2024 Bears Free Agent Target: Austin Ekeler
Gary Vasquez - USA Today Sports

2024 Bears Free Agent Target: Austin Ekeler

by - Senior Writer -

Although the value of the RB position continues to decline, this year's free-agent group of RBs may go down as one of the best, if not the best, free-agent classes in many years. From Derrick Henry to Tony Pollard, Josh Jacobs, and Sequon Barkley, the list goes on as several lucky teams will be adding a RB capable of making plays.

Another back that hasn't been talked about as much should be and will be our focus today as Austin Ekeler is also a free agent and could be one the Bears target. While most of you may see the Bears RB group good to go right now, but with Travis Homer and D'Onta Foreman both on the free agent market the Bears do have an open spot in their RB room. While Roschon Johnson and Khalil Herbert would be fine handling the duties next year, why not get a player like Ekeler if available, as his element alone would make this offense better?

About to enter his eighth season in the league, Ekeler is coming off one of his worst seasons to date, but that came in the middle of a season where the Chargers were a complete dumpster fire. He also had to battle through some nagging injuries, which didn't help, as 2023 was a complete nightmare scenario for him. However, when healthy, which has been most of his career, Ekeler has been the engine that made that Chargers offense go, and with a predicted salary of around seven million, it may not be a bad choice for the Bears to kick the tires on him.

Throughout his career with the Chargers, Ekeler has always rushed for around 900 to 1000 yards per season and around seven TDs. Those wouldn't be great numbers if that was all he did, but he was also a threat in the passing game, where he averaged better than 600 yards receiving and five or six more scores per year. That is an average of 1600 total yards and close to 15 scores per season, which any offense would take.

Ekeler missed three games in 2023, but when on the field last season, production was challenging to come by. You can blame a lot of that on the Chargers offense, as they were terrible. Ekeler finished the season with 179 carries, 628 rushing yards, five touchdowns, 51 receptions, 436 receiving yards, and 1 receiving touchdown. In other words, 2023 was a disaster for Ekeler, and it couldn't have come at the worst time as he is set to hit free agency seeking a new deal.

Even with last season being a struggle, Ekeler is still one of the more talented RBs on the market and, if used right, is an excellent addition to any offensive scheme. For those who may have forgotten, Ekeler campaigned for RBs to get more money last season, so it will be interesting to see how teams view that this year, given the backs that are on the market at this point.

Ekeler's efforts paid off in some aspect, as he received a pay increase last season, but not to the level he hoped for. He followed that up by rushing for 100 yards in week one last season before going down the next three games with an ankle injury. That 100-yard showing in week one was also a rare occurrence, as that was the only time he topped the century mark all season.

Not only was the overall YPC and YPG down, but with six touchdowns, he became less of a factor week by week. That is coming from a back who scored 20 TDs in 2021 and then 18 more in 2022, so to see that much of a dropoff was eye-opening, to say the least. Despite the massive dip in his production, you can't put all that on Ekeler, as the Chargers were in complete disarray from the start.

Once picked to be dark horse contenders, injuries ravaged the roster, which started with Ekeler and Mike Williams in back-to-back weeks. Ekeler did return after three weeks, but Williams was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in week three. You also had Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen both miss time later in the season, as this team couldn't get over the injury hump.

Not only were injuries a massive reason why the entire team struggled, but the coaching staff also lost the team, especially head Coach Brandon Staley, whose questionable decision-making caught up to him. By December, the Chargers were a shell of themselves as they limped to the finish line, and Staley was fired before the end of the season. Even if the Chargers fork over some cash to keep him around, it's a safe bet that Ekeler will want to test the market as he would like a fresh start.

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