M in savings should they deal him to a contender, however, and address the position with a handful of cheaper gambles.”
Could that “contender” be the New York Jets? Benjamin appears to think so, listing them as his No. 1 trade partner for LAC, but let’s dive deeper into this possibility.
Chargers Granted Permission for RB Austin Ekeler to Seek a Trade
For those that are unfamiliar with Ekeler’s current situation, the playmaker requested a trade after failing to come to an agreement on a new contract this offseason. ESPN’s Adam Schefter later reported that this request was granted on March 14.
He tweeted: “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.”
On April 24, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco commented that there was “no update” when it came to Ekeler’s ongoing contract discussions — which was not ideal news for LAC fans.
“Right now, we’re just so focused on really the foundation of the system, of offensive football,” new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore told reporters in May after being asked about Ekeler. “Just kind of building a really solid foundation focusing more on the bigger picture, the big picture from a scheme standpoint.”
He continued: “Then, as you get into Phase Three of OTAs, training camp and as you get into the season, we start narrowing that thing, getting specific from player-specific responsibilities and what not. Right now, we’re at such a wider lens that we’re really teaching for everyone.”
Ekeler’s 38 total touchdowns over the past two seasons were the most among all NFL skill players, and the lack of urgency to reward the TD machine has certainly appeared to rub him the wrong way. The question from a Jets perspective is: Do they need Ekeler and would they be willing to pay him?
Robert Saleh Said Jets ‘Love Our RB Room’
Benjamin can urge the Jets to trade for Ekeler all he wants, but would they be willing to seriously consider the move?
At the NFL League Meeting, NYJ head coach Robert Saleh stressed that the franchise is very confident in their current group of running backs. “We love our RB room,” Saleh replied when asked if the Jets were pursuing Ezekiel Elliott in free agency amid rumors. “I’ll leave it at that.”
He added later that “when you look at Breece [Hall], Ty Johnson, Michael Carter, and [Zonovan] Bam Knight, the guys that we have in that room, we’re really excited about the guys we have.”
Despite losing Johnson, the Jets still have Carter, Knight, Abanikanda and Dye competing behind Hall — who is returning from a torn ACL in October of 2022. If the youngsters fail to make the most of this opportunity in training camp, it’s possible that general manager Joe Douglas looks to support Hall via trade.
Having said that, Douglas has never been one to pursue or pay running backs in free agency. Le’Veon Bell was signed by ex-GM Mike Maccagnan, and Douglas couldn’t get out of that deal fast enough once he took over in New York.
He’s also drafted an RB each April since becoming the GM — not to mention bringing in UDFAs like Knight and Dye — a telltale sign that Douglas prefers fresh legs at the position.
Due to all of these factors, a trade for Ekeler feels unlikely in 2023, but you can’t rule out anything with a win-now team. We’ll see if anything changes on the Ekeler front this summer.